DATE July 25, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker discuss their roles in
the Broadway production of "The Music Man"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Mr. CRAIG BIERKO (Actor): (As Professor Harold Hill) (From cast recording
"The Music Man") May I have your attention, please? Attention, please. I
deal with your troubled friends with the wave of my hand, this very hand.
Please observe me if you will. I'm Professor Harold Hill. And I'm here to
organize a River City Boys band(ph). Oh, think, my friends, how could
GROSS: That's Craig Bierko, the star of the Broadway revival of "The Music
Man." The cast recording has just been released. My guests are Bierko and
Rebecca Luker, who plays Marian, the town librarian. "The Music Man" first
opened on Broadway in 1957. It's set in 1912 in the small town of River
Iowa. It's the story of a traveling salesman and con man who makes his
by selling small towns on the idea of creating a boys band, a band that will
keep the kids occupied and out of trouble. After promising to lead the band
and teach the boys to play, he sells the townspeople instruments and band
uniforms. But as soon as they've paid, he slips out of town before they can
find out he can neither read music nor play an instrument. Things don't go
planned in River City because he falls in love with the idealistic but
tough-minded town librarian Marian.
Luker, who plays Marian, also starred in the recent revivals of "The Sound
Music" and "Show Boat." Craig Bierko co-starred in the films "The Long Kiss
Goodnight" and "The Thirteenth Floor." "The Music Man" is Bierko's Broadway
(Soundbite of cast recording of "The Music Man")
Mr. BIERKO: Seventy-six trombones led the big parade with 110 cornets close
at hand. They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos, the
cream of every famous band. Seventy-six trombones caught the morning sun
110 cornets right behind. There were more than a thousand reeds springing
like weeds. There were horns of every shape and kind. There were copper
GROSS: Craig Bierko, Rebecca Luker, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. BIERKO: Nice to be here.
Ms. REBECCA LUKER (Actress): Thank you.
GROSS: Now "The Music Man" is a musical that lots of schools and camps do
part because there's kids in it. What were the first productions you ever
of it? Rebecca, let's start with you.
Ms. LUKER: I never have seen a production of "The Music Man." I was in one
college, and I was in another the first year in New York when I first moved
New York. I've only seen the movie, so that's my history with the show.
GROSS: And do you like the movie?
Ms. LUKER: Very much. Very, very much.
GROSS: And, Craig, what about you?
Mr. BIERKO: I watched my brother perform the role of Harold Hill in Mrs.
Gober's(ph) fifth-grade Night of Music(ph) at the Ridge Street School(ph).
And my father painted all the sets. And I was in the third grade, and my
dropped because, you know, they did the entire play...
Mr. BIERKO: ...at--What are you?--10 years old in the fifth grade?
Ms. LUKER: Yeah.
Mr. BIERKO: I'm 35 and it's hard. I mean, it's amazing.
Ms. LUKER: It's hard to remember those words...
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah.
Ms. LUKER: ...when you're 35.
GROSS: Now how does it seem different to you now than it did when you were
Mr. BIERKO: Everybody on stage seems much bigger.
Ms. LUKER: Everybody...
Mr. BIERKO: You know what? It's amazing. It's one of those special
that just retains its brilliance. I don't know that I truly understood what
was going on. And, you know, in the third grade, let's be honest, I was
probably running up and down the aisles being a nuisance. But I remember
being very impressed by my brother memorizing all those lines and speaking
fast. But I do remember how catchy the music was, and from that point on in
my life, I listened to the record and now the CD over and over and over and
GROSS: So you knew the Robert Preston version pretty well before you
Mr. BIERKO: Who doesn't? I mean, there really wasn't any other version.
There was the Scott Bierko version, but it was not released on CD. You
only hear that in our shower.
GROSS: Well, that puts you in the awkward position since you had it so
ingrained in your mind of doing a role that you already knew somebody else's
performance of, so it's ev...
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah, I had to get Scott Bierko's voice out of my head before I
attempted this, but that's been a problem all my life.
GROSS: Right. So how did...
Mr. BIERKO: Just kidding, Scott.
GROSS: ...you deal with the ghost of Robert Preston when you were trying to
find the Craig Bierko performance?
Mr. BIERKO: Well, I dealt with that during the audition process when it
became clear to me that Susan Stroman, et al, were interested in me and they
were seriously interested in me. That was the very first question I asked
myself. I had never done theater in New York before. I knew that people
a tendency not to be kind when they disliked something or somebody. And,
know, the situation was ripe for them to come after me, were they
And this could be something that--you know, I have a similar vocal tambour
that Robert Preston has. And I also happen to think that his take on the
was correct. I didn't see an awful lot to improve on, so I knew that people
would hear similarities. And I sort of dealt with that during the audition
process and said, `If that's what they hear, that's fine.' I happen to
that if you're portraying a role convincingly, you have to embody that role
it will come off as sort of a pale kind of Rich Little copycat type of
imitation. And I don't feel that that's what I'm doing. I feel that I have
worked hard on this performance and I do feel that it is mine. But I also
feel that it is something that I share with Robert Preston, who left an
incredible impression on me.
GROSS: Now I want to play your version of "You've Got Trouble,"(ph) but
before I do, I'm wondering what's the score like for this? Like in the
music, it's a song that I've only heard, like, half spoken, half sung as you
do it and as Robert Preston did.
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah.
GROSS: Are there notes for the parts that are even more or less spoken?
Mr. BIERKO: Well, it's funny. You look at Rebecca's music and the notes
are, hell, all over the place, you know? The notes are off the sheet music
somebody's forehead. I mean, her range is incredible. And for most of my
stuff, it is speak-singing. It's something Meredith Willson was very
consciously trying to do. It's more rhythmic. It's the rhythm of a sales
pitch. So instead of notes, there's a lot of X's that sort of denote just a
time signature, but I don't have as much singing. Essentially vocally I've
been saying it's kind of like shouting at a Knicks game for three hours.
GROSS: Why don't we hear "You've Got Trouble"? This is Craig Bierko from
new cast recording of "The Music Man."
(Soundbite of "You've Got Trouble" from cast recording of "The Music Man")
Mr. BIERKO: Well, either you're closing your eyes to a situation you do not
wish to acknowledge, or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster
by the presence of a pool table in your community. Well, you got trouble,
friend. Right here, I say, trouble right here in River City. Why, sure,
a billiard player. Certainly mighty proud to say I'm always mighty proud to
say it. I consider that the hours I spend with a cue in my hand are golden.
Have you cultivated a horse sense with a cool head and a keen eye? Do you
ever take and try to give a ironclad leave to yourself from a three-rail
billiard shot? Well, just as I say it takes judgment, brains and maturity
score in the balkline game. I say that any boob can take and shove a ball
that pocket. And I call that sloth. The first big step on the road to the
depths of degreda, say, first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon then beer from
bottle. And the next thing you know, your son is playing for money in a
pitch-black suit and listening to some big, out-of-town jasper. Hear him
about horse-race gambling. Not a wholesome track race, no, but a race where
they sit down right on a horse. Like to see some stuck-up jockey boy
on Dan Patch. Make your blood boil? Well, I should say.
Now, friends, let me tell you what I mean. You got one, two, three, four,
five, six pockets in a table. Pockets that marks the difference between a
gentleman and a bum, with a capital B, and that rhymes with P, and that
for pool. And all weeklong your River City yuke will be frittering away, I
say, your young men will be frittering; frittering away there noontime,
time, chore time, too. Get the ball in the pocket. Never mind getting
dandelions pulled or the screen-door patched or the beefsteak pounded.
mind pumping any water till your parents are caught with a cistern empty on
Saturday night. And that's trouble. Yes, you've got lots and lots of
trouble. I'm thinking of the kids in the knickerbockers, shirttail young
ones, peeking in the pool hall window after school. You got trouble. Folks
right here in River City, trouble with a capital T. And that rhymes with P,
and that stands for pool.
Now, I know all you folks are the right kind of parents. I'm gonna be
perfectly frank. Would you like to know what kind of conversation goes on
while they're loafing around that hall? They'll be trying out Bevo, trying
out Cubeb, trying out tailor-mades like cigarette fiends. They're bragging
all about how they're gonna cover up a telltale breath with scents. And one
fine night, they leave the pool hall, heading for the dance at the armory,
libertine men and scarlet women and ragtime, shameless music that'll grab
son, your daughter into the arms of the jungle, animal instincts, mass
Mr. BIERKO: ...frames the idle brain as the devil's playground. Trouble.
Chorus: Ooh, we got trouble.
Mr. BIERKO: Right here in River City.
Chorus: Right here in River City.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That was Craig Bierko from the new cast recording of "The Music
Craig, did you sing much before getting into this particular musical?
Mr. BIERKO: No. I don't--I did musical comedy a lot in college. And in
high school I did quite a bit. I went to Northwestern and studied acting.
And I did some musical theater there. And then I went to Los Angeles,
basically, to concentrate on television and film. And there's just not much
of a theatrical community out there. It doesn't thrive in Los Angeles,
GROSS: Rebecca Luker, in the part of Marian, the librarian, you have, as
Craig pointed out, songs with--what seems to me anyways--to be a really big
range, that starts off in your--you know, the bottom of your speaking range
and ends up on really high notes. But you have a voice that's very well
equipped to do that. This was probably not even a stretch for you.
Ms. LUKER: Oh, how to comment on that. Well, I guess the range is right in
my voice, I have to say. I'd done this role twice before. And, you know,
range is--I guess it is a big range. It goes up to A flat and then starts
pretty low. But I try to keep it all sort of in the same, you know,
and try to make it sound like I'm speaking more than singing. And it has
hard. It's been hard. It's a lot of work and a lot of songs. And it did
take a lot of rehearsal and a lot of discipline to make it, you know,
sound--if it sounds easy, that's just 'cause we rehearsed a lot; you know,
worked hard on it.
GROSS: Let me play something with you, Rebecca Luker, singing on the cast
recording of "The Music Man." And I thought we'd go with a ballad that is
that famous. It's called "My White Knight." It's a really lovely song,
I think, quite a big range. You do start off as if you're speaking, and
Ms. LUKER: Yeah. This one has a big range for...
GROSS: Yeah. Say something about the song. It's too bad this one isn't as
Ms. LUKER: Well, it is. It's not that well known. Probably one reason is
that in the movie, they interpolate Meredith Willson's version into the
In the middle of the song, you hear "My White Knight" as we do it in the
And it's surrounded by another song called "Being in Love," which I'm not
sure if Meredith Willson wrote that. Someone else wrote it, I think. And
maybe Lesser(ph) wrote it. But it's one of my favorite songs now. And
hopefully when people see the show, they come away feeling that way about
like, `Oh, I never knew it was, you know, a good song.'
But the way we arranged it for the show is David Chase, our conductor and
musical director, had the idea that the beginning was too high. I was going
back to that subject of trying to speak. It was too high to sound natural,
we lowered it about a fourth, and then a few lines later, we jump back up to
the original key. And it worked so well. And it just sort of naturally
into the song the right way. And then it ends on an A flat, you know, big
money note at the end. You know, it's one of my favorite songs now, though.
It's such a lovely song. And it just sort of encapsulates Marian and, you
know, who she is. And it makes her--you know, you understand her better,
where she's coming from better from the song. It's a great song.
GROSS: When the song starts, you know, Marian's mother sang to her...
Ms. LUKER: Yeah.
GROSS: ...you know, `It's about time you found a guy.'
Ms. LUKER: Exactly.
GROSS: `Nobody's been interested in you. What are you waiting for?' And
Ms. LUKER: Exactly.
GROSS: And she sings this in response. This is "My White Knight," Rebecca
Luker singing on the new cast recording of "The Music Man."
(Soundbite of "My White Knight" from cast recording of "The Music Man")
Ms. LUKER: (As Marian) My white knight, not a Lancelot, nor an angel with
wings. Just someone to love me, who is not ashamed of a few nice things.
white knight, what my heart would say if it only knew how: Please, dear
Venus, show me now. All I want is a plain man. All I want is an modest
a quiet man, a gentle man, a straightforward and honest man to sit with me
a cottage somewhere in the state of Iowa. And I would like him to be more
interested in me than he is in himself, and more interested in us than in
And occasionally, he'd ponder what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great.
Him, I could love till I die. Him, I could love till I die.
My white knight, not a Lancelot, nor an angel with wings. Just someone to
love me, who is not ashamed of a few nice things. My white knight, let me
walk with him where the others ride by. Want and love him till I die, till
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Rebecca Luker from the new cast recording of "The Music Man."
She and Craig Bierko will be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: The cast recording of the Broadway revival of "The Music Man" has
been released. My guests are the show's stars, Rebecca Luker and Craig
Craig, was there anything in your background that you felt connected to "The
Mr. BIERKO: Well, my father was a traveling salesman growing up, and he had
some great stories for me. And my father is a very charismatic individual.
I've heard it said about my father that he could sell a drowning man water.
And as a child...
GROSS: What did he sell?
Mr. BIERKO: Anything. He sold giftware, which basically was anything that
was in front of him. But he told me a great story before I started the play
that he was selling silverware, and he used to--he didn't have an office.
What he would do is he'd just go from town to town, and he would sit down at
table in a diner, and he would take this very flashy silverware out and he
would just start eating. And somebody would walk by and remark on the
silverware, and he would just--he wouldn't play the role of a salesman.
just talk about he found this silverware somewhere and he travels with it.
prefers to eat with only this silverware. And he'd get these people all
worked up about this silverware, and then give them information on who they
could contact to buy it. And he sold loads of it that way.
GROSS: Oh. Wow.
Mr. BIERKO: I don't have my father's talent for selling, which is why this
story isn't working, but he really--you know, he made quite a living for
himself as a salesman in his early years.
Mr. BIERKO: And that's the way he worked. He could just connect
with people. And I grew up watching my father do that. And I think--I
know if it had an effect on the way I play the role.
GROSS: 'Cause he is a salesman, Professor Harold Hill.
Mr. BIERKO: He certainly is.
GROSS: He's selling the instruments. He's selling the band costumes.
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah.
GROSS: And he's selling himself. And in a way, you have to sell yourself
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah.
GROSS: I mean, did you learn anything from your father, you think, about
to sell yourself when you're auditioning?
Mr. BIERKO: I don't think I learned that from my father. I think I learned
coming up as an actor and sort of learning how to do this awful, awful,
terrible, horrible thing called auditioning...
Mr. BIERKO: ...that the more comfortable you are with yourself, and
the less you want something, the more appealing you come off. It's a lot
a first date. Chances are it's going to lead to a second date if you don't
want it too badly. Actually, that's something I hope I learn by the time
40, but in terms of acting...
GROSS: But about acting. That's right.
Mr. BIERKO: In terms of acting, I found that very much to be case; that
very helpful to walk into that kind of experience not wanting something too
badly. And I think that's the way to sell somebody on something. And I
the scenes that I play in the play that are the most effective for me when
he's trying to sell somebody on something, I have to play those as
realistically as I can. I can't play the concept of selling something to
somebody. I try not to wink at the audience too much. I try to actually
convince whoever it is that I'm talking to that my lie is a truth.
GROSS: Rebecca, you grew up in a small town in Alabama.
Ms. LUKER: Yes.
GROSS: Did you feel connected at all to the small town of River City in
Ms. LUKER: Yes and no. I mean, I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, but I
wasn't there too many years. I moved when I was four. But actually I moved
to even a smaller town than Birmingham. So, yes, in a way, I guess I was
acquainted with sort of that kind of slower life and you know your neighbors
and that sort of thing, so that was a connection. Yes.
GROSS: How small was the town you moved to after Birmingham?
Ms. LUKER: Well, Helena, Alabama. I don't know the population, but it's
small. I mean, we're talking, you know, six traffic lights or something,
know? And it hasn't changed in 30 years probably.
GROSS: Was there any theater there?
Ms. LUKER: I hope no one from Helena's listening. No. Oh, no. There was
little theater in Birmingham, so we'd go there to--if we ever did see
it was in Birmingham pretty much.
GROSS: Was there any local entertainment?
Ms. LUKER: You know, you'd go to the movies, or you'd, you know--of course,
my university town, Montevallo was even further South, and I guess you could
there to see some plays and things. But we didn't--you know, church was a
lot--you know, I went there a lot to sing and be entertained.
GROSS: What kind of songs did you sing in church?
Ms. LUKER: Mostly--well, I grew up in a Baptist church, so we had that sort
of secular, kind of popular type music. You know, Bill Gaither, if you know
anything about that kind of music. Nothing classical, nothing Bach, or, you
know, none the good church music. It was all sort of that contemporary
religious music, and hymns. We did some of the old hymns, of course.
GROSS: You want to do a few bars of a hymn you sang when you were a kid?
don't have to.
Ms. LUKER: Oh, you know "Just As I Am"? (Singing) `Just as I am without a
one plea'--you know that one?
Ms. LUKER: But--OK. Never mind. And we'd sing, you know, 12, 14 ver...
GROSS: They didn't sing that one in my synagogue.
Ms. LUKER: Yeah. We'd sing about 12 verses of that while the preacher
at the end waiting for someone to walk down the aisle and join the church
you know, verse after verse after verse of "Just As I Am."
Mr. BIERKO: I can't picture you saying the word dreidel.
Ms. LUKER: Dr--the dreidel.
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah. Yeah.
Ms. LUKER: Dreidel. Dreidel. Dreidel. There you are.
Mr. BIERKO: Oh, good. OK. Well, my reality's been smashed.
Ms. LUKER: I married a partly Jewish person, so...
Ms. LUKER: Yes.
GROSS: Rebecca Luker and Craig Bierko star in the Broadway revival of "The
Music Man." They'll be back in the second half of the show. The new cast
recording has just been released. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite from cast recording of "The Music Man")
Unidentified Man: So, professor, you're gonna line yourself up a little
Mr. BIERKO: Well...
Unidentified Man: Say, I could fix you up with Ethel's sister. Whoo!
girl. Teach you Sunday school.
Mr. BIERKO: No, wide-eyed, eager, wholesome, innocent Sunday school teacher
for me. That kind of gal spins webs no spider ever--now listen, boy. A gal
who trades on all that purity merely wants to trade my independence for her
security. The only affirmative she will file refers to marching down the
aisle. No golden, glorious, gleaming, pristine goddess. No, sir. For no
Diana do I play upon, I can tell you that right now. I snarl. I hiss. How
can ignorance be compared to bliss? I spark. I fizz for the lady who knows
what time it is.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Craig Bierko and
Rebecca Luker, the stars of the Broadway revival of "The Music Man." The
cast recording has just been released. This is Bierko's Broadway debut.
Luker starred in the recent revivals of "The Sound of Music" and "Show
Now, Craig, you grew up in Westchester, and you're father, in addition to
being a travelling salesman, ran a community theater with your mother.
Mr. BIERKO: Well, they--yeah, they were co-presidents for about a year and
half of the Harrison Players...
GROSS: I see.
Mr. BIERKO: ...which I think still exists.
GROSS: So were they actors, amateur actors?
Mr. BIERKO: They were amateur actors, yeah. I think both of them had
designs in their early 20s of actually being actors. My mother not so
seriously, but I think my father actually studied at The American Theatre
for about a year. He was in James Earl Jones' class.
Mr. BIERKO: They did "Mice and Men" together. Yeah.
Mr. BIERKO: But I think at the Brooklyn Academy--I don't know, someplace.
There's an article somewhere in our basement. And they ran the Harrison
Players for a little while, and that was--I was in the fourth grade at the
time. So that was the first time I ever stepped on stage was then they
were--but I had to audition. I had to do everything. I had to paint the
scenery. I had to sell Orangeade at intermission and...
Mr. BIERKO: ...you know, be part of the whole process.
GROSS: Did you love the theater as a kid?
Mr. BIERKO: Immediately. Immediately. The very first play that they took
me to, I think it was 1972 or so, it was for my brother's birthday, and we
went to see the original cast of "Pippin." I didn't know what to expect,
we were eating dinner at the Howard Johnson's on Broadway right before hand
and I just tugged my mother's sleeve, I said, `If this is really boring, can
just wait in the car?' And she said, `Oh, I don't think you're going to
this boring.' And it was Fosse, you know, with women, no clothes. I was,
know, eight or nine.
GROSS: And, boy, did you not find it boring.
Mr. BIERKO: ...and there were churnings and things I'd never felt before.
And also just I'd never seen a live production of anything before. My
as Harold Hill, in Mrs. Goldberts'(ph) fifth grade night of music, that's
what I had seen. And it was an incredibly overwhelming experience. And,
there was truly a sense of, `This is what I want to do with the rest of my
life.' And that's never gone away. That was at the Imperial Theatre. And
right now, I was walking down the street the other day with a friend of mine
and I looked over at the Imperial Theatre and there's this giant banner that
says, "The Music Man," with my name and Rebecca's name on it, and it was
one of those great moments, you know?
GROSS: Oh, what a great thing. That's terrific. Why don't we take a pause
here and listen to some more music from the new cast recording of "The Music
Man." And, Rebecca, I thought we could listen to you singing "Goodnight, My
Ms. LUKER: OK.
GROSS: This is a very familiar song from the show. Do you want to say
anything about the song?
Ms. LUKER: I love when it comes in the show. I think you need a ballad.
know, I've often heard the audience say that by the time, you know, Marian
goes out on the porch and the moonlight, you know, hits her and she sings
beautiful lullaby, that it's just a wonderful change to what's been
You know, the--Harold's been singing "Trouble," and stirring the town up,
they've had the town meeting and everything's going at full blast--you know,
you get to sort of relax a little bit. There's been a lot of goings on
this happens. And it's just a lovely song. It's one of my favorites.
GROSS: OK. This is "Goodnight, My Someone," Rebecca Luker from the new
recording of "The Music Man."
(Soundbite of Rebecca Luker singing "Goodnight, My Someone")
Ms. LUKER: (Singing) Good night, my someone. Good night, my love. Sleep
tight, my someone. Sleep tight, my love. Our star is shining its brightest
light. For good night, my love. For good night. Sweet dreams be yours,
dear, if dreams there be. Sweet dreams to carry you close to me. I wish
may and I wish they might, now good night, my someone, good night. True
can be whispered...
GROSS: That's Rebecca Luker, who plays Marian, the librarian in the new
Broadway production of "The Music Man." Also with us is Craig Bierko, who's
Professor Harold Hill, the music man himself.
Now, Rebecca, your first role on Broadway was in "Phantom of the Opera."
were an understudy for Sarah Brightman, who was the lead.
Ms. LUKER: Right.
GROSS: And you were also in "The Chorus."(ph) Did you spend a lot of time
hoping that she'd get sick so that you could play the part?
Ms. LUKER: No. I mean, that was a special situation, actually. We had
Sarah and an alternate Christine(ph), who was being played by Patty
Cowenhower(ph). And so my chances of going on were very, very slim, as the
two of them, you know, sort of switched off. But after about 10 months they
just gave me a show so they could see me do it. And I suppose I was
them to give one or something, I don't remember. But, no, I was itching to
on, so they gave me a show, and that's how I finally got on. But it was a
great place to start out though. Even being in the ensemble it was--I call
Camp Phantom. I learned so much, and it was a great experience, you know.
GROSS: And you eventually got to play the lead in that show.
Ms. LUKER: And eventually, yes, right after that took over for Christine,
GROSS: Now, Craig, this is your first Broadway show, "The Music Man," but
you've been in several films, a couple of which nobody has seen.
Ms. LUKER: They haven't?
GROSS: You were in the movie "Sour Grapes," that Larry David...
Mr. BIERKO: That's right.
GROSS: ...who was one of the co-creators of "Seinfeld," did, and nobody saw
Mr. BIERKO: Right. You'd think people would go see that. The man maybe
earned a little respect for himself.
Ms. LUKER: I'll go see it.
GROSS: Then you were in "The Longest Night," which was, you know.
Mr. BIERKO: "The Long Kiss Good Night."
GROSS: "The Long Kiss Good Night," yeah, which a lot of people really liked
Mr. BIERKO: You probably looked for the wrong movie. You were looking for
"The Long Good Night."
GROSS: That's right.
Mr. BIERKO: That's why a lot of people don't see my movies, is they get the
titles confused. Go for...
GROSS: Samual Jackson, Geena Davis were in that, too.
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: Yeah, I missed that film, but I've heard terrific things about it.
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah.
GROSS: So what kind of roles have you been getting in movies? What kind of
type have you been cast as?
Mr. BIERKO: Well, thankfully, there hasn't been a type, which is nice. I
kind of consider myself a character actor. That's the way I approach it.
I've played--in "The Long Kiss Good Night," I played your stalk psychopath
villain, wearing black leather, trying to kill the pretty lady who's
in the movie person. And in "Sour Grapes," I played--well, I don't think
there is a typical Larry David character--just an unlikable guy who has
with his mother and tries to kill her. And, you know, the other movies that
did, I played just a varying--I did a movie with Terry Gilliam, called "Fear
and Loathing In Las Vegas," which was my favorite book growing up. And I
played Lacerda, who is the photographer assigned to Hunter Thompson. And
was, you know, just a completely different character from anything that I
I don't think I play a certain type. Actually, you know, coming up through
television, in the early part of the '90s I was signed up to NBC and I
basically found myself getting very frustrated because they did cast me
to what I guess people think I look like, which is sort of boyish, boy next
door, nice guy type person. And it was very frustrating, because I found
material would always become very pale and uninteresting, and thankfully it
wasn't picked up. And when I started taking movies a little bit more
seriously and just decided that that was what I wanted to aim for, I was
hungry to play characters that had a little bit more variation. And I
hungry so much for what's going to be the right career move, but, you know,
what's going to be interesting.
Ms. LUKER: That's what's so un--I think that's unusual about Craig, because
he's so--well, you saw how handsome he is, and I think it's unusual for such
handsome leading man to be able to do character parts and be so funny. It's
very unusual, I think.
Mr. BIERKO: I'm actually blushing on the radio. I don't know if you're
Ms. LUKER: He's blushing across the tables.
Mr. BIERKO: But the movies that I've done, you know, the ones that nobody's
seen, it's absolutely true. But, you know, the people that I got to work
with, Larry David, and Terry Gilliam, Renny Harlin, Roland Emmerich, all
people with me. My favorite thing about those--I never go to see something
that I'm in anyway. I can't do it.
GROSS: Oh, really?
Mr. BIERKO: That's one of the reasons I'm so happy to be on stage...
Mr. BIERKO: ...is that I don't have to watch myself, unless there's a scene
with a mirror, but still I'll close my eyes during that. But working with
those people was the really incredible thing. And I try not to pay
to how those things do, you know. So I'm actually fine with that.
GROSS: It's just the experience of it.
Mr. BIERKO: Yeah.
GROSS: Craig, now that you're performing in a show, every day, what's it
for you to perform the same role over and over again, which obviously one
doesn't do that in a movie or TV?
Mr. BIERKO: I'm discovering that as we go along, you know, it's still very
fresh and new for me. I mean, I'm on stage--it feels like 90 percent of the
play I'm on stage, so there's an awful lot for me to chew on. It doesn't
boring very quickly. We've only been doing this a little bit over two
Mr. BIERKO: Including previews, close to three. And so I'm still at the
point where I have to think constantly or I'll get thrown off. I can't
disappear. I've heard people say that after you run a play for long enough,
you can kind of disappear and all of a sudden your jaw just starts moving.
You're saying the words, and you don't even need to think about it. You
be someplace else entirely and still turn in a reasonably good performance.
In fact, people tend to get tripped up, they say, down the line when they
start to think about it again after coming out of that period of time of not
having to think about it. It throws them off to actually concentrate.
But I haven't experienced that yet. I have to work very, very hard, and
very, very focused. So the fun of the challenge of that, and the scariness
the challenge of that has not gone away. It also doesn't hurt that this
ensemble that Susan Stroman has put together is such a strong group of
performers, but they're also such an excellent caliber of people. And
think that they--they've made it--actually, they made it very clear to me
during the rehearsal process, and--during the preview process and when we
opened that this was a new experience for me. It was terrifying. And they
very much let me now that they were there for me as much as they could.
decorated my dressing room. I came in one day and the entire cast had put
together my dressing room for me because I just didn't have any time to
about that kind of thing. I was to busy urinating in my pants out of fear.
Ms. LUKER: They did that, huh? I didn't know that. Wow.
Mr. BIERKO: No, I urinated in my pants. They put together my--yeah, I took
care of that. But they put together my dressing room. And I could name a
hundred things like that this cast continues to do for me, and for Rebecca.
And I feel that way towards them, and I think that leads towards a healthy
company and hopefully a long run. Because everybody wants to be there.
having as good a time on stage, if not, better, than people are having in
audience, which is saying something, because people seem to be having a
time when they see this play.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.
Ms. LUKER: Thank you, Terry.
Mr. BIERKO: Pleasure.
GROSS: And congratulations on the show.
Mr. BIERKO: Thank you.
Ms. LUKER: Thank you so much.
GROSS: Craig Bierko, and Rebecca Luker star in the Broadway revival of "The
Music Man." The new cast recording has just been released.
Coming up, preparing for the TV cameras, cell phones, pagers and PCs at the
Republican National Convention. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Interview: Frank Punzo of Verizon discusses the telecommunication
preparations being made for the Republican National Convention
TERRY GROSS, host:
Tens of thousands of people will be bringing cell phones, pagers and PCs to
the Republican National Convention. My guest, Frank Punzo, has to make sure
that the convention center is equipped to handle hundreds of thousands of
simultaneous conversations and data transmissions. He's the sales manager
the convention's official telecommunications provider, Verizon. That's the
new name of the newly merged companies of Bell Atlantic and GTE. Punzo had
been virtually living at the First Union Center in Philadelphia were the
convention will be held. I asked him about the difference in communications
needs between this convention and earlier ones.
Mr. FRANK PUNZO (Sales Manager, Verizon): Probably the biggest differences
are the Internet connectivity and cell phones. Cell phones in '96 were just
coming out in what was called the PCS arena, and now, of course, everyone
a cell phone. It's almost ubiquitous. And I think that's the biggest
people coming in from wherever they're coming from, every delegate, every
media association, everyone having a cell phone. So that's probably the
biggest. And the Internet challenge has been the biggest, because everyone
now is using the Internet for both broadcasting, as well as just information
GROSS: So what have you had to do to make sure that the people who are
the Internet programs, or using the Internet in any other way, will be able
do what they need to do.
Mr. PUNZO: The biggest things have been boost capacities. We've had to
build more than we would have thought we had to build if it were just a
regular old voice and data type of convention. Voice being, you know,
old phone lines. The data has just increased significantly. The Internet
just exploded in this convention. There was an Internet alley in '96 in San
Diego, but here that's grown, and the Committee on Arrangements(ph), who's
actually putting this convention on with the Republican Party, their needs
have grown. Things like the media intranet that they're putting on, where
media previously had to walk around to the tents or send runners to get
information on speeches and so forth, it will all be online. You know,
a big boost in terms of--for the media organizations, you know, the big
networks, or even the smaller networks. For them to get information on the
speeches, it was always paper before, now it's all electronic.
GROSS: How many miles of wire have you laid so far?
Mr. PUNZO: I would have to say we've run--I think the term is conductor
miles--about 6,600 to 7,000 miles of conductor wire, probably on the
on the First Union Center property. If you count everything else we've done
in the city and the different, you know, fiber connections that we've made
bring it from the central offices to kind of control all these things down
the First Union Center, it's probably another, you know, 2,000 conductor
on top of that. I mean, it's really a big job. The cable's still being
pulled as we speak.
GROSS: So what happens to all those wires when the convention's over?
Mr. PUNZO: It actually all gets chopped up and carried away. And we hope
be able to recycle some of it and recoup some of that money. But the bottom
line is it's--we have to be out of the site by August the 14th, so we have
pull it out as fast as, or faster than we pulled it in--because we had about
month to pull it in--and we have to take it to some place and get rid of it.
GROSS: Would you describe the areas that are set aside for the media and
you've done in those areas?
Mr. PUNZO: Sure. Of course, you have many, many media agencies. You have
the major television networks, like CBS or NBC. You have the smaller news
agencies or radio stations. A lot of those are in the pavilions, what are
called `pavilions.' Tents cost me a dollar every time I say it, so there's a
dollar I just threw out the window. But in each one of those...
GROSS: Wait, you're not supposed to say tent?
Mr. PUNZO: No, you're supposed to say pavilions.
GROSS: Tent sounds too downscale or makeshift?
Mr. PUNZO: Yes.
GROSS: Sounds like you're camping.
Mr. PUNZO: Yeah. The tents are--I'd love to have a tent like this to camp
in. It's about the size of a football field inside; carpeted with a raised
floor and air conditioned. So I'll take that anytime. But it is--and well
lit as well. But most of the--what I'll call the smaller news agencies, not
the major networks, are in these pavilions. And they're in there, so we've
had to make connections from their pavilion inside the center so that they
monitor everything that's going on.
There are five major pavilions, one of those being what's called Victory
Pavilion. That's for the Committee on Arrangements. There's four big ones
that are the media areas. And then beyond that, you have, of course, all
major networks, and they have their own compounds. And their compounds are
gated compounds with probably on average--I'm gonna use CBS as an example,
probably 25 trailers--OK?--that house their production folks, their stars,
you will, and anyone who's involved with putting on a TV production. So
had to wire every one of those from their broadcast cables to their voice
cables to their data cables for Internet. So just about every mile of cable
we've run in there. Some have had the option of doing their own,
the compound they can do their own. Between the compounds we've done it
and into the building. If you were in the First Union Center as a
site, if you've ever watched a hockey or a basketball game in there, you
wouldn't recognize it now when you go in. It's a challenge, but we were up
it. We got it done.
GROSS: What kind of security precautions are you taking?
Mr. PUNZO: Well, we're working with the Secret Service. We're working with
the Philadelphia police, and, of course, the FBI and everything that they
Each one of us has to get security clearance before we're allowed on the
to work there. That's the first thing. Secondly, you know, we're putting
guards and fencing around our equipment, and we have people there, or will
have people there 24-by-7, you know, as this convention goes on. So we
have an area that is unprotected from our perspective. And I think that the
way that the Secret Service is blanketing the convention site, very few
will get into it. And the great thing about that site is that is it all
fenced in, so it's difficult to get into the site because of the fencing on
the outside. So it's kind of a self-contained city into itself, so it makes
it a lot easier.
GROSS: Now I understand that you and a good deal of your staff are going to
be sleeping on the premises of the convention center to make sure you're
Mr. PUNZO: If we sleep, yes.
GROSS: Do you have a little room with beds in it for you?
Mr. PUNZO: No, we actually have a trailer that will probably just have
people that'll pretty much be up around the clock trying to work, and
try to catch some sleep in chairs and things like that. So it's--you know,
didn't make accommodations for Winnebagoes like some of the networks. The
networks have very cushy quarters compared to our's. We set a whole new
for, you know, trailer trash with our trailer when we moved in. But it's
functional. That's what we wanted it for. It gets the job done. And, you
know, we'll have more than enough--there's, you know, plenty of bathrooms
within the center. There's areas where we can go to freshen up. We've
food delivered by the catering folks--you know, I won't say around the
but at least three meals per day. So folks are fed and they'll have the
ability to, you know, sleep a little bit.
GROSS: So are you going to watch any of the coverage?
Mr. PUNZO: I'll be there every day. Hopefully...
GROSS: I mean watch it on TV.
Mr. PUNZO: Watch it on TV? If we get our connection into our trailer, yes.
We're actually providing on the premises, on the convention grounds, an
internal cable TV system, so we will actually have TVs, and yes, can watch
But my hope is that I'll get to see a lot of it live, because I'll be in and
on the floor watching what's going on, and making sure that everything's
working. So now whether I'll ever watch another convention after this one
anther story. But, yeah, definitely, definitely try to watch it on TV. You
know, I'm not that political a person, but I tried, you know, over the
of time--I've worked with the city of Philadelphia for the last eight years
a Bell Atlantic employee working, you know, on their communications. So in
that regard, you get a lot of political--but they're all Democrats, or
Democrats. So this is a new environment with the Republican Party coming
And it's been great, it really has. It's been a fun experience. I don't
that I'll raise my hand the next time somebody says, `Do you want to
to do the convention?' But for this one, it was great. It was a lot of fun.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. PUNZO: OK. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
GROSS: Frank Punzo, is the sales manager of Verizon, the official
telecommunications provider for the Republican National Convention. Coming
up, Ken Tucker reviews Steve Earle's new CD. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Review: Steve Earle's new CD "Transcendental Blues"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Steve Earle has been releasing albums since 1986, with an all too literal
spell, when he went to jail after a 1993 heroin bust. Since then he's
released a steady stream of CDs, including last year's blue grass collection
"The Mountain," which rock critic Ken Tucker placed on his 10 best list.
Here's Ken's review of Earle's new CD, "Transcendental Blues."
(Soundbite of song "The Galway Girl")
Mr. STEVE EARLE: (Singing) I took a stroll and an ol' long walk, hey-yi,
hey-yi, hey-yi, hey. I met a little girl and I stopped to talk
(unintelligible) softly, ay-ey. And I ask you friend...
Mr. KEN TUCKER (Rock Critic): That song, called "The Galway Girl," arrives
about midway through Steve Earle's new CD. Up until then, the music has
pretty spotty, featuring songs with intentionally simple love lyrics,
unredeemed by complicated emotions or engaging melodies. The title song
leads off the collection, "Transcendental Blues," is the kind of spiritual
rock song, pyas in the most banal sense, that gives transcendence a bad
But once Earle taps into some Irish roots I never knew he had, his CD begins
to kick in.
(Soundbite of song "I Don't Want to Lose You Yet)
Mr. EARLE: (Singing) Baby, it's a cold, hard world out there,
people everywhere. ...(Unintelligible) what a lovely day, I don't want to
wind up like that. So baby throw your arms around my neck, lay your pretty
head against my chest. Listen to one heart beat, then the next. Baby, I
don't want to lose you yet.
Mr. TUCKER: That song, "I Don't Want to Lose You Yet," plays like an
undiscovered gem from the doo-wop era, rearranged to suit Earle's burly
acoustic strumming and featuring a lovely chorus. Then, as if he's caught
spirit of something, Earle makes his next song even better.
(Soundbite of song "Halo 'Round The Moon")
Mr. EARLE: (Singing) There's a halo around the moon, so I know it ain't to
blame. Cause I knew what love could do, but I loved her just the same. And
then I let her slip away. I'm all alone and blue, and that's the price I
gotta pay when there's a halo round the moon.
Mr. TUCKER: In "Halo 'Round The Moon," Earle compares himself to a ghost
haunting a romance as barren as a deserted town. Plucking his guitar,
on the verge of turning his song into blue grass without ever quite actually
doing so, he makes you feel the emptiness of the quality of ghostliness.
the real blue grass comes along.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. EARLE: (Singing) Back in the hills when we were only kids, love shined
like a diamond in your eyes. I swore I'd never hurt ya, then I did. Now
all alone with all my lies. I promised that I'd never be untrue, I'd never
make you cry. The only promise that I didn't break was to love you till the
day I die.
Mr. TUCKER: As he proved on his terrific 1999 album "The Mountain," Earle
has been a real affinity for blue grass. Here he displays real
pushing blue grass' often fussy precision aside to tell what seems to be a
tale of unrequited love. But then in the last verse he drops in half a
the phrase, `I killed a man,' and you realize he's a guy who's not merely
sick, but about to die. Then the CD explodes.
(Soundbite of song "All Of My Life")
Mr. EARLE: I guess I don't get out too much, but it wasn't enough. I hear
all these voices are always tellin' me they're bad, but it's all in my head,
like all those scary noises. I've been waitin' all of my life, all of my
life. I've been waitin' all of my life, all of my life.
Mr. TUCKER: "All Of My Life," holds in all of Earle's history. He talks
about the voices he hears telling him he's bad, something I imagine might
occur to a guilt-ridden drug addict. And over a chorus that challenge's
Springsteen in his prime, Earle rocks out about the solace he now finds in
being along. Transcendental joy is more like it.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. EARLE: I'm thinking about giving up this rambling around and hanging up
my highway shoes. Baby, when I walk, they make a hollow sound and they
me away from you. Every night I lay my body down and my empty arms just
me blue. So I'm thinking about giving up this rambling around...
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