BWW Interview: WICKED's Tiffany Haas and Michael McCorry Rose Discuss Upcoming Birdland Concert on 5/19
Current cast members of Broadway's long-running Stephen Schwartz musical Wicked, Tiffany Haas (standby: Glinda) and Michael McCorry Rose (understudy: Fiyero) are preparing for a second performance of their concert CHEEK TO CHEEK: A BROADWAY ROMANCE which debuted in February at 54 Below. Directed by Stephen Sposito with musical direction by Steven Ray Watkins, CHEEK TO CHEEK will be performed this Monday, May 19th at 7pm at Birdland. (For tickets, click here.)
Haas and Rose took the time to chat with BroadwayWorld between shows at Wicked on Wednesday, giving us insight on the inspiration behind the concert as well as their experiences performing together.
Tell us a little bit about your concert.
Tiffany: Cheek to Cheek: A Broadway Romance is an evening of fun and class. It really is an evening of Broadway romance, exactly what the title is.
Michael: The thru-line of the concert came out of a conversation I had with a theatre history professor down at NYU. I told him that our concert was called "Cheek to Cheek," after the Irving Berlin song. We wanted to talk about what was going on in romance lives of some of Broadway's most famous composers when the wrote some of Broadway's most famous love songs. That was sort of the stepping-off point. The professor was this encyclopedia of information about Broadway composers, and stories from that conversation sort of became the thru-line for the show. We talk about Irving Berlin, for example, and what was going on in his first marriage when he wrote "When I Lost You." That was the first ballad he ever wrote. It came from the fact that his wife died shortly after their honeymoon from typhoid fever. He was so distraught after that, that he considered never writing another song again, and that was in 1912. To think that he was never going to write again is kind of insane in hindsight. But his friends kind of encouraged him to write about what he had experienced, which was when he wrote "When I Lost You."
Tiffany: And not all of them are sad! Some of them are really funny.
Was this the inspiration behind collaborating together on this concert, or was there another reason you wanted to perform together?
Tiffany: The reason we really wanted to do a show together was because Michael and I met doing Wicked on tour. We got along so well and had so much fun together, and we also realized we both shared a love of the classics. So, we thought we have to perform this together...how are we going to do this? And we said, we're just going to make it happen. From there, we started thinking about the material we love and what were some interesting ways we could introduce these tunes and tie them together. That's how Michael decided to reach out to the historian.
When was the first time you met?
Michael: At the time, Tiffany was playing Glinda, and I was understudying Fiyero.
Tiffany: When he joined the company, I remember him trailing backstage to learn his track, and I remember staring at him for one moment because I thought he was so handsome.
Michael: I didn't set that up, for the record. Tiffany and I have worked in this contemporary musical together, but Tiffany is a classically trained singer; she went to Cincinnati Conservatory. And I also have more of a classical background and we found ourselves in a show that is quite pop. So I think that's another reason why we individually gravitated towards the classic Broadway sound. It was one more reason we wanted to explore doing this concert together: we both like that style of music so much.
What was your performance like the first time you played Glinda and Fiyero opposite each other?
Michael: I remember I was terrified. No I wasn't. We were in Edmonton, Canada. In some ways it was cool because there were other debuts happening. It was really a special night. I remember being carried through the show in a great way. Tiffany is such a giving performer and great to share the stage with. She's just a pro. She's great in that role and I remembering thinking I was in good hands, as long as I could say all of the lines and remember all of the blocking. But it turned out to be even a little bit better than that.
Tiffany: I remember it being a big night. There were a lot of new people, just a change-up in the cast. That always makes things come to life a little bit. Michael and I had already established such a close friendship, so it was extra exciting. We were already such buddies.
Michael: The other funny thing is that Fiyero and Glinda sing about a total of eight bars together in the show. So there's no huge thing between them musically. That's sort of another reason why we did this concert. We thought that since we don't get to sing too much together in the show, we should really extrapolate on this a little bit.
What is your favorite number to perform in the concert?
Michael: We had a list about ten pages long of the songs we wanted to do in the show. If we had done them all, it would have been a 24-hour concert. So we couldn't do that. So our director suggested we take all the cut songs from the show and mash them all together and tell a story of a romantic relationship from beginning to end. Sort of like two people meeting, and falling in love, and then the dissolving of the relationship. A full cycle. So we do it and we use about thirty seven different Broadway songs. The whole medley is about eight minutes in total. I think that's my favorite one to do just because we cover so much ground. It's so much fun.
Tiffany: It's hard because I love everything in the concert. We have a Gershwin medley that I just love. It's two different songs. One is a very recognizable Gershwin tune, "Someone to Watch Over Me." We sing it with a more unknown song, and I think it's so beautiful because in "Someone to Watch Over Me," it's about searching for love.
Michael: And the lesser-known song is "Somebody Loves Me."
Tiffany: What I love about it is that it's sort of your choice as a listener: are they singing about each other and they haven't met yet, or are they just in separate lives? But it's so beautiful.
Michael: When we put those two together we started with the lyrics. You can kind of mash together any two Gershwin songs because they're all so good. What was so exciting about these two songs is that lyrically they match up so well. It's sort of a mixture of clarity and with some ambiguity.
You performed Cheek to Cheek for the first time in February. How, if at all, do you think this performance will be different?
Michael: We were putting this concert together when 54 Below called and asked us to do it, and the night they had available was Valentine's Day. So it sort of worked out in that way, and it allowed us to explore romance and love themes unabashedly and be a little more shameless about it since it was Valentine's Day. But the thing that we sort of realized after doing it was that the show works on other days than that holiday. It really doesn't have anything to do with Valentine's Day. It really has to do with romance on Broadway.
Tiffany: Right...just beautiful, standard love songs. I think another thing that helped us realize that it can transition so easily was the interest from different symphonies. We can have it arranged for a full orchestra. Really, this show has all the old standards...classic, recognizable tunes that we don't really hear too much anymore. So I think that was another moment that made us really excited to do the show again. It's a great opportunity for us to get more comfortable doing it, and then looking towards the possibility of performing with symphonies.
Michael, you've performed in concerts all over the world (China, Australia, Brazil, Kenya). Could you talk about your experiences abroad?
I think my favorite one was the Macau International Music Festival where we did sort of a concert version of "Grease." What was so cool about it was that the whole thing was super-titled in Cantonese so that people could understand it. There was a real infatuation with American culture in the 1950s...the corvette convertible, leather jacket, greaser thing, and girls in poodle skirts. That certainly still resonates today. There's a lot of energy around that. That was really fun, and really satisfying. I've done a lot of productions of that show, but I've never done it where it's been so universally loved as at that festival.
I also did some concerts with Stephen Schwartz at the Adelaide music festival in Australia a few years ago. It's a show that Stephen, Liz Callaway and I do of Stephen's work which is cool. I love traveling, so any time that travel and music and theatre can combine on one track, I'm a happy boy.
Tiffany, you're currently appearing as a standby for Glinda. Could you tell me about the challenges of filling this position?
Tiffany: I played the role on the tour, and I was able to do it every night, and I absolutely loved that. Of course, I was thrilled to come here and occasionally fly in the bubble on Broadway, but I would love to be doing it every night. There are definite challenges. While it's such an amazing gift to sometimes play a dream role and then sometimes sit and watch the show as a whole, the challenge is that I want to be doing it all the time. I think that creates a challenge there. But today, I feel like I kind of got my fix. I had the opportunity to perform in the matinee, so I got my little Glinda fix.
Michael: It's such a specific and unique skillset for someone who can standby in the wings for days and weeks and even months sometimes. And today you get a phone call and boom, you're on. And no one in the audience, unless they decided to read the insert in the program, would know that an understudy was going on. You just slip in and do your job, and then slip out.
Tiffany: I think the job of a standby is to be called under pressure. You're sometimes thrown on in the middle of the show.
Is there anything else you'd like prospective audiences to know about the concert?
Tiffany: We're so absolutely thrilled to be doing this concert again. We had a sold-out response last time, and we'd love for more people to see it and for more people to love it.
Michael: We obviously sing Berlin, Gershwin, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, but we also feature music of a couple of contemporary writers. For example, we represent Jeanine Tesori, John Bucchino, and Stephen Schwartz. We also represent two really talented songwriters, Chris Diamond and Michael Koonan. They're awesome, and we do a song of theirs, too. So it's not just the classics. We just really find it interesting what was going on in these composers' actual lives when they were inspired to write these songs that our the soundtracks to millions of people's lives.
Tiffany: We genuinely love this music. It's great storytelling.
Michael: I want to make sure to give a shout-out to musical director, Steven Ray Watkins, and our director, Stephen Sposito. They have been so helpful, and the word helpful probably isn't even sufficient enough.
"Cheek to Cheek: A Broadway Romance" will be performed on Monday, May 19th at 7:00pm at Birdland (315 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036). All seats are $25, with a $10 food/drink minimum. To purchase tickets for this concert, click here or call the box office at 212-581-3080.