The setting should evoke the back lot of a film studio or the backstage of an old fashioned New England summer stock theatre. It should be a place where theatrical magic can happen. For the original production we sat the play on a giant logo backed by a rear projection screen. On stage where all the elements needed to create the evening; props, costumes, music, instruments, etc. Also on stage was a grand piano, klieg lights, two large theatrical trunks, director’s chairs with the names Garland and Rooney, movie posters, photographs, television cameras, movie cameras and equipment and various period microphones. The idea for any setting should first serve the music and the actors. The original production also contained a lot of dance, so that was also reflected in the ground plan. Look at the old Garland Rooney movies in which the characters “always put on a show in dad’s barn with mom’s costumes” and let that sense of joy, improvisation, and adolescent energy guide your decisions. And if you lack space and/or financial resources, then I would argue that the piece would also work just as well with the four performers standing around a grand piano making musical and emotional connections with the audience.
A black or white baby grand piano
Several old fashioned microphones including a studio boom and one functional retro (Sony) 50's microphone on a stand
Two director’s chairs (Garland and Rooney)
Two large theatrical trunks filled with costumes and props
Costume racks containing costumes, hats, wraps, etc.
Movie posters, album covers
Clown costumes and clown props
Top hats and canes
Items that you would find backstage at a theatre or a soundstage: klieg lights, clapboard, flats, stock scenery, effects machinery, cameras, etc.
Sound is very important to the success of BABES IN HOLLYWOOD. Sound reinforcement mattered to Garland and it will matter to your audiences. Therefore, like Forever Plaid, BABES IN HOLLYWOOD is intended to be performed using microphones as sound reinforcement. When possible wireless body mics should be used on each performer rather than using stand microphones. In addition to these microphones there can be additional mics used during the production. Garland in particular was skilled at working with a microphone in her concert performances. Depending on the size of your theatre, you may also want to reinforce the piano or stand up bass. My recommendation is to start sound rehearsals as soon as possible and locate the best sound engineer you can find to mix the show during each performance.
Pianist/Musical Director: This is perhaps the most important casting decision to be made for the production. This person controls almost everything about the production (tempo, style, energy, etc.). The perfect player would be an EXCELLENT sight reader, who not only has played musical theatre productions, but is familiar with the great standards of the 20th century The score, while fully written out, is designed so that an accomplished musician can add his/her artistry to the performance. You need an outstanding player who is capable of managing the multitude of tempo, key and style changes that are written into the score. In many ways, this person becomes a fifth character in the production so look for a great musician who also has an interesting stage personality. In our initial production, this musician also served as Musical Director and conducted the stand up bass player and drummer from the piano during performance.
The musical score is constructed in a way that the music almost never stops. It was our intention that dialogue is given underneath solo piano in many of the "narrative sections." It is important the performance appears seamless to the audience.
The show contains a number of optional dance breaks. Dance is a wonderful element and adds much to the production, if you have the talent to pull it off. Remember that while they were primarily vocalists, both
and Rooney danced their way through lots of films. While not Fred and Ginger, they were skilled in many dance styles. Watch their films. You’ll be impressed at the long dance sequences all shot on one take. The choreography should have a Hollywood musical quality in the first act and then become much more direct and simple in act two. It should posses class and style and look completely effortless. Also, never be afraid to let people stand still in a spotlight and "sell the song." After all, these are some of the greatest tunes of the Twentieth century. Let Judy at Carnegie Hall be your reference for those moments.
Character, theme, and style:
Each of the four characters is unique. Each actor represents a different yet distinctive aspect of Garland and Rooney as performers. Yet, the actors are also playing themselves. It is important that they feel comfortable enough to bring their own experiences to their role. Remember that no one in the cast should make any attempt to imitate either Garland or Rooney. The show is not about imitation but rather is a celebration of their talents and the incredible music that they both sang.
Of all of the SWP shows BABES IN HOLLYWOOD is perhaps the most "presentational" and "audience centered." However, you need to maintain the audience’s emotional connection to the piece particularly in Act two when the music becomes more complex and sophisticated. Remember it is a musical tribute and celebration of Garland and Rooney and not a cabaret performance in which each singer interprets the song in his or her own personal way. We are paying tribute to
and Rooney and the reasons that they recorded and performed these great tunes in the first place. Direct and shape all the performances through a "Garland musical filter." Keep it light, fast and fresh. The actors should be having just as much fun as the audience.
Whatever you do, do not let anyone do an imitation of Garland!!! That is a sure fire ticket to disaster. What is important is to have everyone connected to the production listen to as many of Garland’s recordings as you can get your hands on. Then get the performers to "channel" what they feel and hear from those recordings. You are after the essence, style, and personal way Garland interpreted a great song, not an exact duplication of her performance. The music is always your guide and the arrangements your anchor. Cast great singers and then have them perform these songs with style and grace.
Do not allow actors to ad-lib lines to the audience or add additional dialogue.
It is recommended that you do not use any recorded music of
during pre show or intermission.
Women Act I
Bright skirts or dresses with a younger Hollywood period feel. Must allow for dance.
Women Act I
Darker dresses with an older more sophisticated feel. A reference to the fifties and something that Judy might have worn in concert. Must allow for dance
Men Act I
Light pleated pants with suspenders and perhaps shirts and vests. A Hardy Boys feel. Must allow for dance.
Men Act II
Suits or formal wear. Sophisticated and more mature.
The design should allow for as many different looks as possible The production lends itself easily to the use of dramatic specials, gobos and break-up patterns. I prefer a white cyc in the background, which can be changed to various saturated colors or an RP scene, which can be used for images or for color. Two follow spots are recommended. All lighting should be more theatrical than realistic and evoke mood rather than place.
Nothing sells a show like recognizable song titles. In your advertising, you may use any song title contained in the show. You may also use the words "The Music of Garland and Rooney" when using the BABES IN HOLLYWOOD title. Remember, you do not have authorization or permission to use Garland or Rooney’s picture or likeness to advertise the production. SWP does not authorize you to use any copyrighted images of Garland or Rooney
ARRANGER’S NOTES (Andrew Philip Herron)
The main challenge in performing the score of Babes in Hollywood is to master both the vaudevillian first act and the jazzy second. A peculiarity of Judy’s career was that its first half (1930s-40s) saw her performing songs that were nostalgically behind the times, while her late career (1950s-60s) was shockingly ahead of its time, pointing toward a powerful generation of female balladeers.
The inherent problem is that those early Vaudevillian numbers (particularly those assigned to MAN 1) can be extremely corny and hokey. To cope with this, it’s helpful if all performers are relaxed and engaging in the narrative lines. There’s no need to carry the cartoonish energy of the vaudevillian songs into the narration. It’s also helpful if the audience sees the characters sing sincerely before they sing cartoonishly, and the opening number facilitates this.
One final thought: Want a way to bolster the intensity of your production? Find the very best piano you can grand if possible and plop that thing right onstage, just a hair behind your performers at center. Don’t feel obligated to hide the musicians we’ve found that prominently placed musicians not only intensify this show; they paradoxically relax the audience. Somehow the presence of instruments onstage says, “This show is primarily about the songs. Yes, the styles may seem a little quaint, but we’re just performing - it’s all in good fun.” In the initial production, we brought our pianist onstage halfway through Act Two.