POP City feature on Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir
City Theatre is bringing a world premiere production to its intimate Southside-based Lester Hamburg Studio Stage. The latest play to mark its 37th season, Keith Bunin’s Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir, will transport audiences to a highly creative and influential moment in American history.
The year is 1958, the setting the legendary Bon Soir club in New York’s lively Greenwich Village. At the bustling cabaret-style club, charismatic musician Sam Bendrix and his talented band are about to take the stage for what will be their final riveting performance. Underscoring the cultural, political and societal shifts brewing beneath the surface of modern America, the new play weaves a “tale of an era not yet ready for the revolutionary changes on the horizon.”
As the drinks and the music flow around Bendrix, he’s about to make the dramatic decision to quit the New York City life forever. Audiences will be mesmerized by some of the era’s most enduring songs–as a lone chair the young singer reserves “for a special someone” sits empty in the club all night.
Move over Tom Cruise–there’s another Hollywood star in town! Starring in the title role is accomplished actor and singer Luke Macfarlane, best known for his portrayal of Scotty Wendell in ABC’s hit series Brothers & Sisters. Macfarlance recently appeared in the 2011 Broadway production of The Normal Heart, and has also starred in FX’s Over There, Robert Altman’s Tanner on Tanner (Sundance Channel), and in the feature film, Kinsey. The Canadian actor and musician, who was born in London, Ontario in 1980, studied drama at New York City’s prestigious Juilliard School, and has starred in several award-wining Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
“Luke’s magnetic star power on the very intimate Hamburg stage is going to make for an unforgettable evening of theatre,” says City Theatre’s artistic director Tracy Brigden.
“I am fascinated by this particular period in history in New York. So much was going on comedically and in the art world, with jazz, the Beats and painters at The Museum of Modern Art; West Side Story was on Broadway and Chet Baker was playing. It’s a very interesting time,” says playwright Keith Bunin, who previously worked with Macfarlane, and first met Brigden 15 years ago in New York. “In the play, Sam is about 30 years old, and is from the generation that served in World War II, a time that redistributed so many people into big cities, where they discovered new worlds.”
Based in Brooklyn, the 40-year-old playwright has been in town rehearsing since Oct. 17. He started working on Sam Bendrix in 2009, and workshopped the play in Los Angeles and at Vassar College. “We are really creating a real City Theatre production of this show. It’s been a great experience for the star, the director and myself to work with all of the Pittsburgh people, including the design team, local musicians and musical director Douglas Levine.”
Directed by Mark Rucker, the show’s design team includes Tony Ferrieri (scenic), Angela M. Vesco (costume), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), and Brad Peterson (sound).
Both the audience, and the songs themselves, play a central role in the drama. “I want the audience to feel like they are in the time period, not superior to it, or nostalgic for it. What’s really fun is that the audience is both themselves, and cast in the role of an audience that would be watching the show in 1958,” says Bunin, who is quick to point out that this does not translate to audience participation (so no need to exercise those vocal chords or dance steps!).
“It’s really a play disguised as a cabaret act. What’s tricky about this show is that you don’t want to do it in an actual cabaret space, where the audience is not really paying the same type of attention and the expectations are different. Part of the fun has been developing the songs with the musical director, the actor and the director. These songs are so tensile, in terms of meaning and arrangements; the lyrics and music are so strong. The art and lyricism of mid-century American music is really incredible.”
To cull the right music, Bunin listened to hundreds of songs during a research process that was greatly aided by the convenience of YouTube and iTunes. Songs range from both popular and lesser known numbers composed from the 1930s through the 1950s, with a focus on pieces that were actually performed in clubs in 1958.
Bunin returns to the City Theatre, where his play The Credeaux Canvas was produced in 2002. His plays, The Busy World is Hushed and The World Over, both premiered off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. Next up for Bunin is the screenplay for a live action animation version of the life and work of Dr. Seuss, a project spearheaded by Johnny Depp’s production house, Infinitum Nihil, and Universal Studio’s Illumination Entertainment. Bunin is also developing a screenplay for the film adaption of a book by Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill.
Source: Pop City