Lennon Roundtable: Interview with Will Chase, Julie Danao, Mandy Gonzalez and Terrence Mann

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with four cast members from Lennon, which opens on Broadway on August 14th. Will Chase, Julie Danao, Mandy Gonzalez and Terrence Mann sounded off about the show, Yoko, the Beatles the legend of John and lots more…

Where did your involvement begin with the show?

Terrence: I was asked to do the readings, and as soon as I heard that it was for a show about John Lennon, I said sure!

Will: Literally, I was in San Francisco doing Little Princess, and I read online somewhere that they were doing it, and my first thought was "Oh my God – how are they going to screw up a story about John Lennon?" Then I read that it was Don Scardinio, and knew his name, and his work, and read the project, and I said "ooh, this is a good idea," so I went in for it, and got it. I've been a Beatles fan since I was about 5, so it was almost too good to be true.

Mandy: I auditioned in October of last year, and got the part….

Julie: Same as Mandy I auditioned in October.

And were you fans of John before the show?

Julie: It's funny because I've got a poster of him, and I bought the poster before I even had the audition, because I'm a singer-songwriter on the side, and I was looking for someone to look up to. It was John Lennon that I put up there, and then all of a sudden I got the audition about a year later – it was very weird!

Will: I was, but more so as an adult. I was a Beatles freak for the longest time, but I wasn't really a John Lennon solo fan, till when I was into college, which was 10-12 years after he was killed. I knew some of the solo stuff, but I wasn't really into it, and then I really went headlong into it, and kind of kept in touch with his and Paul McCartney's solo material.

Mandy: I knew of John, and of the Beatles through my Mom, and became a fan of his and the Beatles through her. My sister was really into John, and especially into his later stuff so that's how I first started to really like him, and found him to be an inspiration.

Terrence: Well, I grew up with John unlike my colleagues here… I grew up with the Beatles, I went to school, I protested the war, and I set on the steps singing 'Give Peace a Chance' at the Jacksonville Courthouse for which I got arrested. I also lived on 71st street, right behind the Dakota, and I saw and met John in the drugstore there a couple of times. I remember hearing the gunshots that night when he was killed, and I went over to the vigil right after that. I was a fan of both him and the Beatles. I loved his stuff actually more than the other guys, I loved the whole thing, but his more than the other Beatles. I was just listening today in fact to a compilation of Beatles stuff and his is so very personal, and very raw and very revealing and turned inside out. And all the songs are great songs…

Mandy: …Even the versions that he just wrote a part of a song, he added so much to them…

Terrence: Yeah, it did. I didn't really get into his music after he left the Beatles. I got into his politics because of the fact that he used his celebrity and his power, and his status as a celebrity for a political platform as a bully pulpit to say that "hey, these young people of today have a right to be heard, they have as much right, and as much validity, and worth and integrity as all these people running things. I'm here to say that ya'll need to listen to us all." He really made me feel like I can do that.

Do you feel that the show makes or conveys a similar statement to that?

Terrence: I think that the show certainly reflects the aspect of him. We don't get into an in-depth portrayal of that aspect of him, but I think that what I come away from the show with, is this notion, and the idea, and the truth rather that whether John Lennon had been a Beatle or not, he would have been a mover and shaker in the world. He would have made people think differently about who they were, and what they were in the world – spiritually, socially, politically – Beatle or no Beatle.

Do you think that there's enough of the Beatles in the show? Too much, just right?

Julie: The show is the story of a "Beatle Lennon," his life, and among other things his experience with the Beatles, but it's not a Beatles show. It's about John Lennon, and his whole life, and his whole identity, through his music, and through the whole circumstances of what happened in his life. It's basic storytelling of this man trying to find out who he is in the this whole line of artistry. If you're a big Lennon fan, then this is something that you'd probably want to come see.

Mandy: Even my mom, and my mom's a huge Beatles fan, came, and she was like 'wow, I didn't know so much about him' – I think that the Beatles were a huge part of John's life, but they were just a part of it. I think that's delved into in a way that you can see that, and you see him from birth when he's born, and the Beatles were a great part, and he talks about it – but it was just a part.

Will: I think that there is now… I think there was musically before, but Don never set out to do a Beatles show, and I'm so in agreement that we're telling the John Lennon story. Truthfully to John, if he were to sit there and watch it, and he's said on occasion that "look, it was a little rock band, yeah we changed some hair styles." Of course it was more than that, and I think that it was more than that as a huge Beatles fan, but to John, his life after the Beatles wasn't about them at all. He's say "I'm glad that you liked our little rock band, but life goes on" and we kind of tried to stay to stay true to that. I think early drafts left out a bit too much of Paul McCartney and his importance to the story, so now there's a lot more Paul and Cythnia and the Beatles to tell the story. It's kind of a exposition still to the rest of John's life, but there's a great 'Let it Be' scene in our show now, where it deals with the break-up and you see it as opposed to us just talking about, so I think that now there's plenty 'o Beatles.

How far out did you go in reading and watching source material of the actual events, and interviews that are used in the show?

Terrence: We had a lot of books, and a lot of video. The last hour of every day of rehearsal was spent pouring over videos, and books and stuff like that.

Julia: Plus, the play itself, and our director/writer Don Scardino has all the information directly from the mouth of John Lennon. Don basically just took pieces, and picked out the key points that would make the story whole, the way that we'd hope John would want it told, but it's directly from his mouth.

We had to watch some of these interviews, and it was interesting to go "oh wow," to hear him say it, and to think about what perspective he came from during the times when we might not have been born, but where he existed. I think that it's also very interesting, because there's a lot of universal themes that are still going on right now.

Where'd the idea come from for multiple John's?

Terrence: It was there from day one, because it was the pitch. People that had wanted to do the story of John Lennon as a Broadway play, or as a movie, or a TV thing, or whatever for a long time, and Yoko Ono always said no, no, no because she didn't want someone to get up and to do an impersonation of John Lennon. So, when our director Don Scardino came and met with Yoko at the Dakota, and the first thing she said to him was "what is it?" and he said "nine people, men and women, White, Black, Asian, Spanish all play John Lennon in the play" and she said "ok." He got her right then, and that's because he's a child of the world, and that's the symbol that we create. That's the metaphor that we've chosen to portray him as – a child of all the races, cultures, creeds, codes, etc.

Will: Once we tailored and tweaked it, it became great. There are moments like 'Look at Me,' where we're all playing John, but it's not hard to get understand. I think some people have been confused or have had a problem with it on paper, but it's not that hard a concept once you come watch it – who's John now?? You see, as we sort of narrow it down to 4 Johns, each of whom play different sides of him, with me as the narrator, and then they sort of morph into me at the end when he finds himself sort of complete. I think that it's the best way to tell the story, because there were so many sides to him. He was a guy that had to live his life in front of the camera, and in front of the press, and had to reinvent, or refashion himself daily. That's why I think that Yoko liked the 9 people are John idea, and that's why it worked.

Speaking of Yoko, what's been her involvement with the show on an ongoing basis?

Terrence: She's been the final arbiter of everything that goes up on stage, and she's been so forthcoming with information, and stories. Like Julie was talking about, we'd know what the front story was of something of the bed-in, or when she sent him to LA, but then she would come in and tell us the anecdotes and the stories about how it got to there, and really what happened, and why the conversation took place and who's been saying what. She's been integral and very supportive.

And now is she still in the mix?

Terrence: Yeah, she's been to the show every night the last week

Mandy: She doesn't come to rehearsals, but she comes to the show and watches it from the same seat, and brings close friends and comes back afterwards and tells us how great she thinks we are. She's very supportive of the piece.

Does she still make suggestions and things?

Mandy: Yeah, I mean, she's an artist. I think that she didn't get the kind of appreciation that she should have for her work, because I think that a lot of her stuff is pretty great, and that she herself is a revolutionary in a way, so it's great to get feedback directly or indirectly through Don about what she thinks and things.

Will: She doesn't make suggestions really to us as cast members, more through Don and Brian her assistant. Yoko's an artist, and she may say one thing, or feel one thing, and then Brian will translate, or she'll articulate about a certain scene. For instance, 'Working Class Hero', was a song that's now 'Look at Me' – and in San Francisco, it was all these John's singing about looking in the mirror and transing out and 'Working Class Hero' didn't really fit, because it was about another aspect of his life, he was saying something else. Musically it kind of fit, but 'Look At Me' now, is a specific song that fits with the story we're telling now. Yoko was kind of the one that was the catalyst for that. She said 'Working Class Hero' was great, but it doesn't really tell the story you're trying to tell, keep looking. Don found 'Look at Me,' which asked the question of "who am I?" We ask the question throughout the show now, and it's kind of stuff like that which Yoko has been great about.

Julie, what's it like playing someone that's not just alive, but that's also sitting in the audience?

Julie: Oh gosh, you know it was really a surreal thing having to go into the audition, and to see a person that's still alive, and you're talking about a story that's really sensitive to her. The last thing that you want to do is to go and freak out, and that's exactly what I did. I figured that the best thing was to go in there and just start laughing, and I did.

Mandy: And you had to go in there and do the monologue about when John left her, right?

Julie: Yeah, that was weird! The first thing I did was I went in there, and I just smiled, and I said "Hello Yoko, it's a pleasure to meet you, let's begin." I had to laugh about it, because it was the only way that I could deal with it….

Terrence: Not Mrs. Ono-Lennon? (laughing)

Julie: And she did not respond at all. But, then at the very end of the audition she kind of peaked down with her glasses, which is her way of saying ok, and hello and that she's into whatever you're doing. I mean, how do you talk about your husband who died and was murdered? We're all still a nation that's dealing with that. In a lot of ways, I think that the plays helps that. People still kind of deal with the Beatles too, and it's their way of saying goodbye to John Lennon.

I think that she still goes back and watches the show to have John around. Marcy, one of our cast members, says that she probably comes to the show not just for the show, but also to be closer to her husband

Has she been supportive of you playing her?

I'm here, aren't I? (laughing) Yes. She really has her ways, and she's very particular about things, but she's very hands off, Don does everything. This is her life out there though, so in that way I would definitely be going to the show every night, and making sure that we're getting it right. Especially with the mass media on top of her for years, giving her bad flack. The thought of a strong woman in the 60s, was very difficult then…

Mandy: …and it resonates, today, they're still giving it to her.

Was she there for your audition also?

Mandy: We were there together; I think I went in right before her. She was there with her hat and glasses, and it was pretty surreal. It was weird, I sang 'Beautiful Boy' at my audition, and to sing it in front of her was scary.

So you were asked to sing something by John at the audition?

Mandy; Yeah, by John Lennon post Beatles, or by John during the Beatles. I had to figure out first who sang what in the Beatles, and I called my mom who knew everything.

Terrence: I just did the readings, and she would come to all the readings…

Mandy: Terry doesn't audition!

Terrence: When the call came in, I said "Yes! Somebody's offering me something! My career isn't over!" It was weird though, because we were doing the readings, and the bed-in and stuff in the readings, and they're about 3 feet away from you, and you're saying the words that she and John said at the bed-in. So this is life, imitating art, imitating life, imitating art. It's bizarre, but she's very, very sweet. She would come up to me during the readings and say "I loved your accent in the bed-in." She used to say that in every reading, "you talk just like John in the bed-in."

Will: I wasn't in any of the readings, I think Euan Morton did my role in the last incarnation, but I had a call back for Yoko at the last auditions. It was kind of nerve-wracking, but not bad, because you could tell that Don and everyone loved hearing us singing Lennon and Beatles stuff. Having Yoko being there, was cool – so even if I didn't get the gig, I knew that I still was going to get to sing for Yoko, and a chance to make her smile and all that.

I got them all to laugh at the end of my audition, which I felt very good about. I sang 'And Your Bird Can Sing' which is a Beatles tune that John that sang the lead on, and then Watching the Wheels. I sang a verse and a chorus, and then the last chorus, I said – what would John do? The song is basically about doing nothing, not going to clubs anymore, just watching the wheels, not getting caught up in the charts, and how songs are doing in the charts, so I grabbed a chair, and sat with my back my to the auditioners for the whole last verse. I think Don said something funny like "hey, I paid a lot of money for these tickets," and they all laughed, and got what I was doing. Yoko turned to Don and said "he'd be great doing that in the show," and Don said "you know, we cut that song in the last reading!" It wound up that through rehearsals it was in and out, and we didn't do it in San Francisco but with the changes for New York, it fit perfectly. We hadn't delved into the fatherhood, and his sitting around aspect too much in the first incarnation. In this version of the show, at the first preview it stopped the show! I didn't know what to do, because I'd never had a showstopper before, I didn't know what to do! Do you bow or? I didn't know what to do. Where it sits in the show now, it's kind of like the penultimate number. Our hero has finally realized that he doesn't have to perform anymore.

How has the show been changing from the early days?

Terrence: It's changed considerably. Obviously, the two ways that I think it changed, are that they've made it chronologic, and more A, B, C, D, here's when this happened, and they've given more of the narration to Will Chase to focus it more. Those two things make the whole playing of the piece clear.

Will: Structurally the feel of the show is still the same passing the glasses and the hat, maybe I'll narrate, and then others will act it out. Songs have been cut though, and have changed places and lots of changes like that. I'd guess that now I've got the lion's share of the narration, and in the second act, as we're all kind of morphing so the John kind of becomes me. Structurally it's changed a bit, but the essence has remained the same.

The delay was to give us a bit more time there, and the beginning and the ending have changed a lot from the original idea. Now, we start with a version of John's 'New York City,' and I think that it makes it more accessible to the audience, getting them in on the ride from the get go. The ending is kind of different too, so the payoff is great because now you can tell the difference in the audience which is now leaping to its feet.

I've had friends come to the previews, and go "why did they even think that was a good idea? It's so much better now!" and it's all part of a process to see something up on stage, and to see what's working and what needs to be tweaked. When you change 1 thing, it takes 3 hours to tech it, and to re-light it, so people kind of forget that the process of previews is what all that's for, and hopefully what you're left with is a crafted thing.

The concept of Lennon has been knocked a bit, as are many shows with a 'jukebox' style to them. How do you feel that Lennon differs from the pack?

Terrence: I'll go first… The only other jukebox show that I've seen was Mamma Mia!, and I liked it because the play of it was so tongue in cheek. They were winking at the audience, and I think it really, really worked. That's the only one I've seen, and it's obviously worked, no matter what people, say because there's like 37 companies worldwide and it's making money, and people are seeing it. I feel like what Lennon is, it's a catalogue of his music, but it's also a catalogue of his music making statements about who he was at seminal moments in his life, so the structure of it is not so much book driven as it is narration and anecdote driven. Most of the jukebox shows are a play with all these music thrown into it, but this one is more about the narration of one man telling his story through the anecdotes and seminal moments of his life, and the songs give it the emotionality…

Julie: That's a great way to put it actually…

Mandy: That's it, Terry Mann…

Terrence: Thank you very much!

Julie: Yeah, his music reflects his life, so if he wants to write about Yoko, then the name 'Yoko' is in the song, it's very straight forward. The music is very beautiful and you get to hear it from 9 different voices interspersed with a story, which is actually very cool.

Terrence: The one other thing that also sets it apart, is that it's this one man's telling of his story, which is in search of his authentic self.

Julie: This is John Lennon's life, and you get to hear his own words, and his own music with everything, so it just makes sense all of a unique experience.

Mandy: I think that it's great for those who come to the show to come with an open mind. If they're coming with the pre-conceived notion that they don't like jukebox musicals or this and that, then they won't have the experience of John and go on that ride with us, so I think it's important if you do come to our show to have that open mind, and to be willing to come along for the journey.

Terrence: The show's about the truth, about the truth of this man's journey. In music, in words, in song, emotionally, physically, politically it's the truth.

Julie: Even with his mistakes, he's a human being.

Terrence: With warts and all.

Julie: And it's 9 people telling a story, not look-alikes, or imitators, and that's what should be expected….

Mandy: I think that it's a great experience, and so many things that are said are just amazing. Every night I hear things like 'there are no problems, only solutions' and I think it's so important for people to hear those things, and to be inspired every night like I am.

What are your favorite moments in the show?

Mandy: I have so many favorite moments. 'Watching the Wheels' is one of my favorite moments in the show, and when the 4 male John's kind of come together at this moment where they're like 'aaah' – really taking a breath. The first act is very whirlwind, like John's life was, constantly trying new things, and trying to find himself, and the second act gets more focused. The 'Watching of Wheels' with the 4 men and the harmonies, is just so great. Another favorite moment is when I do the Beatles, and get to sing with the other women. It's a lot of fun, and I think those are my favorite moments in the show, when they all come together – except of course for dancing with Terry.

Julie: I love the God moment. I think that's one of the high points of the show for me, because – especially the way Michael Potts delivers it with such passion, and honesty. He's not frivolously singing, he's right there, with the story, and he's just great. With all of us coming in together, you can feel it, and hear it – all these little statements of what he believed in. I think that song in particular is my favorite song too because he had no problem talking about his fame. It's pretty heavy, and in a world full of different religions, to have to come out with a statement like that is pretty courageous.

Terry; I have 3 actually, having to do with the 2 of them and me! When Julie sings 'Grow Old,' since day one, it's so emotional that we used to cry. The sentiment is there, and it's so beautiful and Julie does it so gorgeously. It's the moment in the play where you get to really reflect and meditate on what John meant to you, it's just gorgeous.

The other moment, is what Mandy does, when in the Let it Be scene she sings 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts…' – I'm on the piano with my head down playing Ringo, and it's just the slammingest, edgiest, most rocking thing that you ever heard – it's just so hot, and every night I just go – God, I want to be Mandy Gonzalez.

Then the third is when I get to sing 'I Don't Want to Lose You,' which was never recorded, he just was working on it at the piano. It's a terrifying moment to go out there every night, and I love it, I love doing it, it's frightening to do, because it was never recorded. All there is of it is a tape deck of him sitting at the piano kind of clinking his tea, and going through it, making it up, at 2 o'clock in the morning. Those are my 3 favorite moments in the show, not necessarily in that order.

Do you think that the show has a message? What are you hoping that audiences come away with?

Terrence: Everything that we've said so far! This is a person that taught people how to think differently, and would have done that on his local level on Liverpool owning a bar, or on a world stage that he did, much like what Oprah does. She even says that, that she would be doing what she's doing even without all the money, it would just be on a smaller scale. The sentiment, the attitude, the passion is all the same, but when you have money and celebrity, it can encompass the world. I think he would have done that as a Beatle or not.

Mandy: I hope that people go away seeing a little bit of themselves. I learn something new about myself every night, through what he says I can relate to it, and can learn something. I hope that people can go away thinking... I hate it when I leave something, it's very rare, but I don't have any opinion whatsoever, so I hope that they just go away saying something.

Julie: John Lennon was an artist, and one of the reasons why I believe he left the Beatles was to find that, and this show is about him finding that artistry, and that's all there is, through his mistakes as a human being and as a famous man. What people get out of it is their own interpretation, it's what you get out of it. I've had people see the show that have loved parts of it, and had opinions on others, but whatever you get out of it is good for you. It's telling the story about a man, and how we all fall in love, break up, cheat some days, make mistakes. He was just in front of the entire world doing it.

Will: It's hard to do a show about John Lennon, or any icon like that where everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks that they know something about him, and has an opinion about the mystique and they forget that he was a man. As soon as he was shot, he was deified, and that was something that the press did a lot.

People were looking for this dark mysterious artist, which did exist in John, but he was still just a guy, and met Yoko and fell in love. Also the demonization of this woman, and when I hear that I go, 'you didn't know John, because even John at one point was calling himself John&Yoko as one word.' He started to live his life around this persona, and they were inseparable, and they were an entity, and he wasn't a Beatle anymore.

A lot of the Beatle fans were disenchanted with him and what John started to do, so I hope people come with a mindset that we're there to explore John's consciousness, and how it changed. That's what we're really trying to do. We're not trying to really just do a biopic with look-a-likes or all that, we're doing John's consciousness changed here when he met Paul McCartney, it changed here when he met Yoko Ono, it changed here where he realized that he could be a voice for a peace, it changed when it realized that he could be a part of the feminist moment, it changed where he realized he should be a dad and not anything else. That's what we're trying to explore, so I hope that people come with an open mind.

I also love that we've got these young people coming that don't know songs like 'Instant Karma,' or they hear 'Give Me Some Truth,' and they think that the song was written yesterday, so that's also kind of the cool thing for me when I walk out the stage door, seeing these young kids that are new John Lennon fans.

How have audiences been reacting?

Terrence: People are going to like it, or they're not going to like it. You want people to have an opinion one way or another, to shake it up, and to be challenged. If you like it, if you don't like it, if you love it, have a thoughtful reason. I had a guy say "it's not my cup of tea, but I love John Lennon, and I love what you did with it."

Audiences for the most part have part have been really digging it. Yoko said to Don that when you do something artistic, that 50% of people will like it, and maybe 50% not, but that shouldn't mean that you shouldn't do it.

I think that maybe Yoko's greatest piece of art was what became of John Lennon. She invested so much of his identity, and his risk-taking in her, she supported it, and he would do it. She took all that knowledge of what it took to be out there on the edge, and searching to find an authenticity, and to make people think differently. John was actually the one who was the guinea pig to set it out there on the world's stage. She said 'yes,' he said 'yes.'

Mandy: John said that if he was less egotistical, and selfish at the time, that he would have given her writing credit for Imagine even. Her book grapefruit has imagine this, and imagine that, so I think that they made each other think.

Will: It's funny, because you sit there nightly on stage, and when you're changing it so much, you can see how the subtle changes affect how the audience comes along for the ride. It's amazing how changing the beginning and end of the show, cause the middle is pretty much all the same, can effect how they take it in.

Nightly when you come out, they love it, now that we're closer to what Don had in mind, and we've refashioned the beginning and the end there, they're just leaping to their feet. For me, getting to play John Lennon is a dream come true. People are saying things to me like 'you really got him' and that's really cool. To watch young kids saying that I knew he was a Beatle, and that's it, but it was cool to be in the city that he loved and to get to watch him on stage. That makes me happy.

Lennon opens on Sunday, August 14th and plays Tuesday - Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets, which range from $46.25 to $101.25, are available through Telecharge.com online or by phone at (212) 239-6200. For more on Lennon, visit www.lennonthemusical.com.

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From This Author Robert Diamond

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