October 8, 2013
TT: The rule of "k"
"Words with a k in it are funny. Alka-Seltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a k. Ls are not funny. Ms are not funny." So, at any rate, says one of the characters in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, an aged, vastly experienced vaudevillian who, like his creator, ought to know. This familiar comic apophthegm is of immediate relevance to Kentucky Opera's revival of Danse Russe, which Paul Moravec and I are rehearsing in Louisville, where it will share a double bill this weekend with The King's Man, our latest opera.
Danse Russe, premiered in Philadelphia two years ago, is a backstage comedy about the making of The Rite of Spring. Even though it's a full-fledged opera, much of it feels like a musical, which puts unusual demands on the four members of the cast, who play Serge Diaghilev, Pierre Monteux, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Igor Stravinsky. Classical singers are trained to emphasize vowels, but musical comedy is all about consonants. "You're going to rise or fall on your consonants, guys--especially t and k," I explained to John Arnold, Sergio Gonzalez, Brad Raymond, and Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek, our four singers. "T will make your lines intelligible to the audience, and k will give them comic energy."
To the latter end, I took the singers backstage and shared with them the Infallible Double-Secret Comic Energy Warm-Up Phrase, an unequivocally obscene four-word line that is spoken by the umpire in this scene from Ron Shelton's Bull Durham. (The line can also be found here.) "That's the secret," I said. "Repeat that line ten times in a row just before you go on stage, and I absolutely guarantee that all of your ks and hard cs will pop right out."
They did--and they did.
As I returned to the auditorium, Frances Rabalais, our assistant stage manager, took me aside and fixed me with what I think was probably meant to be a fishy stare.
"Just what were you doing back there?" she asked, trying--not very successfully--to suppress a grin.
"It's a professional secret," I replied.
Posted October 8, 2013 12:00 AM