Monday, August 11, 2008

George Furth, 12/14/32-8/11/08

Here is George backstage at the Company revival (he wrote the book and lyrics, and Stephen Sondheim wrote the music) with Kristin Huffman, who came to Fairfield in December, 2008, to be part of the Sondheim Center's Opening Gala.  She was so great!  George wore this same jacket to one of our Happy Hour performances.  :)

George Furth and Stephen Sondheim

This is a great picture of George.

Randy e-mailed today and delivered the sad news about George Furth's death.  George Furth was a Tony Award winner, known for his acting (I best know him as Woodcock in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid... but he did TONS of other roles) and writing, who along with Doug Katsaros, wrote the musical Happy Hour which we workshopped at the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts in November, 2007.  George had a long and amazing career in television, film, and on stage.  George and Doug came to Fairfield and worked the show with us.  We performed two weekends, and there were changes and rewrites after every rehearsal and performance.  We put the show together in 2 1/2 weeks, and I'd never done a show so quickly.  It was the most intense theatre experience of my life, and I've never been so scared on an opening night.  Below is a pic of all of us... George is peeking up in the back behind the bar.

My part was originally written for an African American woman, and when George saw me for the first time, he said, "You're not Black!"  It was a great opportunity because, through me, George was able to work the part to make it suit an actor of any race.  I really had to go to a different place for this show, and I grew so much.  One of my songs called "Dumped" is basically a gospel-style song that curses all the way through.  I sang "F**K YOU" on a high C at the end. It was a trip, that's for sure.  I really had to just give myself over to the performance and the part and not think about my boss or school board members or parents of my students in the audience (the hazards of community theatre).  I'm proud to say I really grew, and I kicked that part's butt.  ;)  

For an opening night gift, George gave us each a piece of Sondheim Center stationery with a black plastic comb taped to it.  He wrote, "So you'll always have a good part.  Break a leg."  And he signed his name.  I'll treasure that.

After the show ended (a couple of weeks, I think?), Randy called me and told me I had some changes in my script that George hadn't written down.  He wanted them, so Randy told me to call George at home and gave me his number.  I was freaking out... calling George Furth at home?  Just calling him up in Palm Springs or Beverly Hills or wherever, California, out of the blue?  Eek!  Many of you know that calling people up to ask for stuff is one of my LEAST favorite things on the planet.  So, I call George.  He answers, and I say, "Hello, George?  This is Tena Nelson calling."  Silence.  "From Fairfield?"  Silence.  I'm thinking that the humiliation of him not remembering me might be more than I could bear.  Then he says, "Do you know..." Silence.  Oh God.  Oh God.  Oh Crap. "How GOOD you are?"  BREATHE, Tena.  It was my turn for silence.  "Uh...   ...  ...   no?"  I'll never forget that conversation.  He told me that I should just start learning Hello Dolly now because that part was absolutely made for me.  He said he told Randy that he just had to do Hello Dolly because I would be such a great Dolly.  Wow.  What a compliment.  What an experience.  I'll never forget it as long as I live.  

I was so sad to hear George died today.  He was such a champion for the Sondheim Center's cause of becoming a musical theatre powerhouse in the Midwest.  It was a complete honor working with this man who was a great actor and a genius with lyrics and dialogue.  Rest in peace, George.  You will be sorely missed.

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