Interview: 'The Game' Is Afoot Again for Julianne Boyd and the Barrington Stage
When "The Game," a new musical based on Choderlos de Laclos' sexually searing and scandalous 1782 epistolary novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," made its world premiere at the Barrington Stage Company in 2003, it garnered rave reviews and thunderous ovations from critics and audiences alike. Variety praised, "'The Game' is far from up. It's rare to find such an enriching and accomplished musical..." TheaterMania.com proclaimed, "Better book that Broadway theater now! The salient question is not how long it will take 'The Game' to transfer, but why it took two whole centuries for someone to realize the property's potential. Writers Amy Powers and David Topchik, composer Megan Cavallari, and director Julianne Boyd have pretty much nailed it...The production as a whole is a triumph."
So why, with such glowing potential and a cast that included future Tony Award winner Sara Ramirez as the deliciously decadent Marquise de Merteuil (the role famously played by Glenn Close in the Christopher Hampton/Stephen Frears movie "Dangerous Liaisons"), did "The Game" all but disappear following its limited two-week run in the Berkshires?
"Before major critics could see it and word-of-mouth could spread, it was gone," rues Julianne Boyd, co-founder and artistic director of Barrington Stage. "The Variety review didn't come out till four days after the show closed. Back then we were performing in a high school in Sheffield, so our schedule was restricted."
Ever since that first production, Boyd says, Barrington audiences have been clamoring for her to bring it back. Some want to see it again; others want to see what they missed. Finally, eight years later, Boyd and company have heeded the call. A newly reworked production of "The Game," this time starring Broadway's Rachel York and Graham Rowat as the scheming aristocrats Merteuil and Valmont, begins previews at Barrington Stage August 11. Opening night is August 17 with performances through August 28. "This time we're playing three weeks and we have more of an opportunity for people to see it," says Boyd. "We've had a chance to advertise."
This time around, too, the production will be performed not in a high school auditorium but in Barrington's own beautifully restored vaudeville music hall complex located in downtown Pittsfield. It will also benefit from the much larger spotlight that the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" has lured to the company. "Spelling Bee" was developed and received its world premiere at Barrington Stage in 2004. Today the company's Musical Theatre Lab, established in 2006 during the company's first season in its new facility, is overseen by "Spelling Bee" composer/lyricist William Finn.
"We have a great family of creative artists who are totally committed to doing the best shows possible," Boyd says when asked how this relatively young Western Massachusetts theater company has achieved so much success and so much acclaim in such a relatively short period of time. "I have a great staff and a fabulous board. And I'm very driven (laughs)! We keep working and working. We have really high standards and feel that we can always do better."
Boyd and company are applying that uncompromising spirit of excellence to this remounting of "The Game." For the past year she, Cavallari, Powers and Topchik have been "fixing" the areas they saw as "weaknesses" in the first staging. They are using the rehearsal period like a workshop, seeing what their changes look like when the actors perform them and making adjustments again, if necessary.
"There were three or four songs we knew we wanted to change," Boyd explains. "We needed to strengthen the balance of power between Merteuil and Valmont, and we've done that. For example, at the end of the first act, Merteuil has this great song called 'Wanting Her More.' In the second act Valmont had a reprise of it. Now he has his own song called 'How Could I Dare,' and it is an unbelievably strong song. So now in the middle of the second act you feel that he is as strong as she is. It's wonderful."