Call Redialed: NEW Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf Interview: "More About The Melody: Rodgers & Co" at Birdland Jazz
After our July 2018 interview about Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf’s More About The Melody, I am thrilled to sit back down with Mairi to discuss her next installment. This show will spotlight the music of Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers and Adam Guettel.
More About The Melody: Rodgers & Co will feature the talents of Harry Hadden-Paton (My Fair Lady), Adam Kantor (The Band’s Visit, Fiddler on the Roof), Rebecca Luker (Mary Poppins, The Sound Of Music) & Elizabeth Stanley (On The Town, Jagged Little Pill at A.R.T.). The evening will be hosted by Tony award-winning music director, Ted Sperling.
More About The Melody: Rodgers & Co will play Birdland NYC on Monday, May 13 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!
1. After a sold-out concert in August 2018, you are now returning to Birdland with an all-new installment of More About The Melody, celebrating the music of Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers and Adam Guettel. What made you want to focus on this family? After that first show the host of Broadway at Birdland, Jim Caruso, kindly invited me back to do another concert. I decided to try to turn the title “More About The Melody” into a series and scheduled this concert and also a Celtic Night which we did in February.
A few years ago I created a cello/piano arrangement of The Light In The Piazza, and am now working on an album of instrumental versions of Broadway songs. My husband, Marc Phaneuf, suggested including the “Nightingale Lullaby” from Once Upon A Mattress. I had already commissioned a Richard Rodgers Medley from Ted Sperling, (which I included in the first Birdland show), and realized I had a solid piece of repertoire by each composer, and the beginnings of a show.
2. Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers, and Adam Guettel are one of Broadway’s most well-known familial composers. Playing off of that, what song do you remember from each composer that made you go, I'm a forever fan of theirs? I would challenge anyone to beat the number of times I watched The Sound of Music as a child. My mother’s parents lived in the Glasgow countryside, and when my brother and I would visit, I would watch their video of The Sound of Music on repeat. My brother played outside in the fields for hours, and I’d be sitting three feet from the screen.
My favorite scene is when Maria and the Captain danced the Laendler at the ball. Rewatching it, I can see how beautifully it was shot, and how their dancing perfectly captured their chemistry. And I’m only now recognizing my favorite moment in the movie is an instrumental...
As a family, we also spent summers in the Tyrolean mountains of Austria, where my father had coached tennis since his student days. He bought my mother an edelweiss necklace when she told him she was pregnant with me, which she still wears.
I was hired to play Floyd Collins (at Playwrights Horizons) not long after I moved to New York. It’s one of the few Broadway shows I’ve listened to on repeat. My favorite song/moment is “Through The Mountain,” and I love how it’s centered around a beautiful bass/guitar/strings arrangement.
More recently, my husband and I were fortunate to see the 2016 Transport Group’s production of Once Upon A Mattress. There were so many comically and beautifully brilliant songs in the show, and we both loved it.
3. Which songs did you know you had to include in this concert? The three instrumentals were an obvious starting point. I then asked Becca Luker if she’d sing “Dividing Day” and “Something Good.” I also hoped Harry would sing “Edelweiss.” I tried not to get too attached to the songs I hoped to include, in case they didn’t work out, but I can honestly say the set list feels pretty perfect.
4. In preparing for this concert, what did you learn about this musical family that you didn't know beforehand? I didn’t know Mary Rodgers had written songs with Stephen Sondheim. I also didn’t know Mary Rodgers wrote songs for Working, which was the first musical I ever played professionally (on Key 2) as a music counselor at Buck’s Rock Summer Camp in 1991, where you and I met! But overall you could fill the Internet with things I don’t know about this family.
5. One definite addition to this concert is that Tony award-winning music director, Ted Sperling will be serving as guest host. First, what made you want to have a host this time around? Second, how did you come to ask Ted to be host? I think the answer follows from your last question. Last year I played a concert Ted hosted as part of the Bernstein Centennial celebrations, where he talked a little about the history and musical analysis of the songs. The audience loved it, and I learned a ton. Once I knew I wanted to do a concert featuring these three composers, I asked if he’d consider hosting it.
Ted’s musical direction and arrangements are so deeply threaded through the productions of Floyd Collins and Piazza. Plus, as the music director of the recent Lincoln Center revivals of The King And I and South Pacific, I don’t know that there’s someone more qualified to host. I’m looking forward to hearing what he’ll share.
6. This show is featuring the talents of Harry Hadden-Paton, Adam Kantor, Rebecca Luker and Elizabeth Stanley. How did you decide who would sing each song? Did you give each performer any input into their song selection? I’ve thrown a ton of songs into the hat for this show, and not all of them have been the right choice. That’s the beauty of having Ted supervising. He’s able to suggest alternate repertoire and shape the program. I think (hope!) everyone is really happy with what they’re singing, and I’m having a lot of fun creating the charts.
7. Since the show is called More About The Melody, what is something most people don't know about melody that they should? A friend recently joked to me “what about the harmony?!” I’ve realized through doing this series, and in choosing repertoire for the album, that the songs I love most often have melodies accompanied by falling bass line. “My Funny Valentine,” “Through The Mountain,” “The Light In The Piazza” all have falling bass lines against their primary melodies. “This Nearly Was Mine” has a bass line that rises in step, then falls. That type of counterpoint will draw me into a song.
A beautiful and strong melody can also lead to the most rewarding and fun arrangements. As an example, the original orchestrators of My Fair Lady, Robert Russell Bennett and Phil Long, added layers of countermelodies under the now-iconic melodies, and throughout the show multiple sections of the orchestra are playing their own melodies in counterpoint with each other. After a year, I can still find something new and interesting to connect with.
8. You have been playing cello your whole life. How do you keep yourself in shape for continuous play and carrying of the cello from gig to gig? I see a chiropractor and an acupuncturist regularly, and use hot baths with Epsom salts to relax the muscles. But I know I’m going to need to exercise more to be in this game for long haul. Part of why I’m working so hard to create these shows and make an album is the sense that it’s not going to get easier to play, and I should do what I can now.
9. What's the worst injury you've sustained from playing the cello? I played an outside wedding on a rooftop not long after I moved to NYC. My fingertips were numb from the cold and I kept playing. Over the next week my left hand started seizing, and the multiple hand specialists told me I’d need to stop playing for a few months. Luckily I found a magical acupuncturist who was able to release the cold trapped in my hand and I only missed a few days of work. It still makes me nervous when a stage or pit gets too cold.
10. Playing off of "More About the Melody," what more can you tell us about this show that I haven't covered yet in this interview? Some of your questions have lead to shifts in the programming, so thank you!
More about Mairi:
Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf, a cellist originally from Scotland, is established as a solo, chamber, Broadway and recording artist. She has held chairs in sixteen Broadway productions, including The Bridges of Madison County, Sunday In The Park With George, A Little Night Music, and currently My Fair Lady. Off-Broadway credits include Floyd Collins, Passion and the premier productions of The Last Five Years (Chicago 2001, NYC 2002), Her love of the Broadway genre has led to creating cello arrangements celebrating the music of Jason Robert Brown, Sara Bareilles, Adam Guettel, Jerry Bock, Stephen Schwartz, and she has been a featured performer in concert with Christine Ebersole, Jeremy Jordan, Maria Friedman and Ariana Debose. Following her sold-out debut at Birdland Jazz Club, she continues to present multiple concerts in her series, More About The Melody.