We were at Michael Bennett's old rehearsal studio. The Standbys were just watching at that point. We got in at 10:00 and Bill Duell, who's Erronius, a very dear man, came in all prepared to do his Erronius thing. He was off right and he had his walking stick with him - ready and waiting to come on. With one thing and another they never got to his entrance and 10:00 became 11:00 which became 1:00 and then 2:00, so we broke for lunch. Bill put his staff down and he went out, had his lunch, came back and waited for his cue.
Well, 4:00 became 5:00, 5:00 became 6:00 and finally, about 20 minutes before quitting time, they got to his entrance. He picked up his staff and made the entrance where he's supposed to say, "Second time around." So he came to the center of the rehearsal space, opened his mouth and nothing came out! He couldn't remember his line after waiting to say it all day. Well we all just fell apart. There he had been all day waiting for his entrance and when he finally hit the stage he didn't know it at all.
They finally had to cancel rehearsal for the rest of the evening because everytime the room would get back to being quiet and a room that you could work in somebody else would laugh at what had happened to Bill. That's really my favorite moment, as I look back.
It really highlights what rehearsing Forum was like. It was the funniest rehearsal period I had ever been in. You had a room full of incredibly gifted comedians all trying to delight the foremost musical comedy director on Broadway. Preparing the show was hard work but I like to say that while it may not always have been fun it was always funny. Nothing can top that rehearsal period. It was just screaming, falling-down laughing funny.
At any rate, he was playing the soldier who brings on the marriage contract and says: "My captain is but half a league away and bids you honor this." But he had neglected to take the scroll. So he said, "Bids you honor this." And his hand was empty. Nathan looked at his empty hand. Then he looked at his empty hand and he ran off-stage. This was with the whole audience there. I was at the back of the house. I still remember it. Well, this guy was off-stage for about a week and a half, it seemed. He finally came back on with the scroll.
Apparently, there were a lot of false moves off-stage getting the correct scroll. He brought it back on and he extended it and Nathan, who was never one to let a comic moment go by, went over to him, patted him on the back and said, "Don't worry I don't think anybody noticed." And the theater went crazy. Nathan continued to ad-lib along those lines about getting lousy Temp workers from the Protean Employment Agency.
The point is that when things go wrong on stage, usually they're folded into the event. So while things may go wrong, they don't go crashingly wrong, they just go sort of delightfully wrong.
She'd never done anything like it and to watch her unfold and bloom and grow as this musical comedy performer is an extraordinary thing to see. When she came in the first day of rehearsal with the Standbys, she had already done a lot of homework. She's a real workaholic. She works very hard, but the first day of rehearsal that we had with her, she came in almost apologetic.
I think she was a bit cowed by the prospect of doing a live book musical with such an enormous role. Seeing her become confident has been a beautiful thing to watch. Now she's amazing. I've worked with only two other people I can think of who can hold a candle to her - Angela Lansbury about whom no one would say a bad word in show business and Leslie Uggams who is a dear, dear woman. And now I have Whoopi. The three of them are extraordinary, remarkable human beings, and incredibly talented.
During her second performance, she flubbed a line. She was just all twisted around and no matter how hard she struggled, she simply couldn't get out of it. Finally, she turned to the audience and said, "Two performances and counting." I suppose my favorite moment happened in rehearsal. I was rehearsing Miles with her very early on and we were doing the routine over the dead virgin before the funeral. I came out and saw the dead body. I asked, "How did she die?" We had never rehearsed that sequence before. Whoopi said, "Well, she just sort of rolled over and ...." Nathan would make all of these noises and physical things. They were very funny and we knew what the end of the routine was, to come in with the next line for Miles. But with Whoopi, I had no idea.
Apparently she had decided to do it with words rather than noises and so she started talking about seeing the virgin dead. It was a gross thing and the words just kept coming and coming from her. I didn't know what the end of the routine would be so I was just watching her in horror in character as Miles. Finally from out in the house I heard Jerry Zaks say, "You know, Ken, you can interrupt her at any time!" I didn't know how she was going to end the routine but her mind is so fertile there wasn't a moment's hesitation. She just went on and on. The creativity of the woman is just extraordinary.
For another example, when we rehearsed soothsayer routine, each rehearsal was completely different. She always came on with a different character. Her explanation was that she was auditioning soothsayers. So she kept bringing in different ladies to play the soothsayer until she found somebody that she liked.
I don't think I could envision a more congenial rehearsal period. Sometimes, with Nathan and Jerry, the rehearsals took on the atmosphere of brain surgery. You tended to forget that it's a comedy you're doing. It's a funny thing because comedy is ...it's so cliched... serious business! But with Whoopi there was always time and it was just a lot more relaxed and a lot more laid back. Her's was a very different rehearsal process from Nathan's.