BWW Interviews: THE FIG LEAVES ARE FALLING's Jonathan Rayson
THE FIG LEAVES ARE FALLING holds a very special place in the annals of Broadway musicals. With a book by Allan Sherman and music by Albert Hague, it ran a mere 4 performances at the Broadhurst Theater in 1969. The show brought much critical acclaim to Dorothy Louden who garnered a Tony Award nomination for her role in the show before actually winning the big award several years later for her riotous performance as Miss Hannigan in the original production of ANNIE.
Now, THE FIG LEAVES ARE FALLING is being presented in New York at the intimate Connolly Theater on East 4th Street. The production has been tweaked a bit with the blessings of the estates of both authors and is now set in the framework of a TV quiz show. "It seems to be working," says star Jonathan Rayson, who plays the role Barry Nelson originated.
Rayson is a friendly man with a certain wholesomeness to his good looks that seems to be expected of a man who hails from Omaha, Nebraska. "There've been some adjustments made for this production-like removing time specific references and the elimination of some characters," he says. This version of the show is being directed by Ben West and Rayson points out that Jack Klugman was the director of the 1969 version but quit some time before opening night. No one less than George Abbot was listed as the director on opening night.
Chatting in the theater's lobby, Rayson gives a brief synopsis of the show: "It concerns a couple with two children who seem to be happy in their marital relationship. In the original production the children were part of the cast and part of the action. Here they are off stage and only spoken of by other. My character looks for 'color in his life' and finds it when a new secretary is hired. I guess you could say it's a mid-life crisis but it's resolved in a very interesting way."
Rayson began performing at a very early age. "My father had a cover band and that got me performing well before others." He became involved in high school shows and eventually found himself involved in a dinner theater company where he was on stage but waited tables as well. "The patrons really seemed to like the idea that the guy who was taking their orders was also singing in the show they were seeing," Rayson recalls.
It was during his dinner theater days that Rayson experienced one of his most embarrassing stage mishaps. He was playing Freddy Eynesford-Hill in MY FAIR LADY when he realized he'd done the entire "On The Street Where You Live" scene with his fly open. "A quick change can cause things like that to happen," he adds.
Going back to his high school days, Rayson recalls playing Enoch Snow in the school's version of CAROUSEL. "I was supposed to end 'When the Children Are Asleep' by kissing my Carrie (Jill Anderson) on the forehead and leading her off hand-in-hand romantically." One night the hooks on his costume tangled with the lace of her bodice and the couple was stuck on stage in a peculiar position. They had to hobble off together awkwardly. "We still talk about it whenever we get together," the actor adds with a hearty laugh.
That wasn't Rayson's only outing in CAROUSEL. His most recent professional credit was as Mr. Bascombe, the owner of the mill, in Goodspeed Opera House's highly acclaimed and popular production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut. There had been quite a bit of buzz about the production transferring to Broadway at the time. "It may still happen," Rayson explains. "There's been quite a bit of talk lately and we're still hopeful that the transfer will take place. It deserves to be seen by Broadway audiences--if only for James Snyder's performance as Billy Bigelow. What a voice that guy has! He's a heck of a nice guy, too."
It was a Broadway transfer that brought Jonathan Rayson to the Great White Way. While working in Minneapolis, he was cast in a production of A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD. It was so well received in Minneapolis that it was brought to New York with most of its cast intact. "We only lasted 2 ½ months," he explains with sadness in his voice. "I invested a lot in that show; moving everything I had to the city." It was just one of those shows that never found its audience.
Since then, Rayson has been seen on Broadway in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS in which he understudied both Hunter Foster and Douglas Sills. Later in the run, he also understudied and went on for Joey Fattone who replaced Foster as Seymour. When the show went out on tour, Rayson took over the role, leading the composer's mother to comment that he was "the tallest Seymour" she'd ever seen.
Performers like Carol Channing are only too happy to know when their friends or family are sitting in the audience during their performances. Channing, in fact, will imagine that her closest friends are sitting 10th row center and seeing the show for the first time as a means of keeping her performance fresh during a long run. She feels she wants to do her very best to impress them. Rayson is not at all like that.
"I can be very self conscious," the actor explains. "When I know that family or friends are out front and I know where they're sitting, I often find myself playing to them. I can tend to overplay things when I know someone I know is out there."
With that in mind, it would be a good thing for family and friends who plan to see Jonathan Rayson in THE FIG LEAVES ARE FALLING to keep their presence a secret when they visit the show. Surely this will be a production that numerous theater folks would like to see; they've heard much about the original production and will be jumping at the chance to see it live. It's a good bet that there'll be long lines at the ticket window at the Connelly Theater during the run of this particular show.
For more information about THE FIG LEAVES ARE FALLING or to purchase tickets, please go to http://www.unsungmusicals.org/figleaves/