As holiday time approaches, we can prepare for yet another evening with Scrooge and Tiny Tim or fairies and nutcrackers leaping about beneath a giant Christmas tree. However, David Saint, artistic director at George Street Playhouse, has again found an alternative for us. Back in 1998 when he first arrived to lead this theater he surprised us with “Inspecting Carol,” a play-within-a-play holiday spoof that took aim at a community theater company attempting to mount a production of that other “Christmas Carol.” Six years ago, Saint gave us another chance to laugh our way into the holiday spirit with a second production of that comedy.
This year, he has a brand new frolic, the world premiere of “The Nutcracker and I.” He has gathered an impressive group of writers and performers to again take a purposely comical — even farcical — backstage look at that other holiday favorite, The Nutcracker.
According to a press statement, “Nutcracker and I” takes place “at a chaotic dress rehearsal for the local dance company’s annual production of ‘The Nutcracker Ballet,’ and the lead dancer has an unfortunate accident with a prop Christmas tree — bringing new meaning to the old adage ‘break a leg.’ When the pain killers kick in and visions of sugar plums dance in her head, we’re off for a wild adventure in Snow Globe City with a life-sized Nutcracker (of course) and the Sugar Rush Fairy in hot pursuit.”
Collaborating on the development of this new work are Emmy-winner Peter Brash who brings his years of experience writing various soap operas (“Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns,” and “Days of Our Lives”) to the book for this musical, and Tony Award winner Gerard Alessandrini, who has provided more than 25 years worth of “Forbidden Broadway” parodies, to write lyrics in his inimitable style. Add to that Saint’s directorial hand and the addition of comic actors who have proven their comedic value over the years with the first stagings of a number of shows a George Street.
Audiences will remember Peter Scolari’s riotous turn last season in “A Fox on the Fairway.” He also brought down the house in “Inspecting Carol.”
Broadway singer/actress/writer Annie Golden, who plays the Sugar Rush Fairy in “Nutcracker and I,” told me about attending the Broadway opening of Hugh Jackman’s new show, “Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway” and being asked by the paparazzi, “Hey, Annie, what you doing now?” She loved her answer: “I’m singing Tchaikovsky for Christmas at George Street in New Jersey. Don’t ask, just come.” How’s that for an impressive composer for the score?
Golden has been involved in the development of a number of new musicals, and though she is new to the George Street family, she says she was soon made comfortable tossing in her own ideas. “Peter (Scolari) is brilliant with this stuff and, since he has worked with David before, they have a shorthand that makes their collaboration easy.”
Even during the first week of rehearsal she noticed that Saint and book-writer Brash were constantly “tweaking the script — ‘We don’t need this. We could use more of that.’” Realizing the climate in the room was indeed collaborative, she felt free to add her contributions. For example she says, at one point in the script, where she is supposed to be speaking, she felt her character should just begin singing. And Saint said, “Oh, yes, that’s funny.”
“Everything you’ve ever done comes into play when you’re throwing ideas around in an atmosphere of trust and respect,” Golden says.
Anyone who has ever been dragged, willingly or not, to “The Nutcracker” is familiar with the ballet’s Sugar Plum Fairy. But who is the Sugar Rush Fairy? Golden answers by quoting a lyric, “Sugar plum soaked in rum. If you’ve never had one, you’ll be glum.” She adds: “This is her lament for the loss of the sugar plum as a modern-day treat. Her goal is to be a bad influence on children, tempt them to have lots of sugar, be wired, and misbehave.” (Note to parents: the show is promoted as appropriate for ages 10 and up.) She describes her costume, and it sounds like a sugar rush in itself with powdered sugar, candy stripes, peppermints, ribbon candy, and a Christmas cake with a cherry on top.
Golden has collaborated on a number of cabaret shows and other musicals including the Broadway productions of “The Full Monty,” “Leader of the Pack,” and “Xanadu.” With the latter, she was on board from the very first backers’ audition. “I did impressions of ’80s icons like Tammy Faye Baker and Patty Smith.” Somewhere along the line, her part was cut from the production before it got to Broadway. Later when she ran into the creative team at the opening of another show, she congratulated them and wished them well. The next day, they called and asked if she would be willing to standby for all the female performers. That was the first time she had worked as an understudy or stand by. She credits her generous nature for landing that gig.
Even with revivals, she says there is always something new. During rehearsals for the 1998 revival of “On the Town” presented first in Central Park and then moved to Broadway, she played the role of the ever-sneezing and sniffling Lucy Schmeeler. It’s not a singing role. Director George Wolfe had the inspiration to add a few bars of singing for her. When Lucy finds her true love, her cold is immediately cured, and she stops sneezing. Wolfe thought, why not have her find her voice as well. She remembers, “I got to sing these beautiful eight bars.” She sings them for me, recounting the details of getting approval from lyricists Comden and Green and the relief she felt when they said, “‘We love it.’” Wolfe then told her this got people “off his back” as his friends had complained to him that here he was with wonderful singer Annie Golden in the cast, and she wasn’t singing a note.
She has always been singing, as she recalls sitting on her father’s lap watching the “Million Dollar Movie” every Saturday and Sunday, over and over. “I memorized all that I heard.” Her father was a singer and drummer, though he made his living as a Teamster/truck driver.
“My idols were Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and David Bowie — those pop stars who recorded and did concerts, movies, and dramatic roles.” So, at a very young age, she had set her goals, and she has achieved them.
She was in her early 20s when she and some other Brooklyn buddies formed the pop band “The Shirts” with Golden as their lead singer. They played many times at Manhattan’s downtown rock club CBGB. Director Milos Foreman saw her there and asked her to join the cast of the movie based on the Broadway musical “Hair.” She was the pregnant one, a mother earth figure that has informed her ever-expanding family of friends. She keeps in contact with many of the performers she has worked with over the years.
“Because I was on the cast list for the film, I somehow got on the radar of the creative team when they were planning a Broadway revival of ‘Hair’ to highlight the fact that the movie version was being shot at that time on location in Central Park. So I made my Broadway debut in the revival in 1978 at the same time I made the movie, which means I joined the Screen Actors Guild and Equity at the same time. Milos gave me the gift that keeps on giving. That was 35 years ago, and I’m still in touch with the creative team.” Neither the film nor that revival was particularly successful, but they launched Golden’s career.
Her Off Broadway credits are numerous, and she appeared on Broadway in the 1988 revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!,” which starred with the greats Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards, Jr. She has sung in many concerts, including one that she is particularly proud of when she made her symphonic debut, backed by a large choir and orchestra in a 15,000 seat sports arena in El Paso, Texas. “I got to sing things I’d not been able to do on Broadway, like songs from ‘Evita’ and ‘Chess.’
I saw her last June in another musical that she had a hand in developing, “The Shaggs,” which played Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. She played the mother of three rather untalented girls whose father pushed them to perform. Her solo, “Annie’s Lament,” in which she bemoans the toll this is taking on her and their daughters, was the best number in the show.
I have also seen her in three of the special Town Hall concerts produced and emceed by Scott Siegel, including “Broadway by the Year” 1968 and 1934. Each time she came on stage, the audience loved her, especially when she sang “Frank Mills” from “Hair.” She is always amused that even 35 years later, people still remember her from the movie.
As soon as her stint as the Sugar Rush Fairy is over, she will concentrate full-time on another new musical, collaborating on the development of the singing and dancing version of Barry Levinson’s 1982 film “Diner.” Levinson is adapting and writing the book and Sheryl Crow is writing the music. Golden will be in it, and you can be sure she will be putting her special stamp on the production.
“The Nutcracker and I,” George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Previews Tuesday through Thursday, November 29 to December 1, 8 p.m; opening night Friday, December 2, 8 p.m. Holiday musical comedy for the family about backstage happenings during a dance company’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” ballet. Written by Gerard Alessandrini of “Forbidden Broadway” fame and Peter Brash known for “Inspecting Carol.” For ages 10 and up. Through Sunday, December 31. $25 to $62. 732-246-7717 or www.gsponline.org.