Even folks who aren't in the business of theatre tend to remember their very first live show: The vivid colors and sounds they saw opened up a whole world of undreamed-of possibilities. For those who were lured into a life on the wicked stage, though, that "first time" has a special magic.
That's the kind of magic captured in Wendy Wasserstein's popular children's book Pamela's First Musical
, in which the little girl of the title gets a deluxe introduction to the wonders of Broadway courtesy of her eccentric Aunt Louise.
This infectious valentine to the lively arts inspired lyricist David Zippel (City of Angels
, The Woman in White
) to call Wasserstein one day and suggest that her book would make an excellent TV special with music. The TV idea didn't last, but the idea of musicalizing the book did, as the venerable Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity
, The Will Rogers Follies
) was brought in to compose a score and director/choreographer Graciela Daniele (Ragtime
, The Rink
) was enlisted. A few readings at Lincoln Center ensued, and plans were made to put the show up at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif.
Then tragedy struck in late 2004: Coleman died suddenly, and unexpectedly.
"I saw Cy a few days before he died," recalls Zippel, who with Daniele has spearheaded a star-studded benefit performance of the musical on May 18, to benefit Broadway Cares and TDF's Open Doors program. "He sang 'It Started With a Dream,' which is the anthem from Pamela's First Musical
, at a benefit for the Johnny Mercer Foundation. He was in great health, so it was a total shock."
Daniele also fondly recalls a day in rehearsals at Lincoln Center.
"I'll never forget, it's the last, most wonderful memory I have of Cy," Daniele recalls. "We were in the basement of Lincoln Center, maybe 30 or 40 people, and we were waiting for somebody to show up--for my life, I can't remember who--so Cy decided to go to the grand piano and perform, helped by David and Wendy, some of the songs from the show. It one of my dearest remembrances: them sitting there and entertaining us, these three fantastic heroes of the theatre. I had tears in my eyes."
The tears would keep flowing, unfortunately: In early 2006, Wasserstein died. The project was nearly ready to get on its feet, but this blow was too great. It was only through the efforts of Zippel and Wasserstein's agent and friend Phyllis Wender that the dream of Pamela's First Musical
--which would turn out, tragically, to be Cy and Wendy's last musical--was kept alive.
"David, who is so strong, he said to me, 'Graci, we need to have a catharsis on this one, just in memory of Cy and Wendy,' " Daniele recalls. "He said, 'Why don't we do it in a form of a benefit?' It's not necessarily like we're auditioning--if someone wants to produce it, take it further, that's icing on the cake--but we're presenting the years of work that both of us had the honor and joy of doing with these extraordinary people."
Agrees Zippel: "It was a particularly--'pleasant' is too mild a word. It was a particularly happy collaboration. Graci, Cy, Wendy and I had a great time writing it. And this is the fruition of that loving experience."
Joining Zippel and Daniele for this one-night stand are some more extraordinary people: Two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy leads the cast in the role of Pamela's beloved Aunt Louise, and she's joined by Lynn Ahrens, Christian Borle, Carolee Carmello, Sandy Duncan, Gregg Edelman, Christine Ebersole, Stephen Flaherty, Kathie Lee Gifford, Adam Heller, Richard Kind, Robert Klein, Tommy Tune, David Garrison and even NY Post columnist Michael Riedel.
Daniele sums up the work's appeal.
"I love the piece because it's about a child who doesn't necessarily want to be a star," Daniele points out. "She wants to be a creator, which is what Wendy wanted, and what I wanted, too. There is one line in the entire play that I wrote, and I don't think Wendy will mind if I tell you; it is when Pamela says, 'I don't want to be the star, I want to choose the star.' "
For Daniele, behind the scenes is where the real magic takes place.
"It's not about the limelight, it's about the creation. Celebrity is a very well-known and sometimes very sickening thing in our culture. But it all starts with a dream. That's what Wendy wrote about, and that's what I love."
Click here for more information about Pamela's First Musical.