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Posts Tagged Michael Paul Levin

The Art of Disappearing

Actor Michael Paul Levin has a knack for disappearing into his characters on stage. When he plays Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank, he is Anne’s strong and gentle father. In Of Mice and Men, he is the loyal and compassionate friend, George, to the vulnerable Lenny; and in The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, he channels the brilliant George Gershwin. Currently, Michael transforms into the ever pissed off Inspector Cramer in Might As Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until July 30.

Michael Paul Levin as Inspector Cramer; E. J. Subkoviak as Nero Wolfe; Derek Diriam as Archie Goodwin; Jim Pounds as Fritz
(photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Of course, Inspector Cramer is a fully drawn out character in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries for Michael to emulate. However, Michael was also able to model his portrayal of him after his short-tempered father.

“He had little patience in dealing with people whom he considered to be fools,” Michael said. Inspector Cramer himself does not suffer fools gladly.

This side of Michael had not been something I’d experienced of him before, having watched him on Park Square’s stage as part of its Education Program for the past three seasons as Otto Frank and for a season as Lenny’s friend George, both incredibly patient men in very trying circumstances. He no doubt pulled from his own experiences of fatherhood–Michael has four sons–to portray Otto, but he turns out to have also done so for his role as George.

“One thing that appealed to me about Richard Cook directing Of Mice and Men was that he’d seen it in Spain where Lenny is characterized as being on an autism spectrum,” said Michael. “He had me audition for George because he knew that I have a son with autism. This created an interesting dynamic between the characters of George and Lenny.”

It seems ironic that an actor must dig deep within himself to be able to totally submerge into a character that is not him. Michael’s disappearing trick, seemingly done with ease, is a testament to his talent as an actor. The illusion of ease comes from years of practice–in fact, over 30 years for Michael. He was first awakened to acting as something he’d want to seriously pursue after seeing a production of Barefoot in the Park as a high school junior; ultimately, he’d reached the point of realizing “that I’m not qualified to do anything else.” His longevity in show business is itself a testament to his skills, not only as an actor but also as a playwright, instructor, voice artist and everything else in between.

In personally meeting Michael as himself, I encountered a man who may rather “fade into the woodworks” when not in the spotlight. He’s an unassuming man who would likely rather be left to anonymously go about his own business. Yet, he owns a hairless Chinese crested dog that cannot help but draw attention to itself and, hence, its owner, an apt symbol of the paradoxical nature of being a performer.

In all those years of watching Michael on stage, why had I not caught on before?  Michael doesn’t simply disappear on stage. What he does is much more complex: Michael hides in plain sight.

Maud’s Pick

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As the Chanteuse in Park Square Theatre’s The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, Maud Hixson will be filling the Proscenium Stage with her soulful voice. When asked for her favorite Gershwin tune to sing or hear and why, Maud kept her answer short and sweet:

My favorite Gershwin song is “Little Jazz Bird” because I’ve always loved Blossom Dearie’s recording of it, and I love performing it myself.

To hear Blossom Dearie’s rendition of the song, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuWJzDJOOVY&sns=em

Maud Hixson’s Background:

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater, Dowling Studio: Coward’s Women Awards/Other Two-time recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Artist Initiative Grant; McKnight Foundation’s “Next Step” Grant recipient; Two-time performer at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall in the New York Cabaret Convention Upcoming Projects Touring with Listening For Your Song (A Musical Companion to the Betsy-Tacy Books by Maud Hart Lovelace)

Michael Paul Levin, Maud Hixson and Maggie Burton in rehearsal

Michael Paul Levin, Maud Hixson and Maggie Burton in rehearsal (Photo by Connie Shaver)

The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer – December 2 to 31

Join us for the holidays at Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage!

 

Maggie’s Picks

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In Park Square Theatre’s upcoming musical, The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, Maggie Burton will play the Chazzan (Cantor). When asked “What is your favorite Gershwin tune to hear or sing (or both!)? And why?,” she answered:

I love just about everything Gershwin wrote.  I never get tired of listening to “Rhapsody in Blue,” so I guess that’s my favorite tune to listen to. Today, anyway. Could be something else tomorrow!

As for singing–an obvious answer for me would be “Summertime.”  It’s so beautiful and versatile. But another song I really enjoy singing is “By Strauss.”  It’s a fun, up-tempo waltz with clever lyrics that Gershwin wrote in the style of Johann Strauss, the composer known as the Waltz King. The song has been recorded by such diverse artists as Ella Fitzgerald and Kiri te Kanawa, which says a lot about the range of the Gershwins’ music and lyrics.

In our show, Gershwin alludes to the idea that good composers borrow, but great composers steal. He also says we might hear (in his music) something that we might not expect–something that he himself might not expect. “By Strauss” is a great example.

Join Maggie Burton and her fellow cast-mates, accompanied by a live band, at Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage from December 2 to 31 for a rousing good time! You’ll be singing and dancing out of the theatre!

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Maggie Burton’s Background:

Park Square The Soul of Gershwin (1999 and 2011) Representative Theatre Garden of Song Opera: Cendrillon;  Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera: HMS Pinafore; Minnesota Opera: Anna Bolena; Cross Community Players: Oklahoma; Morris Park Players: Sound of Music Training B.A., Music, University of Minnesota; M.M., Vocal Performance, University of Minnesota Awards/Other Soprano soloist with 1st John Sousa Memorial Band; Cantor/cantorial soloist for Jewish High Holy Days

What IS Klezmer?

Michael Paul Levin as George Gershwin

Michael Paul Levin as George Gershwin

The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer will be on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage from December 2 to 31. I certainly know the name Gershwin, but I’m unfamiliar with the term klezmer. Perhaps you are, too.

As Vincent Hannam mentioned in his recent blog post “The Heart and Soul of Gershwin,” klezmer is a Yiddish word that means instrument of music (derived from klay, which means instrument; and zemer, music). Klezmer came from Ashkenazi Jews, who originated in Eastern Europe, and was intended to, via the violin, imitate the human voice, including the cries, wails and laughter, of the chazzan (cantor) in synagogue. The first klezmer tunes actually came from Hebrew chants in Jewish services.

Played by professional musicians called klezmorim, klezmer originally consisted mainly of spirited dance melodies as well as some plaintive, reflective tunes for celebratory communal events, such as weddings. Klezmorim (and entertainers in general) were not highly regarded in Jewish society due to their secular nomadic, unconventional lifestyle, but they were respected for their virtuosity and diverse repertoire. A band usually included at least two violinists, with the most accomplished one serving as bandleader, backed by a bass or cello and other typical instruments, such as clarinet, drum, hammered dulcimers, trumpet, trombone and accordion.

As with other aspects of European Jewish culture, the Holocaust nearly decimated the tradition of klezmer music since it was passed down aurally through the generations. Surviving musicians helped revitalize the music, and musicologists worked to record their repertoires.

Traditional klezmer was influenced mainly by Romanian music but also present were Greek, Ukranian, Polish, Hungarian and Turkish influences. When European Jews immigrated to the United States, they brought klezmer with them, but it’s popularity steadily waned as Jews adopted mainstream culture. However, American klezmer grew in stature with hits from Jewish composers, such as Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers and, yes, George Gershwin, who incorporated jazz and even gospel into their sound.

The cast and musicians of Park Square Theatre’s The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, besides performing some truly terrific American classics, will also impart a slice of musical history that you may not already have known. My whole family and I plan to kick back, perhaps can’t help but move some body parts while seated and otherwise enjoy the ride when we see the show in December.

Hope to see you there!

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Sources: Klezmer from en.m.wikipedia.org; Klezmer music by Mark S. Slobin from www.britannica.com; Klezmer Music 101 by Megan Romer from worldmusic.about.com; What is Klezmer Music? by Becky Weitzman from tepel.org

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