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SCENE AND HEARD: You Gotta Have Faith in Bells Are Ringing

by Randy Gener
April 16, 2001

NEW YORK – At the opening night party for Bells Are Ringing, director Tina Landau caught many of her admirers by surprise – she wore pink. The dress astonished because for as long as many of us who have followed her career over the years, we’ve only seen her in black.

Then again, she’s always displayed a capacity to amaze, not the least of which is that last Thursday, April 12, she celebrated, along with stars Faith Prince, Marc Kudisch, Martin Moran, Julio Agustin, Beth Fowler and David Garrison, the official debut of her first Broadway show at Sardi’s Restaurant in Times Square.

“After I froze the show, I wondered, ‘What can a director do when you can no longer direct?’" Tina Landau asked. “So I shopped for opening night.”

And as usual, she free-associated by using a bit of Viewpoints. “I decided – gold, Midas touch, pink, Bells Are Ringing,” she said. “All I own are black suits, so I decided to have fun tonight. I’ve never worn pink in my life.”

One of New York’s brightest young directors, Landau greatly impressed Faith Prince and Marc Kudisch. The two Broadway stars expressed their delight at working with Landau, who they felt have become one of their best friends and allies in the business.

“Tina and I are going to be friends long after this show is over,” Kudisch said. “This has been the easiest preview period in my life. “Honestly I feel I’m at the place where I feel I am at the most accomplished, smartest and wisest. I feel that I am most in touch with what I do. I’m here for better reasons than other shows I’ve been in the past. I’m happy to be present for Tina and Faith. Tonight is not about me. It’s about Tina, and it’s about Faith.”

Faith Prince, who received a round of applause as soon as she walked into Sardi’s, added: “There’s just an incredible trust there with Tina. She’s very talented, and she definitely has a sense of herself. Somehow when I hit the New York stage for the first preview, the show just jelled. I felt so at home, being here. The set is perfect for the show. You’re right there with the audience. From the first moment we met many years ago to talk about reviving Bells Are Ringing, we’ve been in sync.”

The Broadway revival of this Jule Styne musical is the fifth time Martin Moran has worked with Landau. By virtue of that long experience, he offered some unique insights to Landau. “Tina sets an atmosphere and releases in you an ability to go as far as you can possibly go. When you connect with her she lays down a bedrock of inspiration and trust. When I’m in the room with Tina, I find that I go to places that surprise me. Some of it is unspoken bond. I’ve known her for 12 years; our relationship dates all the way back to Trinity Repertory in Rhode Island. She lets me do my own things. I bring in a lot of choices, and as we go towards the end of the process she edits. She’s someone I love working with.”

For Kudisch, opening night gave him a sense of relief: “You work so hard in the show. We spent 12 hours days. We get to live in it now. We get to allow it to show us what it’s really about. One of the big things I’ve enjoyed is playing the insecurities of my character more. I enjoy playing the snob. I think that’s part of his charm. He’s a bit of an ass. People are imperfect and the more I really live in the imperfection, the more charming and more human I find him to be.”

Meanwhile, Prince simply revels in playing Ella Peterson in Bells. “I was struck by how innocent she is. That’s been the biggest discovery. She really had a natural wonder and innocence that I don’t think I anticipated. I didn’t know to what degree that she wasn’t jaded. At the same time, I try to be really present for the audience. In my mind, before I go to the stage, I think, okay folks how are you? Are you in a bad mood? Which way can I get you? My goal is to make audiences feel great.”

For Landau, opening night calls up a mixture of emotions. “Tonight was wonderful. I’m happy the week is over. It was a long week [it was preview week for critics to show up]. Tonight’s show was for my friends and family. And Faith was remarkable. I have to say that opening night is one of the hardest moments, other than the first day of rehearsal, for me as a director. You’re celebrating, but at the same time it’s sad because it’s over.”

Moran isn’t the only longtime Landau colleague who showed up to congratulate her success. Director Anne Bogart also showed up, as well as Dream True composer Ricky Ian Gordon, Bells set designer Riccardo Hernandez and choreographer Jeff Calhoun.

“Tonight my life is flashing before my eyes with all the people I’ve known coming together here [at Sardi’s].”