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by Michael Portantiere

Michael Berresse Directs a Broadway [Show]!

  • Photo by Michael Portantiere


    When I interviewed Michael Berresse four years ago regarding his directorial debut with [title of show], it was just prior to the show's premiere at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Following its NYMF triumph, this hilariously funny, heartfelt little musical about writing a musical went on to an extended run at the Vineyard Theatre. And now it's about the open on Broadway, surpassing the wildest dreams of director/choreographer Berresse, writers Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen, co-stars Bell, Bowen, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, and musical director/pianist/co-star Larry Pressgrove. (Pictured above, left to right: Pressgrove, Blickenstaff, Berresse, [tos] producer Kevin McCollum, Bell, Blackwell, and Bowen.) I recently caught up with Michael to ask for his thoughts about a theatrical journey that's far stranger than fiction.


    BROADWAYSTARS.COM: At one point in [title of show], Hunter and Jeff ask rhetorically, "Is art a springboard for fame?" In a day and age when fame often comes from a TV "reality show" or a tricked-up talent contest, that question is well worth asking. So, Michael, is art a springboard for fame?

    MICHAEL BERRESSE: It partly depends on what your definition of "fame" is. In our culture, notoriety often passes for fame. But in [title of show], their concept of fame is to be part of it all, to be legitimized, to express themselves in a larger venue. Fame on Broadway is practically an oxymoron by society's standards. But I do think that, ultimately, people are looking for something that resonates more deeply than a reality show. All that stuff is like "donuts for dinner," as they say in [tos]; it may seem like a good idea to have donuts for dinner but, 30 minutes later, you're hungry for something meatier. I think that's true of pop culture. But if you create something that has deeper emotional resonance, people will hang onto it.

    STARS: I realized a long time ago that I could never be a producer, because I never thought the original production of A Chorus Line would run anywhere near as long as it did. Yes, the themes are universal, but so much of that show is specifically about the theater world that I didn't think it would have tremendous appeal to the masses. Of course, I was wrong. In this respect, does [title of show] have some similarities to A Chorus Line?

    MB: Yes! The audience for our first preview on Broadway was mostly made up of kids who've seen the show over and over, who follow the Internet series, and who really, really wanted to be there. It was like a rock concert -- but, of course, I knew it wasn't going to stay like that. So I was looking forward to the Sunday matinee, because I wanted to see how the traditional theatergoing public would react to the show. Certainly, there are some references that go over their heads, but we've had an incredibly strong response to every performance we've given so far. We're finding that, whether people understand all of the references or not, what this show provides is kind of a template for everyone to remember what it is they dreamed about doing in their lives.

    STARS: One of the best songs in the show is "Die, Vampire, Die," which is all about how self-doubt and the negativity of others can sabotage a person's creativity. That obviously applies to any career.

    MB: It's interesting to watch how different people connect to the show. There was an elderly couple at that first Sunday matinee; there were pretty quiet until they heard Kitty Carlisle Hart's name mentioned, and then they perked right up. We all think she was a really classy dame, and when we mention her and older people see that we feel that way, it makes them think maybe our priorities aren't much different from theirs. At some point in the show, almost everyone seems to feel that we're addressing them directly. I think that's very empowering for the audience.

    STARS: I'm sure most people would love the show if they actually see it, but you may have a big challenge in getting them there in the first place.

    MB: Yes, but word of mouth is really starting to carry us. The crowd of kids at the stage door after the first preview was staggering. I mean, they had to call in the police! The ball is rolling already. Our audience is sort of a protagonist in the show, because the point is made that if each person tells nine other people about us, they can help keep us afloat. If we survive long-term, that's what's it's going to be about.


    [For much more on [title of show], visit www.titleofshow.com]

    Published on Monday, July 14, 2008

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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