Producer, book and lyricist writer Stephen Cole shares Ethel Merman stories and more with Theatre Chat for our local theater friends, international audiences and performing youth. A Producer, a lyricist-librettist produced all over the world, Stephen Cole is breaking strides in the international arts communities bringing cultures together through his lyrics in “the smash hit” The Road To Qatar. His message “Keeping control of your career is essential.” rings throughout his successful career and this article.
A producer, lyricist, playwrite… What do you have the most passion for and why?
“I produced the Ethel Merman tribute record Mermania! but I am a writer, the Book and Lyricist comes first” “really I love bringing the book and lyricist to life with one vision and one voice. Rodgers & Hammerstein had one voice and Stephen Joshua Sondheim working with James Lapine on Sunday In The Park With George. Into The Woods did as well. In The Road To Qatar, written composer David Krane, we have achieved that unity of vision.
The Road To Qatar was really inspired by Aspire. Can you tell us about that project?
Stephen and David Krane wrote Aspire in 5 weeks with a six week deadline from their Dubai producers which inspired The Road To Qatar, a true musical comedy about thier journeyl. David Krane is a published composer including Film and TV, Nine and Oscar winning movie of Chicago. “Our theatrical viewpoint and cultural references are amazingly similar, and our manner of quickly assessing a situation, and making sure-handed decisions together. A very rare connection.”
We loved the article in DC Theatre Scene. Can we share some of it?
JOEL MARKOWITZ of DC THEATRE SCENE quotes Stephen “I am Stephen Cole, an award-winning short Jewish musical theatre writer who has been an actor, a singer, an extra in dozens of movies and a Broadway press agent. With Rodgers and Hammerstein a licensing agent, worked for Andrew Lloyd Webber and is best known as Marni Nixon’s ghost writer for her “I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story.” I graduated from the school of hard knocks and the Ethel Merman School of Dramatic Arts but really learned my craft from seeing the great Broadway musicals in the late 60s and 70s (Hello Dolly, Mame, Cabaret, Fiddler, Company, 1776, Promises, Promises)”
What can you tell us about the Cole/Merman house parties?
Stephen Cole close friendship with Ethel Merman included parties for two years sharing Ethel Merman video with fellow theatre friends. Stephen’s collection of rare videos brought Merman to his home, bringing with her such stars as “Maria Karnilova (Gypsy as the original Tessie Tura – 1959. Maria won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for the for the original 1964 production of Fiddler on the Roof starring Zero Mostel.) Other party guest included Benay Venuta Ethel Merman’s replacement in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes (1934) and a dear friend.”
Did a radio tribute really start the craze for Mermania! ?
Two weeks after Ethel Merman Carnegie Hall performance Stephen met Merman’s son Bob and Ethel’s producer, Anna Sosenko. Stephen met up with Bob again when Ethel was ill and was invited to the family funeral. Bob gave Ethel’s record collection to Stephen and as a Ethel Merman tribute he shared the collection on a Radio Show hosted by Paul Lazurus. Merman’s Son Bob handed Stephen the record collection and later Stephen saved the collection on cd and tapes. The original records were sadly lost in tragic fire. Rights to Ethel’s songs helped Stephen produce his 1st Ethel Merman – Mermania!, Vol. 1 CD which was Stephen’s favorite because of the “rare/one of a kind songs” that Klea Blackhurst uses in her act today.
CD UNIVERSE gives the description as “Mermania! Vol. 1 is a collection of several medleys performed by Broadway sensation Ethel Merman. “This is a good selection of songs that showcase Merman’s dramatic singing talents. “To hear Merman performing these American standards is really quite nice, as she had a voice that was stamped with her charismatic personality. Overall, this is a solid album of songs that are quite familiar, performed by one of the most unique voices in showbiz.” “Does justice to Merman’s legacy as a singer. ~ Bradley Torreano”
What was you most memorable Merman moment?
Mr. Cole says his most memorable Merman moment was when Stephen went to her apt which was a NYC Hotel. Snowing so bad he knocked on door with two inches of snow on his head and Ethel Merman opened the door singing “The snow is snowing and the wind is blowing. But I can weather the storm!” Stephen shares that “Ethel Merman was one of the nicest persons you could have ever met.”
Casper, The Musical has a lot of friends. Will you bring the show to Broadway someday?
Stephen did not write the first Casper musical with book and lyrics by David H Bell and music by Henry Marsh and Phil Pickett. Directed by David H Bell. The show was received well in London but then producers came to Stephen to rewrite. Stephen rewrote the book and lyrics to Casper. The Hurst Organization now owns the rights to the comic character Casper and the musical has not been produced since. “I would Love to bring back Casper I wrote the show for Chita Rivera but realize “the star was the star” you can write a show for one but you need the show to be the star and others talents to carry the show for fututre success. Now that Casper is rewritten it is in great shape with the book and lyrics to bring back to a Casper friendly audience. I love the score. It’s a “Reality Show” they say reality wont last but turn on your TV..
Whats next for The Road to Qatar?
Stephen’s current success is The Road to Qatar the winner of a Best Musical nod from the Dallas Ft. Worth Drama Critics Forum. The Road To Qutar cast album is in the works and the show maybe going to London. The future is soon to be told. We went to Qatar to see the largest domed soccer stadium in the world being built (this was to be our theatre) and after figuring out (sort of) what the show needed to be about, we wrote the show, presented it in London, had it orchestrated for the 70 piece Bratislava Symphony orchestra, pre-recorded it there, went to home and waited and waited…then we were invited to see the show in Qatar… three days before the opening we joined the audience with the Emir and 1000 foreign dignitaries. It was a full score of about 13 songs. The cast was top West End actors, Russian Ballet dancers, Croatian Acrobats… This piece of theatre was created to bring peace and love to the other side of the world. The first meeting was hilarious and is all in the show. Come see The Road to Qatar.
The Road To Qatar has music from Aspire and a hit song “Doesnt Matter” that brings down the house…?
We incorporated a few songs and themes from our original show, Aspire, in our ‘show-within-a-show’. Inspiration comes from the lyric, the character, and the situation, I look to ‘paint’ and heighten each dramatic situation, use harmony and rhythm to create individuality among the characters. The score is pure and joyous golden age of musical comedy. Tuneful, Middle Eastern flavored, Jewish flavored, but mostly the great mix of Jule Styne, Jerry Herman, Jerry Bock, and every other great 1950’s-60’s composers who knew what a tune was. Yeah, even Sondheim. I love the song “Doesn’t Matter” because it addresses comically the question of Jews and Arabs. I find it hilarious because we are both the same. My favorite lyric in that song is “and our weenies all are cut”
Stephen, Hope you don’t mind that we qouted David about you.
The Road To Qatar composer David Krane was quoted saying “Stephen is one of the most brilliant writers I’ve ever worked with, in that he has total command of his craft. He so understands structure that he was able to take this true life situation and write a wonderful show about it. His lyrics are a joy to compose to. He is equally at home with writing both comic and serious lyrics as required of character and situation. We have found a creative partnership that is so compatible that we will be writing much more together in the future. Indeed, we’ve written a movie musical short that has been shown in many film festivals, and special material for stars since our writing this show.”
You have done so much theatre, we would love to share some of your website information…
Stephen’s website states: So what’s the news after 5 years? There are new pictures and pages for Aspire, The Road To Qatar, Time After Time, Rock Odyssey, Night of the Hunter, Saturday Night at Grossinger’s, Piano Bar…new books were written, I Could Have Sung All Night with Marni Nixon, Put on a Happy Face with Charles Strouse…songs galore. Benefits and tributes to Kander and Ebb, Stewart Lane, Angela Lansbury…so much has happened. And on the horizon is another production of Rock Odyssey in Miami, Night of the Hunter with full orchestra (for the first time) in Dallas, The Road to Qatar maybe in London and off-Broadway with so much more.
What can we tell artists about the biz that can help them other than artistry...?
“I am always as involved business wise as possible. I have vast experience as a press agent, licensing agent for R&H, assistant to Arthur Cantor (producer), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. So I have been around and believe if you write something you have to know every aspect of the business and be involved as much as you can.”
How does an artists at your level find the right agent?
“I have known my agent Selma for many years as she represented the Sidney Howard Estate when I was working on the musical of Dodsworth. She is a top notch old school agent. I was with other agents, including ICM for years, and the one thing I have learned is, you must keep control and do your own selling no matter who represents you. You must represent yourself. Keeping control of your career is essential.”
The stars all rave for The Road To Qatar “I had a blast!” Chita Rivera “A hilarious musical!” Christine Ebersole “Fun. Genuine fun! “When was the last time you could say that about a musical?” Richard Maltby “A real musical comedy – reminiscent of the Crosby and Hope’s “Road” adventures! Riveting. A wonderful evening of entertainment!” Susan Stroman “It’s funny and it’s true. It’s truly funny! Hop on your camel and get on The Road To Qatar!” Marcia Milgrom Dodge.
Where can we see The Road to Qatar?
The York Theatre Company
Presents by special arrangement with Paul F. Burchett
In association with Coltrane, LLC
Book and Lyrics Stephen Cole • Music David Krane
Choreographer Bob Richard • Music Director David Caldwell • Director Phillip George
James Beaman • Keith Gerchak • Bill Nolte • Sarah Stiles • Bruce Warren
THE ROAD TO QATAR is a new true musical comedy about two American musical theatre writers commissioned to do the impossible– write a larger-than-life Broadway-style mega-musical for the Emir of Qatar including 100 actors, 40 camels, 17 fire-eating jugglers and Muhammad Ali. Surprises abound as the quirky self-professed “short Jewish writers” leave New York and begin trotting the globe in their own version of a madcap Bob Hope/Bing Crosby adventure!
Final Performance is February 27, 2011 www.roadtoqatar.com
Richard Cameron of Theatre Chat thanks Joel Markowitz of DC Theatre Scene and of course the award winning Stephen Cole for crossing our cultures together and sharing the arts with our international communities. Cameron’s articles have featured conversations with Tony Award winning Producer Stewart Lane, Emmy Award winning Casting Director Jeff Greenberg, multiple Broadway and TV stars and creative teams bringing arts lovers together around the world for the largest social media arts movement. Tag You’re it! Click Subscribe above and share with your communities.