I first saw MAGGIE FLYNN on Broadway with the delightful, talented Shirley Jones, whom I’d had the pleasure and honor to work with the summer before in a package of ON A CLEAR DAY … (wherein her dual roles of Daisy/Melinda were breathtaking to share at every performance.)
I had invited George Wojtusik, Manager of Equity Library Theater (ELT) to see my work with The American Noh Theatre in hopes he would ask me to direct a show at ELT, the most fantastic professional showcase in NYC — a place where many successful and some later famous theatre artists got their start.
George left halfway through the Noh performance so I was surprised when he called me in for an interview saying “I loved your work, Noh is not my favorite form of Theatre.” I was further surprised when he offered me the job of directing & choreographing MAGGIE FLYNN — with the authors/composers approval. Thanks to George’s trust, Messrs. Peretti, Creatore, and Weiss gave me copies of the originals and Broadway scripts and asked me to recommend my own version of this wealth of their material. When they approved my adaptation, we went to work. It was exciting and educational and one of the biggest honors of my life — better than an Oscar or an Emmy — to have the opportunity to work with these three talented men—four with George—and to have them extremely pleased with the eventual production.
Given the interracial theme of the play, inspired by a true incident during the NYC draft riots of 1863, I recommended the play be performed by an interracial cast, with each performer playing a variety of races and ages including five children’s roles. Maggie’s two loves also each played a minor role. Maggie was the only non-doubling role. The three creators loved the idea, and a terrific and extremely talented cast and a clever design team made this production a hit!
The Children — in the Broadway production, there were real youngsters portraying (excellently so) the Black children in the orphanage. ELT’s insurance, however, did not cover children, so I suggested, and we found, nine actors who could believably portray young children. Ironically, within the next two years, almost all those performers auditioned for me for other shows, and I realized they had each grown personally, and probably couldn’t portray ‘children’ anymore—but they did then! One of my favorite moments was when the orphanage is beginning to be burned, the ‘children’ are all huddled on the floor around Maggie USC and she tells them to run and the terrified ‘children’ rush DS screaming in fright, and en route each ‘child’s’ scream becomes an ‘adult’ scream as each actor switches a ‘child’ piece of clothing for an ‘adult’ piece of clothing until they have transformed into a screaming, angry mob of ‘adults’ who finally reach the front of the apron!
The Designers — Richard B. Williams incredible, morphing unit set was multi-leveled which helped the visual for the children when they were with adults. And Susan Tzu’s inventive costumes, mirrored on the program cover, helped the performers create the illusions of their multiple characters.
The Musical Director — Thomas Helm was a joy to work with musically and personally, and brought this rich, diverse score beautifully to life, as well as guiding the talented cast to their best vocal sharings!
The Cast — Wow, what a privilege to work with this group of talented, hard-working, fun fellow artists! The cleverness and dedicated work of these 15 performers creating 51 roles gave the show the feeling of a ‘cast of thousands!’ — and was a terrific showcase for each performer’s talent! One of my favorite memories is a Stage Director friend who after the show said he wanted to meet two of the actors he thought he could get work for, The Irish Cop & The Black Runaway Slave. So we went backstage and I asked one of the actors to step out and introduced him, “This is Mark Hattan—he was The Irish Cop.” They chatted for a bit, then Mark and I went back into the Men’s dressing room. I came out a second time and smiling said to my director friend “This is Mark Hattan—he was also The Black Runaway Slave!” My friend was blown away!
Reputations — A year later, Mark was hired for 8 roles in a Summer Stock season because of his work on MAGGIE. I did recommend, and would have hired every performer in this production, and actually worked with seven of them later, some more than once. Reputations are often the deciding factor when more than one actor is right for a role. When you do your job, use your creative gifts well and work as part of the ensemble team on a production that’s an immediate reward—and it’s also money in the bank reputation-wise because Theatre is actually often like a small town!
MAGGIE FLYNN will always be one of my favorite productions, and it did lead to other work for me, as well as being a wonderful learning experience as Stage Director, as a Choreographer, as a fellow worker, as a human being. And it was another show about integration I dedicated privately to my first friend, Eddie.