The Climb To The 23rd Floor
I was fortunate enough to sit in on the first few rehearsals for our new production of Laughter on the 23rd Floor and it became apparent to me in the first thirty minutes that this will be one of the funniest shows we’ve ever produced. Now, the writing certainly has something to do with that. There are literally ten jokes a minute in this show and the very fact that Neil Simon allows us to spend a few hours with some of the greatest comedic minds of the twentieth century certainly doesn’t hurt. But I learned a long time ago that playwrights can only provide the gasoline for a comedy – it is the actors who are the engine – the driving force behind the success or failure of a comedic work. The collection of actors we’ve assembled for our new production of Laughter make the words on the page leap to life with freshness, with passion and ultimately, with undeniable hilarity. I thought many of you might be interested in how we found this unique collection of talent and why they were chosen to bring this play to life.
When we initially announced the play, I was planning on directing it. I am slightly obsessed with the work of Sid Caesar and the fact that Neil Simon wrote a play about his time in the writer’s room on Your Show of Shows and Caesars Hour made the project almost irresistible to me.
However, just about the time when I was ready to commit to the show, I received a message from Michael Kostroff expressing an interest in directing it. I first met Michael two years ago when we cast him in our production of Ken Ludwig’s Fox On The Fairway, but the truth is, I felt like I knew him long before that. You see, I believe that HBO’s series The Wire is one of the five best dramas ever to appear on television, and Michael played defense attorney Maurice Levy who I frankly LOVED to HATE!
Michael truly enjoyed his experience at Flat Rock Playhouse and wanted to come back. He had played Milt in countless productions of Laughter and his knowledge of the piece and his passion for the material quickly won me over. I was also facing a unique challenge re-imagining The Fantasticks for our new production in April which was quickly taking more and more of my time. So despite having only recently adding directing to his long list of acting credits, I felt strongly that he was the right person for the job. I believed he would bring a level of excitement and creativity to the project worthy of our opening production.
Once Michael was on-board, we began to work with our casting agent Joy Dewing on finding the right combination of actors for the roles. I brought Scott Treadway and Michael McCauley to the table immediately because, having worked with each of them for the past five years, I knew they would fit well into Michael’s vision for the show and give the piece a local connection.
Michael immediately brought in Nick Santa Maria from Los Angeles to play Max Prince (Sid Caesar), and what an incredible decision that was. I can’t watch Nick for thirty seconds without laughing out loud.
We then had six separate auditions in Flat Rock and New York City for the remaining cast. There were a few times where we would go through an audition process… only to realize that we still didn’t have the right mix of people, so we’d go back to the drawing board one more time. For a relatively new director, Michael was actually pretty relentless in his search for the right actors. I was also impressed that he eventually allowed the talent of the people in the audition room to slightly alter his vision for the characters. I always equate it to the NFL Draft. Sometimes you can’t obsess about drafting for position. Instead, successful teams often are willing to take the best player available at the time they are drafting. Funny is funny and when you find it… grab it. If you originally imagined the character as heavy… sometimes you have to take the skinny guy who makes your side hurt from laughter instead of the heavy guy who only makes you chuckle. Take the best player available.
What Michael arrived at was a cast that includes three people who have been on the Playhouse stage before: Amy Toporek (Hairspray, The Marvelous Wonderettes, Nunsense), Gary Littman who joined us for the first time last year in The Odd Couple, and Adrienne Griffiths, a former apprentice from 2011 who is now living and working in NYC, along with three actors new to FRP in Bob Ader, Ben Rosenbach and James Beaman. The casting process took almost two months from beginning to end and thanks to Michael’s excellent judgement, the hard work of Joy Dewing Casting, and a little bit of luck, we have a cast that I believe will bring down the house eight shows a week. I can’t wait for our audience to join us on the 23rd floor!