When the Granada curtain rises on this original musical, the audience will be introduced to a show that is both brand new and, in some ways, older than Broadway itself. The creators of Pazzazz!-Richard M. Sherman and Milt Larsen-have taken their decades of collective experience in theater, movies, and television and put it in the service of the music, humor, and shenanigans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The characters in the show come from the dawn of musical comedy, when Lew Fields and Joe Weber were running a music hall, and Lillian Russell was their biggest attraction. The statue of George M. Cohan at 46th and Broadway will come to life in Pazzazz! in order to tell the story of the world he both inhabited and made. It’s a fascinating time for American culture, full of outsized personalities like Diamond Jim Brady and recent immigrants looking to Broadway for cues about how to behave in this new world.
The actors coming in for this show are all topnotch Broadway and Hollywood veterans, including Dale Kristien, who has played Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera for a record-breaking four and a half years, and Adam Wylie, who will be familiar to fans of television’s Picket Fences or to musical goers who saw him in the recent Los Angeles production of Wicked.
Larsen is perhaps best known for creating The Magic Castle in Hollywood, a private club for magicians, but he has written for television programs such as Truth or Consequences for years and earned his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sherman is, along with his brother, part of one of the most successful songwriting teams of all time. His credits include Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book, and many, many more.
I spoke with both Larsen and Sherman last week about Pazzazz!
How did you get going on this show?
Richard M. Sherman: I have been friends with Milt for over 50 years, and we have collaborated many times, always on fun projects. This show, Pazzazz!, is a little salute to the independent producers Weber and Fields, who were in operation on Broadway back in the 1890s. This was such an important time in America, because it’s when the theater became a place where people learned to laugh at themselves. It’s seen as unsubtle today, but at the time, these jokes were new, people needed them; they needed permission to laugh about the lives they were leading in the new country and all the different kinds of people they met in the big city.
Is this vaudeville like in Gypsy?
RMS: No, this is way before what’s in Gypsy, although the things we are putting in this show would have a big influence on the future of Broadway. The whole show is based on history, and it’s loaded with songs-17 of them. There are also plenty of examples of the Weber and Fields style of comedy, jokes like “Who was that lady I saw you with last night?” Weber and Fields are the roots of Abbott and Costello and all the other two-man comedy acts that use the old jokes.
What does the word “pazzazz” mean to you?
RMS: Musical theater is the great, truly American art form. It’s not opera, and it’s not ballet; it’s something else, and I think “pazzazz” is the word for it, because it’s about energy and surprise, not a prince and a princess.
How is it mounting a musical here in Santa Barbara?
Milt Larsen: It’s great. The cost of doing this show in New York on Broadway would be prohibitive, but here we have a theater that is at least as good as a Broadway house, and we’re not spending millions.
How would you describe the show?
ML: It’s Broadway comedy, but the old-fashioned kind-all singing, all dancing, and with real jokes. With all the renewed interest in Broadway musicals as a form, it seems as though the pendulum has swung away from rock and rap and back toward the well-made song, which is the kind of thing that Dick Sherman and I know and love.
What does “pazzazz” mean to you?
ML: Well, for one thing, it’s not “pizzazz,” even though that’s what you find in most dictionaries. That’s a newer word than the one we are using, one that first shows up in Vanity Fair in the 1930s. Our “pazzazz” with an “a” is from a long time before. It means excitement and fun.
Pazzazz! will play at the Granada on Friday, June 20, and Saturday, June 21, at 8 p.m., and on Sunday, June 22, at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.com.