Mitchell Maxwell, author of Little Did I Know, is my special guest today.
After an illustrious career in the entertainment industry, Mitchell is a first-time novelist. His debut work, Little Did I Know, set in the summer of 1976, is the touching, poignant, and sometimes hilarious story of young, ambitious, and inexperienced (save for college theater productions) would-be producer and director Sam August. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, Sam finds a dilapidated theater in which he is determined to produce several musicals before heading to the bright lights of Broadway. Along the way, Sam encounters plenty of obstacles and learns valuable life lessons. The book is a charmingly entertaining look at a simpler time and the pursuit of a dream.
The Goal is Goose Bumps
Years ago I did a musical on London’s West End where it became a big smash hit. After we danced and celebrated and thanked the theater gods, toasting each one with a fresh pint, we came to the sober realization that we had a show that was the buzz of Piccadilly and beyond. Within days we had offers to take the show on tour in the United Kingdom, remount it in New York, and were offered a lucrative guaranteed tour of Japan. I had come to learn “hits are fun.”
So, we loved the British company and decided to keep them for the remount in New York and then bring them to Japan, saving money and keeping the family together. Unfortunately, the unions would not allow the entire company to make the journey so we were forced to choose who we might replace and went about the process with a sense of joy mixed with melancholy. We all agreed on one actor that “had to stay” even if we had to throw down the gauntlet to the gods of the union. So on the day of auditions whenever an actress walked in to sing for this “taken” role, her chances were slim and none.
And then I learned something that stays with me every time a performer walks in and has the guts, resolve, and courage to audition. You just never know where you will find magic or goose bumps or electricity in a performer so strong that it can light a city.
This young woman stepped center stage, gave her name, which was barely noted, and said she was going to sing a song from Ballroom. Out of professional respect we listened and within a moment, a heartbeat, a breath taken away we all knew at once that something special had happened and our plan had changed. Talent is a gift, professionalism is a craft, but when God gives the ability to stop the world and have it pay attention, and you are lucky enough to be in the room . . . well, remember it is better than a real job — sort of like a snowflake –never to be replicated, unique, with its own power to be remembered.
I have auditioned hundreds of actors and so many of them are good. They are pleasant and special in the own way. But when a rocket ship walks in and fires up, I have learned to get on and enjoy the ride.
That’s how you discover art, your own gifts, and your own insights. The journey is fluid, the play is the thing, and goose bumps is the goal.
I have met hundreds of actors — I remember talent most, then character, and how, when we shook hands, our eyes met and registered a connection. The good ones come back and it is fun to be there when they do.
Mitchell Maxwell is an accomplished producer and, director, known for his visionary ability to spot the next theatrical innovation. He has enjoyed a career spanning thirty-five years, during which he produced the innovative Stomp! and revived Damn Yankees featuring Jerry Lewis, which one multiple Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. He also produced the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Dinner with Friends, in addition to numerous other musicals such as Play On!, Bells are Ringing (nominated for Best Revival of a Musical), Blues In The Night (nominated for Best Musical), and Brooklyn. In all, Mitchell’s productions have amassed nominations for ten Tony Awards, six Olivier Awards, fifteen Outer Critics Circle Awards, nine Drama Desk Awards, and three Obie Awards, winning in each category.
Mitchell directed Angry Housewives on London’s West end and off-Broadway, and the off-Broadway and motion picture productions of Jeffery and Key Exchange. Off-Broadway he developed Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy and produced David Mamet’s Oleanna, as well as Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and Scott McPearson’s Marvin’s Room, which won the Drama Desk award. Mitchell built five entertainment companies, and owned and operated three off-Broadway theaters for more than twenty years.
Mitchell attended Tufts University and later served as an adjunct professor there, as well as a guest lecturer at Columbia and New York universities.
The group looked at her as if she had spoken heresy, then quickly looked at me for an answer. “No need to take notes,” I said. “I can repeat this anytime. I can say it backwards. First, I am going to call this guy Barrows and rent his building. Before Elliot goes off to marry Madame Curie, he’ll come and teach music and lead the band. Hopefully along the way he’ll realize that Kat is never going to be good for him and he’ll find some sincere cutie to share his bed.”
Visit Cheryl’s Book Nook tomorrow, Friday, October 21, 2011, to continue reading the excerpt.
Enter to Win a Copy of Little Did I Know
Click here to read my review of Little Did I Know!