For two years, Don Amendolia has been suffering from what he calls "interruptus."
In March, 1987, he was on Broadway, stepping high in Richard Harris' "Stepping Out," when the producers abruptly pulled the plug. "Of all the shows I've done, this was the hardest: hardest to stage, hardest to rehearse. But our souls were in that piece. It's not just the script. It's the people you're working with, the room you're rehearsing in. So it was a stunning thing when we closed."
Amendolia will get another chance at "Stepping Out" on Sunday, when it opens at the Pasadena Playhouse--with him on board as co-star and director.
"It's a British comedy about a group of misfits who meet once a week in a London church basement for dance lessons," said the actor-director, who was last seen performing here in "My One and Only" (Ahmanson, 1985). "There are nine women and one man: my character, Geoffrey. It's really a slice of life, about tiny people and tiny lives. It's all minutiae, not important--except in the grand scale, of course, it's very important. And for some reason, it's very heartwarming. Every night on Broadway, audiences screamed for these people."
Which made the loss even worse. "It's a stupid business," he said wearily, "a business of passions. So you go away and lick your wounds, then come out and keep on keepin' on. It's a precarious life at best. Oh, a few people warn you, but what does that mean? Half of this business is luck, and I've been pretty lucky. I've always worked. There haven't been too many lean times. And just as no one can prepare you for the disappointments, no one can prepare you for the highs. The highs are so high for me."
In his two years away from this show, Amendolia (whose local directing credits include "80 Days" at the La Jolla Playhouse and "Born Yesterday" at the Pasadena Playhouse, both last year) has managed to retain his enthusiasm for the project, in spite of a number of setbacks--including the bowing-out of planned star Sandy Duncan.
"It was just as well," Amendolia said philosophically. "After I reread the piece, I realized it really can't have a star. It's a true ensemble show--you've either got to have all stars or no stars. See, when you cast a star in the role, the audience can't help but think the star is the protagonist and watch them: 'What are they going to do?' This isn't that kind of piece. The whole point is that these are nobodies. Having a star would really throw it out of balance."
Four members of the Broadway cast are reprising their roles: Janet Eilber, Victoria Boothby, Sheryl Sciro and understudy David Doty.
"One of my conditions was that I have my understudy from New York, because he already knew what I did--and it would be a lot easier for me to rehearse," said Amendolia, who swears his own song-and-dance training was limited to a movement class and "maybe 15" voice lessons. "Another condition was that they let him go on once a week. He should have a showcase. He's worked hard."
As for himself, Amendolia expressed no qualms about taking over the reins from the show's original director, Tommy Tune. After all, he did it once before with Tune on "Cloud Nine" (which Amendolia directed--and acted in--at L.A. Stage Company West in 1983, garnering him a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his direction). "This show is much different from 'Cloud Nine,' where I was pretty much hired to replicate the original," he said. "And yet I think I brought my own thing to 'Cloud Nine.' I know I did."
Will his production of this piece have any resemblance to Tune's?
"That was two years ago," Amendolia said with a shrug. "I don't really remember much of the staging. Obviously I can't negate that experience in my life. But I'm not out to reinvent the wheel; I just want to do a good production--and improve it. You know, directing's a lot more than telling people where to walk and talk. It's getting them to think the way you want them to think, so that all together they bring in the desired result.
"There are some things I'm doing very differently. In New York, the finale was so lavish, so wonderful. Well, that bothered me--because these people couldn't do it. It should be the best that these people can do. So I took out the chaser lights. It should be someone's Christmas tree lights from home. I want my set to be dingier, more like a basement. Of course, there's only so far you can go with that. After all, you don't want to depress the audience."