by Allen Crossett
From my gifted cast I discovered some fascinating things about the play during the rehearsal process. We staged our production in the sanctuary of an historic church in Peapack-Gladstone, and one of the values of the play that I was especially interested in developing was Wilder’s use of music. Some productions omit the music; we made the music a very important part of our interpretation.
The hymn “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” ties the whole play together, and that’s pretty apparent, as is the choir singing “Love Divine, All Love Excelling” at the wedding. But there are two other pieces of music that aren’t so obvious. In Act I, while Dr. Gibbs is gently scolding his son George for not doing his chores, Simon Stimson is rehearsing the hymn “Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid.” The juxtaposition is, I think, a touch of Wilder humor. I’m not sure many in the audience will put the two together and see the joke, but I’ve always encouraged my actors to “play to the one percent” with the hope that someone will figure out what we’re up to.
During the wedding scene of Act II, Wilder indicates in his script that the organ should play Handel’s “Largo” as a prelude. It’s a familiar melody, and the Stage Manager even mentions this selection in the middle of the first act. During a rehearsal, my music director asked me, since we already had a choir on stage for this scene, if I wanted to use a choral version of the piece. My response was to give it a try, and what we discovered was while Mrs. Webb was delivering her poignant speech about sending a daughter into marriage without any real preparation, the choir was gently singing in the background, “Trust in the Lord, Trust in the Lord.” I am sure Wilder knew the words, and my guess is that he didn’t include them in his text because of copyright restrictions. And did our audiences see this connection? Yes, many did. The moment was very powerful.
For our curtain calls, the organist played Copland’s “Simple Gifts” from Appalachian Spring. We followed the dynamics on the Bernstein recording, with the music reaching its dramatic peak as George, Emily and then the Stage Manager entered for their bows. It was an excellent choice.