BWW Interview: Daren A.C. Carollo & Daniel Thomas of TITANIC IN CONCERT at 42nd Street Moon Discuss Their Successful Collaboration & the Upcoming Moon Season
42nd Street Moon opens its 27th season on September 7th & 8th with a concert staging of Maury Yeston & Peter Stone's "Titanic" with full orchestra. BroadwayWorld spoke recently with Moon's Artistic Directors Daren A.C. Carollo and Daniel Thomas about the show and Moon's upcoming season. The two make for an interesting team, with Carollo's candor and exuberance playing off Thomas' more reserved and deliberative nature. The following is a condensed version of our conversation.
What specifically drew you to "Titanic" for a concert staging?
Carollo: In two words, the answer is "the score" - but Daniel will give you a much better answer!
Thomas: [laughs] Certainly the score. This is the third year doing the musicals in concert and each time we've tried to pick shows where the vocal work and the orchestrations are best served by doing it with the
full complement of artists. With our regular shows we're in a smaller space, we use maximum 4 to 5 musicians. A lot of times we take a show written for 20 or 30 people and we do it with 12 to 15. That's fine and exciting and an artistic challenge, but with some shows you want to hear them with 25 musicians, you want to hear choral sections with 40 singers, and this gives us the opportunity to explore those.
Carollo: Daniel said this very beautifully on the first rehearsal: We also do these to get new artists introduced to Moon. We have over half the cast making their Moon debut. It's really cool for Daniel and I to meet all these people we might not get a chance to meet cause we don't normally have you know 42 roles for non-Equity actors.
Thomas: A lot of these people, although they're new to Moon, they're people Daren and I have worked with at other theaters in the area before so we're familiar with them. But then there are a number of people who are new referrals to us. Daren said it's a great way for us to get 'em into the family.
Daren, you're also directing, and Daniel you're music directing "Titanic." What are your own favorite moments in the show?
Carollo: Well, I am a sucker for old people crying and dying. I love old people holding hands, and just in general "Daren loves that shit," right?" So for me the Strausses, their connection and their willingness to die next to each other is really inspiring. I'm also a musical theater geek so any time all 44 [cast members] are singing, I am a hot mess - can't think about anything, can't stage anything. I just literally get sucked into that sound. Daniel, what are your favorite moments?
Thomas: I certainly agree with that. There's also a moment in the second act after everybody starts to realize they're not all going to make it. You've got this really powerful song where the husbands and the wives are getting on the lifeboats, and the husbands aren't going to be able to get on. They're singing this song of hope and optimism even in the face of death and separation, and it's one of those moments that gets me every time. Even when we're in the middle of rehearsal and I'm pounding it out on the piano, it still has the power to affect your emotions.
Carollo: And this group of people is also really inspirational. I mean we have some [real life] couples, we have some husbands and husbands, we have Daniel's wife who's making her stage debut after being, you know, a mom for four years. We have board members in the show. We have a lot of people we already love, which is really cool.
How do you go about putting together a "Moon" season? How do you cull through your extensive wish lists to narrow them down to the slate of shows you're actually going to do?
Carollo: Well the first thing is that we don't produce shows because we like them. We produce shows because we think it will grow the community of 42nd Street Moon or it will bring new people into Moon or it fits our mission. Daniel and I announce shows every year that we don't personally like, but we believe are right for Moon. Does that make sense?
Yes, and I have to say it's a little surprising. I can imagine you two guys going "Oh, I love that show! I can't wait to do it!"
Carollo: We agree on like one-third of the musical theater canon - which is you know funny, but not important. We want to always choose a season that has a diverse group of roles for talent, as well as shows that appeal to a diverse group of audience members. We are "the San Francisco theater musical company." We want to make sure that everyone is as represented as we can in the season, and some of that comes down to how you actually cast it. So - we chose "Hot Mikado" because it fits Moon's mission perfectly. It's rarely produced, it's funny as all hell, the score is jazzy and we get to feature 4 musicians onstage. "Scrooge in Love" was a no-brainer - holiday show for the family. It's a proven seller for us. And then we always want to introduce patrons to something they may have never heard of. This has become big since Daniel and I took over 3 years and 2 months ago. This year it's "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder." Yes, it's a Tony Award winner; yes, it had a national tour, but it is not well known and we believe that it should be. It's a farce, you get to escape the world that we live in for 2 hours and 5 minutes and just laugh your ass off. That's really important, especially right now. And then we always want to be loyal to producing Golden Age musicals that are rarely remounted, and "The Pajama Game" is a perfect example of that. We are working on making the show a bit better for the post-Me Too [era] which is important to Daniel and I. And then we get to our two brand new programs - "Back to Back" and the "Sondheim Sweep."
"Back to Back" - where Moon will present classic musicals along with the plays they're based on - sounds fascinating.
Carollo: I've always been inspired by Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I think it's amazing the way they use an ensemble of actors to tell 11 stories in 10 ½ months. And so I thought OK one of the ways to make Oregon Shakespeare Festival fit in San Francisco was this idea of presenting musicals in rep with their source material. We're not the first ones to do this, but we are the first ones to commit to doing it every year for the time being. I have a list of 33 years' worth [of shows]. I don't know how long Daniel and I will be here, but hopefully we'll get through the list.
And you're engaged in the ambitious "Sondheim Sweep" wherein over a multi-year period you're presenting every stage musical written by Stephen Sondheim. How did that come about?
Carollo: [Sondheim's] about to be 90 years old. This is the greatest American composer in my opinion (Daniel might feel differently) and we both have a personal love for Sondheim. Some of his works like "Anyone Can Whistle" are great for a weekend in concert, and then there's some that we will fully produce like "Merrily We Roll Along." The same 13 actors will perform in both the play and the musical.
I'm a Sondheim freak myself. Daniel - any insight into his scores?
Thomas: First off, he doesn't get enough credit, especially among non-theater aficionados, as a lyricist. He's probably the greatest lyricist that musical theater has ever had. As a composer you he gets knocks for being dissonant or non-melodic or challenging for audiences to take in on the first hearing and I don't think that's true. I think if audiences get the chance to sit down and absorb the score and get swept up in the story telling of it that they walk out of the experience really appreciating the score. It's more complex than a lot of theater composers. Especially in the last 20 or 30 years you've had a lot of people who are basically writing pop songs for theater, much the same way that a lot of the Tin Pan Alley composers did. Sondheim really came out of the Hammerstein/Bernstein school of writing for theater in which they were writing strictly for character and for [specific] moments, and yet still creating popular songs in that context. I think us being able to tackle some of these scores in a number of different ways is a great opportunity for us. We can do things in concert like we did with "Follies," but some shows we do more intimately with just a piano or maybe 3 or 4 instruments. I think hearing those scores in a very different environment will give people a new perspective.
I'm interested in how you two work together. You share Artistic Director responsibilities, and in addition one of you is directing sometimes and one of you is music directing sometimes. That's a lot of working in tandem! How do you balance your respective roles? Do you try to maintain crisp boundaries?
Carollo: Daniel's very good at what Daniel's very good at, I'm fairly decent at what I'm fairly decent at, and then we have this grey area [where] we just talk to each other. I have NEVER had a partner in 20 years of arts leadership that knows my strengths and weaknesses better. Daniel has an ability to say "I think you'll be good at this." or "I'm not even going to tell Daren this is happening." You know, my girlfriend would be totally jealous of this, but he knows me better than she does. And it's always in flux. Just because Daniel did it this time doesn't mean that Daniel is going to be doing the task the next time.
Thomas: I would echo all of that. We are both open books in terms of what our likes and dislikes are ... and what our visions are for where this company should go. You can get almost anything done if you simply put your agenda out on the table at the beginning and walk into the room and say "This is what I want to happen." And Daren is even better than I am at [that]. You often hear him say "no" is his least favorite word in the English language. I would say if there is one difference between us it's that he can walk in the room and very much be the visionary and get us all on board with the vision, and I will walk in the room with my vision and then be the pragmatist of "How can we logistically get this done?"
Carollo: Daniel comes from a musician's background, from a composer's, and his level of detail is a huge part of 42nd Street Moon's success. He's a visionary, too, but there's nothing that falls through the cracks with this guy, and I think that's a huge blessing to the organization.
Daren, you produced "bare: the musical" off-Broadway, which has such a tuneful and moving score and tells a heart-rending story. Are there any plans to mount future productions of that show?
Carollo: Yeah, I have a production company that produced "bare" off-Broadway, "A Time to Kill" on Broadway, we invested in "Hello, Dolly!" and we're investing in "Almost Famous" - we just put a hundred grand into that. It's not my money - it's all money I raised. Commercial theater interests me too, so I wanted to put a little toe in that world. My dream - and my co-producers on "bare" all know this - 42nd Street Moon would be the home to "bare: the musical" the second we could make this happen. When we lost the composer to a drug overdose, we were in the process of negotiating the rights for other companies to produce the off-Broadway version of "bare: the musical." His estate, as you can imagine, are very eager to make money off that so we think someday it could happen. But as of now "bare: the musical" instead of "bare: the rock opera" sits on the shelf in my closet, sadly... That musical is incredibly relevant. When are people going to stop being mistreated because of who they're attracted to?
Daniel, you're also a performer. Any dream roles you'd still love to play?
Thomas: [laughs, hesitates]
Carollo: I love that question!
Thomas: You know, it's funny ... I always ...
Carollo: You must have a dream role, Daniel!
Thomas: You know, having kept a foot both in the administrative and the artistic side for my whole life, I never looked at the performing end of it as a ... I love it, I'm passionate about it, I enjoy doing it - but I never had a thought of like "I want go out there and do this for a living and I want to make this my sole thing." I never really assembled that kind of a list like a lot of kids do when they're in high school or in college. After the fact, a lot of times I go "I am so glad I got the opportunity to play that role." Looking back, I think for who I am as a character and as a singer and as an actor, I've covered most of the ones that I think would really be appropriate and right and fulfilling for me.
Carollo: But Jim, you'll be the very first person to know this outside of Daniel's personal family and his work family: we are thrilled that Daniel is going to be in our production of "The Pajama Game." This is the second show he'll do for Moon as an actor and we're stoked about that. [laughs] He will sell exactly 600 tickets himself.
Thomas: [laughs] The pressure is on!
Carollo: That's 3 sold-out houses you owe me!
Whenever I attend a Moon performance, I feel like it's really about reconnecting to the joy that musical theater brought me as a kid. For each of you, what are your memories of the very first stage musical you ever saw?
Carollo: Mine is very vivid and I tell this story all the time. It's two moments:  Cathy Rigby flying over me changed my life, and  one of my least favorite musicals ["Cats"] is the sole reason that I am a part of this world. I was sitting in the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, I was 11 years old, and the lights went down. Suddenly there was an actor dressed as a cat staring at me in the face and I could smell their breath. The cats in the national tour made their entrance through the auditorium, through the theater houses. So there were cats that literally started the show by perching up, by looking at me, and running down the aisle. And in that moment, this stranger with really nasty breath changed my entire life. I was hooked, I was in, there was no getting me out.
Thomas: My mother took us to see the national tour of "Annie" at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. I had done a couple of shows in my elementary school, but that was the first kind of big experience and it was just the overwhelming largeness of it compared to what I'd been doing - to hear the orchestra playing it in front of you, to see the people coming out onstage. I remember walking and out of there and going "this is incredibly exciting to me." It took a few more years before I realized how much a part of my life I wanted to make it, but it had a very profound impact on me."Annie," first of all, I think is an incredibly underrated show and a lot of people write it off as silly or annoying or whatever. I think when "Annie" is done right, it is a funny and emotional and wonderful show
Carollo: Amen to that! Preach!
Thomas: And it's one of those shows that for whatever reason I've worked on 5 more times as an actor or music director or producer since then. The guy who played FDR in that tour I ended up being in a production of "Annie" with in LA years later. He was playing FDR again, and it was wonderful to give him that story of "I remember seeing you in this role and being inspired by that production." And he goes "How many years ago was that?" and I said "It was about 22 years ago." And he goes "Now I feel really old!" So it was kind of a back-handed compliment, I guess. But it's always nice to meet the people who helped form your passion even if they didn't know they were doing it at the time.
"Titanic: The Musical - in Concert" kicks off 42nd Street Moon's 27th Season at the Alcazar Theatre (650 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA) on Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, September 8, 2019 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets may be purchased through the Box Office at (415) 255-8207 or online at www.42ndstmoon.org.