Friday, November 16, 2007

Interview with Ed Dixon, Old Max in How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Broadway

Part of any writer/producer's job is to continually develop relationships with other writers, actors and producers. In that vein, I just did a quick interview with one of my dearest and most talented actor/writer friends, Ed Dixon. We talked about his playing a dog in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the IATSE strike, Stephen Sondheim, Les Miz and The Iceman Cometh.

Dreampeddler: How do you like playing a dog?

ED DIXON: I liked the role of Max the moment I read it. Even before I was hired, when I started working on it, I felt like I knew who he was. Then as the process went on and it got more and more layers, it became even more enjoyable. I started with him as a man. There is some allusion in the script to the fact that he resembles Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) then as I rehearsed, I allowed him to slowly take on small doggie characteristics, so that it wasn't just a parody. They asked me to bark early on in the process, and I declined since I just wasn't there. Later on it seemed right to bark a couple of times. By the time I got into the costume and makeup, I found that he was very much more a dog than Dr. Seuss. This surprised me. It wasn't my original inclination. He's also an old dog. So that greatly impacts his walk and speech and mannerisms. This also came on slowly in the process. By opening night he really was a dog.

Dreampeddler: Did you enjoy the rehearsal process? I believe you mentioned that the creators of the show are still tweaking and fixing the show even though it has had multiple runs.

ED DIXON: I found the rehearsal process very difficult. I like to work very fast and do a lot of homework. But the fact that the show is double cast with children meant that everything had to be done at least twice, first with one group of children and then with the other. My process takes a long time, but I like to do the individual parts of it very quickly. That was not the case here. This version of the show is radically different from last year's. I had actually memorized last year's script before we started rehearsals. They had assured me it wasn't going to change that much. Wrong! It was very difficult to relearn the script, but I had to admit from the beginning that it was a big improvement. And I got to introduce a new song, "this time of year" which I like very much. And I reprise it at the end which is very moving. There's also a big production number for the entire company in the middle of the show which is terrific. I'm very, very pleased with the new version and so are the creatives. And apparently the critics are happy with it as well.

Dreampeddler: How has the strike affected the show?

ED DIXON: Well, the most obvious way is that we're not doing it. What a crazy thing to open a show with all that adrenaline and excitement and then find out before the curtain call that we wouldn't be performing the next day. On the positive side, we'd just finished two weeks of twelve hour days with no day off and the pressure of the critics and we were scheduled to do four performances the next day and three the day after that. So stopping for a minute wasn't the worst thing that could happen to a person. But after those two days of rest I was really ready to get back on the horse. Now after all these days, it's just painful. I don't think any of us believed it would last this long... Since no strike in Broadway history had ever gone beyond four days.

Dreampeddler: Although you haven't had a full week of slated shows yet, how do you think you'll handle the stamina for so many shows in a week? Can you compare that to the other marathon shows you have been in like Les Miz and the Iceman Cometh?

ED DIXON: Well, we actually had done eleven or twelve shows before we opened due to the heavy weekend schedule. So I’d already done one of those "four on Saturday, three on Sunday" weekends. Let me tell you, the third one on Saturday was really hard. It gets difficult to remember if you've already done a scene or if you're about to do it. I don't think I’ve ever even rehearsed a show four times in one day. And after three on Saturday, the prospect of doing another one and then three the next day seemed impossible. But then after getting over that hump, it got surprisingly easy. I got a second wind and the easiest of all was the last one on Sunday. That surprised the hell out of me. Grinch is short, so doing it twice is actually less time than doing one les miz... And Lord knows I did hundreds of two show days at Les Miz. And as for Iceman Cometh, at five or five and a half hours... And yes, we did do two show days of that... Four Grinches is a walk in the park.

Dreampeddler: Are you working on anything else while doing the show?

ED DIXON: A company in New Jersey is making plans to film my screenplay of the Ravenwood Horror. It's an adaptation of my play Murder at the Apthorp. Have just written some background music for it. A haunting and dissonant piano score. Eric Schaeffer has been talking to me about mounting my two person play, Scenery, at his Signature Theater in DC. I'm working on a new play about a Werner Oland type character in old Hollywood who's become famous for doing a Charlie Chan type character... And of course, he's not Asian. It's called Chu Chu Chow and is about the cockamamie relationship between the racially insensitive protagonist and his Asian houseboy. Am also busy preparing my new musical based on Faye Weldon’s book, She-Devil. Have just completed a demo with some really great New York talent and we're looking for a workshop opportunity. I'm working on it with Warren Carlyle the fantastic choreographer/director who secured the rights to the book and asked me to write it.

Dreampeddler: What’s next up for you?

ED DIXON: After Grinch I’m going immediately into Sunday in the park with George with the Roundabout Theater Company. Actually the two jobs overlap by a couple of weeks. When the opportunity first presented itself to me I thought, "How on earth will I do fourteen or fifteen shows a week of Grinch while rehearsing Sunday?" but now I’ve had this little rest period provided by IATSE Local One and I’m not so apprehensive. I've always wanted to do a show in New York with Mr. Sondheim and I’m very happy to have the opportunity. When I arrived in New York forty years ago my dream was to work with Leonard Bernstein, and sure enough, I got to open the Kennedy Center with him in his Mass and make the recording (which he conducted) for Columbia Records. Nice to have dreams come true.

Thanks, Ed! You're the best. Look for more musicals and plays from this incredibly talented and driven writer.


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