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Broadway music director Paul Gemignani

Broadway music director Paul Gemignani has been the musical director of almost every Stephen Sondheim work over the last 30 years. His other productions include Kiss Me, Kate, Crazy for You, and High Society. Next Sunday Gemignani will receive a lifetime achievement award at the Tony Awards.


Other segments from the episode on May 30, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 30, 2001: Interview with Darren Star; Review of Destinys Child's music album "Survivor;" Interview with Paul Gemignani.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Darren Star talks about the HBO series "Sex and the

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Sex and the City")

Mr. CHRIS NOTH (As Mr. Big): So what have you been doing lately?

Ms. SARAH JESSICA PARKER (As Carrie Bradshaw): You mean besides going out
every night?

Mr. NOTH: Yeah. I mean what do you do for work?

Ms. PARKER: Well, this is my work. I'm sort of a sexual anthropologist.

Mr. NOTH: You mean like a hooker?

Ms. PARKER: No. I write a column called Sex and the City. Right now I'm
researching an article about women who have sex like men. You know, they have
sex and then afterwards they feel nothing.

GROSS: That's Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth in the first episode of
"Sex and the City," an HBO comedy about four single women in their 30s and
their misadventures searching for good sex and lasting relationships. The
show's fourth season begins this Sunday on HBO. My guest, Darren Star,
created the series and has written many of the episodes. Star also created
"Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place." Last season, he had two new shows
that were canceled, "The Street," about young stockbrokers and "Grosse
Pointe," a backstage comedy about the making of a series just like "90210."

Here's a scene from this Sunday's season premiere of "Sex and the City." Sex
columnist Carrie Bradshaw is at a coffee shop with her three best friends,
talking about an unsolicited dating service application that she's just
received in the mail. Her friend, Miranda, reads it.

(Soundbite of "Sex and the City")

Ms. CYNTHIA NIXON: (As Miranda Hobbes) `Dear Single'--single? You don't even
have a name?

Ms. PARKER: Well, I'm single. I don't deserve one.

Ms. NIXON: Oh.

Unidentified Actress: That's the postal equivalent of a drive-by shooting.

Ms. PARKER: Yeah, and I thought those 57 menus I get every day from Hunan
Unon(ph) were annoying.

Ms. NIXON: Look at this! Don't let your soul mate slip away.

Ms. PARKER: Oh, I know. It's almost a threat. It's like, `We have him.
He's just waiting for you. But hurry, because he's slipping, slipping
aw--oops, there he goes.'

Ms. NIXON: Soul mates only exist in the Hallmark aisle in Dwayne Reed

Ms. PARKER: I disagree. I believe that there's that one perfect person out
there to complete you.

Ms. NIXON: And if you don't find him--What?--you're incomplete? It's so

Ms. PARKER: All right. First of all, the idea that there's only one out
there. I mean, why don't I just shoot myself right now? I'd like to think
that people have more than one soul mate.

Unidentified Actress: I agree. I've had hundreds.

Ms. PARKER: Yeah. And you know what? If you miss one, along comes another,
like cabs.

Ms. NIXON: No, that is not how it works!

Ms. PARKER: Oh, OK. But you're still looking outside yourself and saying
that you're not enough. Are you enough?

Unidentified Actress: Actually, today she's too much.

GROSS: Darren Star told me why he wanted to create a series about single
women and their relationships.

Mr. DARREN STAR (Creator, "Sex and the City"): Men and women have a lot of
equality right now, and I think that equality is in the workplace, to a
degree, but I think when you get out into the relationship world, you're
dealing with, you know, the same old traditional stuff. And I think that's
where it gets messy is when, you know, women are supposedly, you know, on
equal footing with men at work, but then they have to follow the old rules in
relationships. And I think that's sort of what makes the dilemmas that these
women face in "Sex in the City" kind of, you know, different than a similar
show would have been, you know, a generation ago, because, you know, women are
told that they're equal to men in the workplace, and yet romantically I think
that, you know, the same old rules of courtship are followed between men and

And I think it's difficult sometimes for women to have to deal with that, you
know, to have a lot of control at work and a lack of control in their personal
lives. And I think it's sometimes difficult for men, you know, to suddenly
confront, you know, women who aren't following the traditional roles of their

GROSS: Did you have any reservations about writing a series about sex from a
woman's point of view while being a man?

Mr. STAR: You know, I didn't, because I kind of feel that one--I guess maybe
it's just some of the women that I hang around with, but they're very open and
honest, especially when they get into their 30s. It's sort of like they talk
about sex and they talk about their lives in a very frank and honest way, that
as a writer, is really appealing because men, I think, are a little bit more
closed off emotionally, especially as they get older. And I think women are
very open, and I think that they're just more communicative about what's going
on. And I felt that the fallacy is that, you know, that men, this sort of
locker room talk about, you know, with guys is that guys are talking about
women in graphic in detail, when I think the truth is a little bit more that
women are talking about men in just as graphic detail. And I think that's
something that hadn't been kind of like--the lid hadn't been pulled off of

But I think as a writer, you know, you can write from a female point of view
and not be a woman. You can have a lot of understanding and objectivity. The
thing that's always surprising to me is: Well, why didn't a woman create this
show, you know? And I think sometimes when you're so close to a subject
matter, maybe you don't have the perspective or you don't see the comic
possibilities, which is another thing that I certainly, you know, objectively
saw the dilemma that a long of my single female friends were in and, you know,
thought it was a lot of things--tragic, frustrating and funny.

GROSS: Tell me a good story that came from one of your friend's lives that
you ended up using in the show.

Mr. STAR: Oh, gosh. You know, everything comes from--all these stories that
are on the show come from some bit of reality. I mean, we--you know--by the
way, this show is not just written by myself or just by men.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. STAR: There are women on the staff as well. And sometimes, you know,
I'll hear something or, you know, a story, for instance, that somebody said
that we actually used in an episode where, you know, it was again, one of
these--maybe it's an urban myth or a friend of a friend story, but that
some--that a friend of a friend had her diaphragm stuck and couldn't get it
out after sex, and that she actually had to have her friend help her get it
out. Now I thought that story was the most outrageous, unbelievable thing I'd
ever heard, and I thought it couldn't possibly be true. But then talking to
some women on the staff, they actually confirmed, `Yes, it happens.
Diaphragms get stuck. And yes, a very, very, very good friend might be
compelled to help you pull it out.' And the way we used that was Carrie was
sleeping with Mr. Big, which is sort of her--you know, her...

GROSS: Her idea of a perfect catch, except that he's been married and..

Mr. STAR: ...her bete noire for relationships.

GROSS: Yeah, right.

Mr. STAR: You know, it's like the guy that she thinks is the perfect guy, but
never really is.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. STAR: He's the elusive male--OK?--in her life. And she wanted her
friends to know that she was sleeping with him, but then she ended up, you
know, needing one of them to help her with her diaphragm. And, of course,
then the question is: Well, what was it doing there in the first place? So,
I mean, that's a kind of a story that as a man I would think I didn't believe
it, and maybe some of the listeners out there still don't believe it. But I'm
assured that it's in the realm of possibilities.

And I think another thing to remember about this show is that it's a comedy,
and in a wonderful way, the audience, especially women, relate to the
independence of these women to the point where, you know, there's a lot of
identification going on. We are writing a comedy. And we're not--you know,
we're not looking--It's not a documentary of single life in New York. It's a
comedy that's meant also to entertain.

GROSS: It's funny, writing a series like this must give you the ability to
just talk about women really openly about their sex lives. And I bet a lot of
women are enthusiastic about talking to you about their sex lives knowing that
you're writing then series.

Mr. STAR: I think it's opened lines of communication that I never imagined.
I mean, you know, I grew up in a household where people didn't really talk
about sex that much, you know? It was sort of like an off-limits subject. It
just was never really spoken about. And I think that a lot of people were
raised that way. And I think there's a tremendous freedom that people have
when they sense that they can talk about sex openly, and I think that it's
sort of opened a lot of floodgates. I think this show has opened lines of
communication in a big way, especially you know, between men and women when
they can just--they have a touchstone. They have a way to talk about sex now,
if people have seen the show.

GROSS: What kind of boundaries do you work with in terms of the language you
can use on HBO when you're writing "Sex and the City" and what you can show?

Mr. STAR: Our boundaries are basically our own good taste, which I think a
lot of people would think isn't all that great. But, you know, they're pretty
open at HBO in terms of, I think, as long as something is serving its story
and isn't just sensationalistic for the sake of being sensationalistic. I
mean, I think they let us do what we want.

GROSS: Define your...

Mr. STAR: And I think that that says...

GROSS: Define your own good taste.

Mr. STAR: Huh?

GROSS: What are the limits of your own good taste?

Mr. STAR: What are the limits on my own good taste?

GROSS: Yeah. I mean, what do you think goes beyond the boundaries of your
good taste, things that you've decided, `Well, we won't use that word, or we
won't show that'?

Mr. STAR: I think everything has to have, you know, a comic effect, and I
think that's, you know, what it comes down to. And I think the show, from the
beginning, was meant to be a little be shocking, and I think that, you know,
the trouble, you know, one gets into doing a show like this is you feel
there's that sense, `Oh, you always got to top yourself.' And I think that's
when you run the risk of heading into bad taste, if you think that way, you
know, if you think, `Wow! Well, now we've just got to do something shocking
because people are expecting something shocking.'

But I think that we're all sort of more guided by our sense of comedy, which
comedy's not always in good taste. A lot of times, you know, you can't worry
about good taste when you're thinking about writing comedy. You know, every
once in a while you're going to cross the line.

GROSS: There was an episode last season in which, you know, Miranda was
involved with a steady boyfriend, and it was something very unusual for her.
This was a relationship that didn't have the incredible highs of a new
romance. It has settled into a very intimate relationship in which she would
do his laundry Saturday nights. And she told her girlfriends she really liked
staying home and doing his laundry Saturday nights, until she found something
really startling in her boyfriend's laundry bag. Let me play that scene.

(Soundbite of "Sex and the City")

Ms. NIXON: I was wrong. There is a point at which a couple can get too
comfortable, and I think I reached it this morning washing Steve's underwear.

Ms. PARKER: Why? What happened?

Ms. NIXON: I'm living with skid marks guy.

Ms. PARKER: Oh, no! Oh, how terrible.

Ms. NIXON: I don't get it. Why do men get skid marks? Is it laziness? Are
they just in a rush?

Ms. PARKER: I don't know. But whatever it is, it goes hand-in-hand with
urinating on the seat.

Ms. NIXON: I tell you one thing. When your boyfriend is so comfortable he
can't be bothered to wipe his ass...

Ms. PARKER: Oh, God!

Ms. NIXON: ...that's the end of romance right there.

Ms. PARKER: Well, it's certainly the end of laundry night.

Ms. NIXON: It got me thinking, maybe I'm mistaking falling into a rut with

Ms. PARKER: Well, how often are you guys having sex?

Ms. NIXON: Often enough, but it's totally generic. We've got every move
down pat. It's more like a race to have an orgasm than anything else.

Ms. PARKER: Still, it's nice to be a contestant, isn't it?

Ms. NIXON: Sure, I know what you mean. We whine when we don't have a
boyfriend, and we whine when we do.

GROSS: That was Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon in a scene from "Sex
and the City." My guest, Darren Star, wrote that episode.

I'm wondering if skid marks was your original expression or if that's an
expression that's already in the language.

Mr. STAR: I don't think I coined skid marks.

GROSS: No? OK. I wasn't sure about that.

Mr. STAR: No, I think I've heard that one before. You're really hitting my
finest moment, I have to say.

GROSS: And what made you think of using that as a subplot?

Mr. STAR: Well, I think that it's certainly like the antithesis to what
everyone's, you know, idealization of a relationship is. I mean, it's the
notion that when you are actually in a relationship and living with somebody,
you know, the reality is often very prosaic. And I think that that's
certainly, you know, a prime example of, you know, Miranda's in love with the
romanticism of doing her boyfriend's laundry and being with her boyfriend 24
hours a day and they're this intimate couple, and I think that, you know, it's
coming up often the reality of two people living together. Sometimes that's
what it's about, skid marks.

GROSS: You actually show the stained underwear in this episode. Well, did
you debate whether or not to actually put that on camera or not?

Mr. STAR: I think there was a moment of thinking, `Do we want to do this?'
but I think ultimately that is the gag, you know. And so in the end, you
know, I spent time with every episode in the editing room and I look at it and
think, `Well, is this funny or is it not funny?' And I think, again, we're
talking about the boundaries of good taste. And I think that if it gets a
laugh, it stays in. If it just gets a big, `Gross, I don't want to see that,'
it's out.

GROSS: What kind of response did you get to that episode?

Mr. STAR: You know, I think, again, it's one of these areas that's a little
taboo, that people--that once people say, `Oh, yeah, skid marks,' people then
can laugh about it. And I think also, it's about--it's a guy thing, you know?
I think it's just sort of like an unconscious guy thing. It's something that
I would never attribute to a woman, ever. But for some reason, you know, it's
like a silly, juvenile guy thing.

GROSS: My guest is Darren Star, creator of the HBO series "Sex and the City."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Darren Star is my guest. He's the creator of "Sex and the City,"
which just started its fourth season on HBO. And he also created "Beverly
Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place."

Now you had two new series that were on this past season and both of them
ended up concluding pretty quickly.

Mr. STAR: Canceled.

GROSS: Canceled is the word, yeah. One was called "The Street"...

Mr. STAR: Right.

GROSS: ...and it was a series about people who work on Wall Street. And the
other was called "Grosse Pointe," and it was like a behind-the-scenes parody
of the making of a series very much like "Beverly Hills 90210"...

Mr. STAR: Right.

GROSS: ...except the dramas here were happening behind the scenes, what the
actors were doing behind the scenes...

Mr. STAR: Right.

GROSS: ...and their romances and their eating disorders and their dishing of
each other and so on. Was it kind of gruesome for you to have two series
canceled in one season?

Mr. STAR: Well, they didn't both get canceled on the same day, so...

GROSS: Well, that's good.

Mr. STAR: ...that was good.

GROSS: Congratulations.

Mr. STAR: Thank you. Yeah, I mean, it was--it--you know, the hardest part of
doing a series is the first season. So in a sense you feel that by the time
you've done the pilot, and by the time you've gotten through most of the first
year, you know, you've learned so much, a lot of hard work in so many
different areas is done. So, yes, it was, you know, a lot of hard work, and I
think two good shows, that it's disappointing. There's no other word.

GROSS: Your series "Grosse Pointe" was a parody of "Beverly Hills 90210,"
and the characters off screen were incredibly obnoxious to each other, plus
there were romances off screen and eating disorders and so on. Was it like
that when you were making "Beverly Hills 90210," that there was more stuff
going on behind the scenes than there even was in the series itself?

Mr. STAR: Well, I think, you know, all shows, you know, there is just a great
history of backstage drama. And I always thought that, you know, "Grosse
Pointe," in essence, was a show about, you know, a high-class trailer park,
because that's where most actors spend their times between scenes, in their
trailers. And they hang out in their trailers and then they have--you know,
they've get a lot of time to, like, you know, turn a million bucks over in
their head and kind of, you know, create trouble.

So I still think that it's a great workplace comedy. Shows that I've had that
have become hits have never become hits in their first season. For whatever
reason, "90210," "Melrose Place" and "Sex and the City" all became hits in
their second season. And they all followed an interesting pattern that
"Grosse Pointe" was following, which was they started to have this sort of
like proprietary viewership that was very passionate about the show and, you
know, going on the Internet and looking, you know, at the fans that watch
"Grosse Pointe." And people that I'd meet on the street, they were very
passionate about it. They felt that they'd discovered a show that was their
show. And I think that show, you know, had a lot of life and the seed had
just been planted. So it's a disappointment in that sense, because I think
that it still had, you know, a huge amount of potential.

GROSS: What's one of the best things you learned from working with Aaron

Mr. STAR: One thing was an incredible sense of perseverance. The guy--he
never says die. He's always--you know, with, "90210," that show was--it's
hard to imagine, but it was hanging on by a thread the first season, and we
were getting, you know, from the network, orders in--like, you know, we would
get--we had our initial order of 12 episodes, and then it would be like,
`Well, OK, another two,' and then another three. And he had a lot of passion,
he really believed in the show, and he was a tremendous advocate at the
network for keeping it going, where I think a lot of producers would say,
`Well, you know, it's--look at the ratings. It's not working.' And that's a
lesson that I learned, which is you can't, you know--for the first season of a
show--I don't think I've ever done a show that was as low--a lower-rated show
than "90210" in its first season. So it taught me that you can't look at the
world in terms of what the ratings are. You've got to look at your own show
and say, `Wow, is this a show that I, you know, believe in and have a lot of
passion for?' And, you know, you've got to fight for that. And that was a
good lesson, and I think that if you want to align yourself with people like
that who--as a writer and producer, you want to align yourself with studio
heads that are going to do that for you.

GROSS: A lot of articles about you have mentioned that you used the bar
mitzvah money gift that you got to subscribe to Variety. Why did you want to
read Variety?

Mr. STAR: I wish I'd never said that to anybody. I don't know. I think--I
was growing up in Potomac, Maryland, and it was such an exotic world to me,
the whole idea of show business and Hollywood. And I think that I knew that
it was what I wanted to do and what I wanted to pursue. And I think the
notion of seeing Variety gave me the sense that it was tangible and real,
that, in fact, there were people out there doing that and that it wasn't just
sort of like a dream which just really had no sense of reality in the world
that I was in. I don't think I was, like, you know, going over the grosses,
but I think there was something that was--you know, that made the world
tangible and was exciting and exotic.

GROSS: Which parts did you like to read most then?

Mr. STAR: You know, to be quite honest, I think one thing I really loved
about getting Variety was that at the time they would have movie posters in
there that you could pull out, and I'd put them up on my wall.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. STAR: So that's the one thing I remember looking forward to is what
movie--you know, what kind of pullout--what kind of, you know, movie posters
would they have in Variety this week that I could put on my wall. And it was
a sense of, `Wow.' I'd see what movies were coming out and, you know, what
was--I don't think I really sat there and, you know, read the articles so
much, but it was--it, you know, kind of, you know, by osmosis gave me a sense
of the business, I guess.

GROSS: Do you still subscribe to Variety?

Mr. STAR: Yeah. Unfortunately, yes, I think everybody out there reads
Variety. So, yes, I...

GROSS: And do you have to follow the grosses now?

Mr. STAR: You know what? I think it becomes habitual. And now the whole
world follows the grosses. I mean, there was nothing that I was reading in
Variety then that isn't now reported in every paper every Monday. I mean, you
know, I think that kind of entertainment reporting has just become part of our
national consciousness, and at that time, you know, over 20 years ago, didn't
exist. There was no sense--nobody cared how much a movie made over the
weekend, and now suddenly everybody does.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. STAR: Thank you.

GROSS: Darren Star created the HBO series "Sex and the City," based on the
book by Candace Bushnell. The fourth season begins Sunday. This is FRESH


GROSS: Coming up, we meet Broadway music director Paul Gemingani. He's
worked on most of Stephen Sondheim's musicals. At the Tony Awards ceremony
this Sunday, Gemingani will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Also, Ken
Tucker reviews the new CD by Destiny's Child.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New release by Destiny's Child, "Survivor"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Destiny's Child has spearheaded a revival of girl group rhythm and blues pop
music, scoring big hits even as the group has undergone nearly constant
personnel changes. The current version of the trio has a new album called
"Survivor" and rock critic Ken Tucker has some thoughts about the group and
its album concept.

(Soundbite of song)

DESTINY'S CHILD: Question: Tell me what you think about me? I buy my own
diamonds and I buy my own rings. Only ring your cell-y when I'm feelin'
lonely. When it's all over, please get up and leave. Question: Tell me how
you feel about this? Try to control me, boy, you get dismissed. Pay my own
(unintelligible) and I pay my own bills. Always 50/50 in relationships.

The shoes on my feet...

KEN TUCKER reporting:

The cultural critic Greil Marcus wrote an essay in 1979 saying that the term
`survivor,' once a serious description of someone who had undergone extreme
suffering, had become a can't word, applied, he wrote, `to anyone who has
persevered or rather continued any form of activity, including grieving for
almost any amount of time.' Marcus compiled a large list of its usage in pop
music, including The Rolling Stones' "Soul Survivor," Gloria Gaynor's "I Will
Survive," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Street Survivors" and the rock band called

More than 20 years on, we can add the TV phenomenon called "Survivor," which,
since it's a gaudy game show, fits to an absolute `T' Marcus' description of
the debasement of the word as being, quote, "severed from authentic contexts
of will and endurance." And now we come to Destiny's Child and their new CD
called "Survivor."

(Soundbite of song)

DESTINY'S CHILD: Now that you're out of my life, I'm so much better. You
thought that I'd be weak without you but I'm stronger. You thought that I'd
be broke without you but I'm richer. You thought that I'd be sad without you,
I laugh harder. You thought I wouldn't grow without you. Now I'm wiser.
Thought that I'd be helpless without you but I'm smarter. You thought that
I'd be stressed without you but I'm chillin'. You thought I wouldn't sell
without you, sold nine million.

I'm a survivor. I'm not gon give up. I'm not gon stop. What? I'm gon work
harder. What? I'm a survivor. What? I'm gonna make it. I will survive.
What? Keep on surviving. I'm a survivor. What? I'm not gon to give up.

TUCKER: On the cover of Rolling Stones, the three members of Destiny's Child
wear skimpy outfits made of Army camouflage to denote their survivor status.
And exactly what have they survived? Well, read any profile of the group and
you find that they survived losing during an appearance of the old Ed McMahon
show "Star Search" when the group's leader, Beyance Knowles, was a

And Destiny's Child has survived numerous personnel changes over the past
couple of years. The one constant has remained Beyance Knowles, the
19-year-old vocalist who on "Survivor" has taken over a lot of the songwriting
and production chores. Much of her work is cleverly constructed, such as the
crying on the inside, positive-thinking pop song "Happy Face."

(Soundbite of song)

DESTINY'S CHILD: Ah-ah, ah ah-ah, ah ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. I woke up
this morning, the sunshine was shining. I put on my happy face. I'm living.
I'm able. I'm breathing, I'm grateful to put on my happy face.

Woke up and realized this world's not so bad after all. Looked at it through
a child's eyes, and I saw these beautiful things that you never think about,
like the ocean, moonlight, stars and clouds. It's amazing how we don't
appreciate our blessings. There's plenty of people who don't like me. But
since there are more who love me and I love myself, sometimes, it gets tough,
it gets tough, but I can't give up, can't give up. Just take a deep breath,
close my eyes. Feel the love and give a smile.

I woke up this morning, the sunshine was shining...

TUCKER: Destiny's Child's proclamations of independence and equality have
been evident from the start. When they were working with male producers, such
as hit makers Wyclef Jean, Rodney Jerkins and Jermaine Dupri, they were
releasing irresistible songs like the hymn to fidelity like "Say My Name" and
"Bills, Bills, Bills" which insisted that the men in their lives has
sufficient employment to pay the aforementioned items. If they don't quite
earn their CD's title, they've still proven that they know how to make music
that'll help them survive the teen pop trend for at least another year or two.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly.

DESTINY'S CHILD: You'll never see me fall apart. In the words of a broken
heart, it's just emotions, taking me over. I'm caught up in sorrow, lost in a
song, but if you don't come back, come home to me, darling, don't you know
there's nobody left in this world to hold me tight. There's nobody left in
this world to kiss good night. Nobody to kiss me. Good night. Good night.

GROSS: Coming up, Broadway music director Paul Gemignani, who received a
Tony award for lifetime achievement on Sunday. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Paul Gemignani, Broadway music director, discusses
his work

At the Tony Awards this Sunday, my guest Paul Gemignani will be given a
lifetime achievement award. Broadway audiences don't get to see much of him
because he's usually in the pit conducting the orchestra. Gemignani is a
music director who has worked with Stephen Sondheim since 1973 on such
musicals as "A Little Night Music," "Sweeney Todd," "Pacific Overtures"
"Sunday In The Park With George," "Merrily We Roll Along" and "Passion."
Gemignani was also the music director for the revival of "Brigadoon," the hit
"Crazy For You" and several operas. He's currently with the revival of "Kiss
Me, Kate."

As the music director, he helps cast the performers and hire the orchestra.
He rehearses the musicians and singers and is a liaison between the composer
and the rest of the company. During performances, he conducts the musicians
and singers. Gemignani says he particularly enjoyed serving as music director
on Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Here's the opening.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer: ...(Unintelligible). He kept a shop in London town of
fancy clients of good renown. And what he's done of his souls was seen.
They went to their maker in back ...(unintelligible). My Sweeney, my Sweeney
Todd. The demon barber of ...(unintelligible) Street.

Unidentified Singers: (In unison) ...(Unintelligible).

GROSS: In "Sweeney Todd," I think the first sound we hear is that
steam whistle...

Mr. PAUL GEMIGNANI: Correct. Correct.

GROSS: ...a really like discordant, shrill, alarming steam whistle. That
certainly sets the tone for, you know, a musical that's about very alarming


GROSS: ...and feelings and actions...


GROSS: ...including murder and revenge.


GROSS: Well, did you actually have a steam whistle...


GROSS: the orchestra?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: What happened was it said in the opening thing on the top--it
said, `Whistle.' `Factory whistle' is what it said. So we sat down and had
discussions about what a factory whistle was, and I said, `Well, you mean the
kind that has, like'--the thing that popped into my mind is the old English
factory movies, you know, like Dirk Bogart movies where he's in a blue-collar
section of somewhere in Britain and his father works in the mines or in the
factory. And on the top of that factory is this whistle that's actually made
to work from steam, right? Pretty shrill sounding.

Yes. So I searched down. We finally found this actual factory whistle. And
we hooked it up to a CO2 canister and that's how I operated it actually, from
a switch in the pit. And what they did was they put it in several places but
it was so intense that they had to keep moving it further away. The audience
would, you know, like, leap out of their seats. So we ended up putting it way
up at the top. I don't know if you ever saw or pictures of the original
production in New York but...

GROSS: I saw the road show in Philadelphia.

Mr. GEMIGNANI: OK. Well, the only difference between the road show and the
one in New York is that Eugene Lee, the set designer, actually found a
foundry roof somewhere in Vermont and had the thing--a foundry that was
falling down but the entire smoky glass roof with broken panes in it was
still intact. So they moved that entire thing to New York and erected it in
the--Whatever you call it today--Gershwin Theater. And it was hanging over
the orchestra pit. It went all the way to the back of the stage and hung over
the orchestra pit and about 10 rows into the audience over your heads. So
what we did is put that whistle way up high.

What we did on the road is we just put it up in the fly somewhere. And it
was, therefore, exactly what you said it was there for, shock value and to
start a musical about revenge.

GROSS: Where did you find the factory whistle?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: I didn't. The sound man did. I went to the sound designer
and I said, `I need a factory whistle,' and he said, `You mean the kind
that'--`No.' I said, `I mean the steam kind that go on the top of a
building.' He said, `Well, where am I going to find that?' I said, `I don't
know. That's your job.' So he did. He brought several back. And actually
what we did in rehearsal--I remember the first day that he brought that in and
we hooked it up to a CO2 canister in the front of the stage. And I said,
`Well, to help test it, do you want me to play this?' And he said, `Well, how
loud is it?' I said, `I have no idea. I've never heard it.' And he said,
`Well, let's play it.' And I played it. It's like we almost all passed out
from the sound. But it did what it was supposed to do.

GROSS: I'm assuming that when you're conducting in a show that you have the
whole score in front of you and the whole libretto in front of you. You have
in front of you all the lines that are going to be said.

Mr. GEMIGNANI: It's in my head. I memorize what the actors do.

GROSS: So you don't even have that in front of you? You know it that well?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: No. No. I don't know why I do that, but I've always done
it. So it's a lot easier. It allows me to be more involved with the
performance if I don't have to stare down at music. Of course, you know, if
it's a concert or if it's something I just got, absolutely, I read whatever it
is. Most of the time I memorize the lines very quickly in my head because you
do have rehearsals and they go in my head that way. It's not something I
actually make an effort to do. It just does it. So I would say that by the
end of the first week of previews, most of the shows I've done I already have
in my head memorized.

GROSS: So have you ever been called on to fill in for an actor?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: No. I won't be either. Apparently you've never seen me act.

GROSS: What are some of the ways that you can help out a performer during a

Mr. GEMIGNANI: I think the biggest way is to be attentive. I mean, you
know, we're talking about highly trained professionals and the level of
mistakes or errors or misjudgments are really rare. In fact, most of the time
what will happen is the set will mess up way before any of us will mess up.
But I think being totally attentive to their performance and being there even
if they don't need you every second is the biggest support system you can give
a performer. And that's what I try and do. I mean, if you notice James
Levine at the Met isn't staring down at the music very much. He's looking
up at the stage and that's what the theater's about. If you're a conductor
and you're looking at the music, you're restricting yourself and you're
restricting the effect that you can have on the performance.

GROSS: Do you ever help out with a forgotten line?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: I have from time to time. It doesn't happen very often, but,
you know, it stands...

GROSS: What do you do? Do you whisper it or just mouth it?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: No, I just say it out loud because in those moments half the
time the audience would not even hear me sat it, even thought I say it out
loud. But you say it out loud so the actor can hear it. And most of the
time, people who go to the live theater expect anything, so they like all that
involvement. But if an actor's really stuck and you know the line, then I see
no reason why you shouldn't say it, you know? It doesn't happen very often,
however, but it has happened.

GROSS: Paul Gemignani is my guest and he's getting a lifetime achievement
award at the Tonys. He's been music director for just about all of Stephen
Sondheim's musicals and he's currently music director on Broadway for "Kiss
Me, Kate."

Was it your ambition as a kid to work in Broadway shows?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: No. My ambition as a kid--well, my mother wanted me to be a
classical musician, which I tried that for a while, but actually I ended up
being a drummer. When I was in high school, I was in the string section in
the orchestra. And all my friends were in the band. So I tried playing tuba
for a while. Didn't like that very much; too heavy to carry around. And so
one of my friends talked me into percussion which has to be there but you
don't have to carry it there, which appealed to me at the time being a really
lazy high school person.

But I made a lot of money playing drums. And I played at nightclubs in San
Francisco and I played around the country and I could conduct, which I always
wanted to do, always. I didn't know what I wanted to do with it, but I knew
that was something I wanted to do. So I used to conduct to records in my room
when I was a kid.

GROSS: You had worked with Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim, you know, from
the start of your career as a music director though the time that Sondheim and
Harold Prince split up in the early '80s after the box office failure of
"Merrily We Roll Along." What did it mean for you when Sondheim and Hal
Prince split up?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: I had to choose. It wasn't an easy choice. I have a great
deal of respect for both men. I love both men. They gave me my career, so it
was not an easy choice to make. But I went with Steve because of the musical
connection and how connected I feel to Steve's material and work. And, you
know, you don't meet many people in your life that artistically if you connect
with or you feel like you're supposed to be there and you're supposed to be
doing what you're doing with this person, Steve is one of those people for me.
Steve is the person for me in that respect when it comes to music.

GROSS: Can you explain why, what it is about his music?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: I have no clue. I can tell you what I feel but I can't tell
you why. I don't know why. All I know is our relationship musically is built
on the fact that for some reason, unknown to me, I totally understand his
music, and I totally understand what his intentions are. I've never had to
question it. I don't have to ask him a lot of questions. It's always been
that way from day one. And, you know, in fact, now when we do a show
together, he rarely shows up because he trusts me, which is very flattering
but, you know, I have to say to him, `You have to come because maybe I'm doing
something you're not going to like. You've got to come and see this.'

GROSS: My guest is Broadway music director Paul Gemignani. On Sunday, he'll
receive a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. More after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is music director Paul Gemignani and he's the music director
on most of Stephen Sondheim's musicals, including "Sunday In The Park With
George." And this year, he gets the lifetime achievement award at the Tonys.

Can you think of a moment in a musical that you conducted where every night
you'd say to yourself, `This is what it's about for me. This is the kind of
musical feeling, the kind of Broadway feeling that I live for'?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: I have to say "Sunday In The Park." I have to say when Mandy
and Bernadette sing `We do not belong together'--that's a moment that pops
into my mind when you ask me that question. I'm sure there's a thousand
others, but, you know, the 12 years I worked with Steve and Hal, I don't have
to work anymore after that. I mean, all the thrill and all the expectations I
had as an artist were fulfilled in that 12 years. Am I tired of working now?
No. And will I continue until I can't work anymore? Absolutely. I'm just
saying that, you know, I feel kind of greedy at this point because I've had
such great experience and great time in the past and had an opportunity to do
so much artistically because of those two guys that, you know, everything else
is gravy. But that one place in "Sunday In The Park" sticks in my mind.

GROSS: Let's listen to that duet between Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters
from "Sunday In The Park With George."

(Soundbite from "Sunday In The Park With George")

Ms. BERNADETTE PETERS: Yes, George, run to your work. Hid behind your
paintings. I've come to tell you I am leaving because I thought you might
care to know. Foolish of me because you care about nothing.

Mr. MANDY PATINKIN: I care about many things.

Ms. PETERS: Things, not people.

Mr. PATINKIN: People, too. I cannot divide my feelings up as neatly as you,
but I am not hiding behind my canvas, I am living it.

Ms. PETERS: All you care for is yourself.

Mr. PATINKIN: I care for this painting. You will be ...(unintelligible).

Ms. PETERS: I have something, something you can use.

Mr. PATINKIN: I have loved you...

Ms. PETERS: Because I understand that I left and I am leaving.

Mr. PATINKIN: There is nothing I can say, then.

Ms. PETERS: Yes, George, there is. You could tell me not to fall. Say it
to me. Tell me not to fall. Tell me that you're hurt. Tell me that you're
relieved. Tell me that you're bored. Anything, but don't assume I know.
Tell me what you feel.

Mr. PATINKIN: What I feel. You know exactly how I feel. Why do you insist
you must hear the words when you know I cannot give you words? Not the ones
you need. There's nothing to say. I cannot be what you want.

Ms. PETERS: What do you want, George?

Mr. PATINKIN: I needed you and you left.

Ms. PETERS: There was no room for me!

Mr. PATINKIN: You could not accept who I am. I am what I do, which you knew,
which you always knew. Which I thought you were a part of!

Ms. PETERS: No, you are complete, George. You are your own. We do not
belong together. You are complete, George, you all alone. I am unfinished.
I am diminished, with or without you. We do not belong together, and we
should have belonged together. What made it so right together? What made it
all wrong? No one is you, George. There we agree.

GROSS: That is "We Do Not Belong Together" from "Sunday In The Park With
George." Conducting that was one of music director Paul Gemignani's favorite
Broadway experiences. I asked him to think of another.

Mr. GEMIGNANI: The first thing that Sweeney sings in "Sweeney Todd" to his
razors. That moment sticks in my mind.

GROSS: "Friends"?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: "Friends," yeah.

GROSS: This is the moment when the barber Sweeney Todd, who's been put in
prison, is out of prison, he's seeking revenge against the judge who locked
him up and shouldn't have, and the judge is now planning to marry Sweeney's
daughter. It's an ugly story.

Mr. GEMIGNANI: ...(Unintelligible).

GROSS: But finally Sweeney's reunited with his razors and he's going to use
them, not only be a barber but to take his revenge. And he sings this
beautiful song about how he's reunited with his friends. But what he's really
thinking about is revenge.


GROSS: What's so wonderful about this moment for you, conducting it?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: Well, the beauty of the music and the irony of the idea. You
know, it gives you something to perform. It's not, you know, 32 bars in
4/4 time. It's, you know, a beautiful melody in a tense dramatic moment
that's taking the story from one place to another. That is the theater, to
me, musical or otherwise.

GROSS: Well, Paul Gemignani, congratulations on your Tony. Will your part be
televised or are you getting one earlier in the day behind the scenes?

Mr. GEMIGNANI: I have no idea. I have no idea what they're going to do.
They haven't told me what the process is.


Well, thank you so much for being with us.

Mr. GEMIGNANI: Thanks.

GROSS: Paul Gemignani is a Broadway music director. On Sunday he'll receive
a Tony Award for lifetime achievement.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with "My Friends" from "Sweeney Todd."

(Soundbite of "Sweeney Todd")

Unidentified Man: Silver, yes. These are my friends, see how they glisten.
See this one shine. How he smiles in the light, my friend, my faithful
friend. Speak to me, friend, whisper, I'll listen. I know, I know you've
been locked out of sight all these years like me, my friend. Well, I've come
home to find you waiting. Oh, and we're together, and we'll do wonders, won't
we? You, there, my friend...

Ms. ANGELA LANSBURY: I'm your friend, too.

Unidentified Man: ...come, let me hold you.

Ms. LANSBURY: If you only knew.

Unidentified Man: Not with a sound, you are warm in my hand, my friend.

Ms. LANSBURY: Oh, Mr. Todd, you're warm. In my hand. You've come home.

Unidentified Man: My clever friend.

Ms. LANSBURY: ...(Unintelligible) for you, I did.

Unidentified Man: Rest now, my friend.

Ms. LANSBURY: Never you fear, Mr. Todd. You can move in here, Mr. Todd.

Unidentified Man: Soon I'll unfold you. Soon, oh...

Unidentified Man & Ms. LANSBURY: (In unison) ...splendors you never have
dreamed all your days...

Ms. LANSBURY: We'll be ...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Man: lucky friend.

Ms. LANSBURY: I'm your friend and your ...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Man: I know your shine was merely silver.

Ms. LANSBURY: Silver's good enough for me.

Unidentified Man: Friends, you shall drip rubies. You'll soon drip previous

At last my arm's complete again.

Unidentified Singers: (In unison) Wield your razor high, ...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Man: If I could fault a man alive...

Unidentified Women: (In unison) These are the blasphemies (unintelligible).
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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