Photography by Enrico Della Valle
THE PIANO UPSTAIRS
Some time ago, the germ of a passionate idea for a dance theatre piece began to take shape inside me. Along the way, some wonderful artists joined me to create The Piano Upstairs. Tony Award-winning writer John Weidman has written a powerful and moving script. Four-time Tony Award-winning actor Boyd Gaines worked closely with us to develop the piece and appeared as “The Husband.”
I carefully considered which choreographer could best realize my vision for a project so dear to my heart. As I began working with the music, at first alone in a studio and then with other dancers, the movement poured out of me naturally and seamlessly. It became clear it was I who should create the dances.
The Spoleto Festival in Italy presented The Piano Upstairs for the opening of the 2013 summer Festival - with an additional 3 performances at Spoleto’s Teatro Nuovo. The prominent Italian director and president of the Festival, Giorgio Ferrara, directed; the Academy Award-winning designer Gianni Quaranta, created the extraordinary set; and Luisa Spinatelli, known internationally for her superb designs, created the costumes. Three wonderful male dancers appeared with Boyd Gaines and me in the performances.
The Piano Upstairs
The Piano Upstairs is the story of a man and a woman yoked together in what we gradually come to understand is a toxic marriage. As their story unfolds, the marriage falls apart, as does the husband, while the wife struggles heroically to recover her sense of who she once was and set herself free. In the end she triumphs, leaving the husband devastated and alone, but with a dawning realization that redemption may be possible for him too.
From beginning to end, the transformative agent, which drives the story forward, is the lush piano music, which drifts down from the apartment upstairs.
At the outset, the storytelling progresses along two distinctly different paths. The wife’s vocabulary is dance. She never speaks, but instead tells her part of the story in movement, supported by three dancers who are the corporeal embodiments of the redemptive piano music from upstairs.
By contrast, the husband only speaks—in a series of monologues directed to the audience, enlisting them as his confidantes, sharing his tortured struggle to understand his wife and the disintegration of his marriage, until finally, collapsing under the weight of his self-serving explanations, he begins to fall apart and tell us truths which he has been hiding, not only from the audience, but from himself. And as honesty overwhelms dishonesty, he abandons the language, which has betrayed him and, like his wife, begins to move.
This combination of dance and dialogue, the ways in which they are juxtaposed, and they ways in which they intertwine, has produced a stage experience which we believe to be riveting, entertaining, and in the end, enormously powerful.
THE CREATIVE TEAM
John Weidman has written the books for a wide variety of musicals, among them Pacific Overtures, Assassins and Road Show, all with scores by Stephen Sondheim; Contact, co-created with director/choreographer Susan Stroman; Happiness, score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman; Take Flight and Big, scores by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire; and the new book, co-authored with Timothy Crouse, for the Lincoln Center Theater revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, a new production of which the Roundabout Theatre opened on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Since his children were preschoolers,
Weidman has written for Sesame Street, receiving more than a dozen Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing for a Children’s Program. From 1999 to 2009 he served as President of the Dramatists Guild of America.
Boyd Gaines is an acclaimed actor who has won three Tony Awards: in 1989 as Best Actor in a Featured Role in Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi Chronicles;” in 1994 as Best Actor in a Musical for a revival of “She Loves Me;” and in 2000 as Best Actor in a Featured Role – Musical for “Contact.” He studied at Julliard and early in his career performed with the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Roundabout Theatre and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 2008 Gaines was nominated for and won his 4th Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his performance in the revival of “Gypsy.”
In addition to his remarkable stage career, Gaines has appeared in many television series and films including The Good Wife, Law & Order, L.A. Law and Frasier. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, he lives with his wife, the actress Kathleen McNenny and their daughter in New York City.
Giorgio Ferrara is a veteran film and stage director and Artistic Director of the Foundation Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. Born in Rome, Ferrara headed the Italian Cultural Institute in Paris from 2003 to 2007. He received the Davide di Donatello (the Italian Academy Award) for his film, Un cuore semplice (A Simple Heart.) He has staged plays by classical and contemporary playwrights including Pirandello, Strindberg, Goldoni and Natalia Ginzburg. In 2012 Ferrara staged Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Teatro dell ‘Opera in Rome. He is married to the internationally acclaimed actress Adriana Asti.
Gianni Quaranta is an Academy Award and BAFTA Award-winning production designer and art director. He has worked with some of the great directors of our time, including Bernardo Bertolucci, Lina Wertmüller, James Ivory and Paul Schrader. He has worked extensively in opera, theatre and dance, to great acclaim, at leading opera houses and theatres around the world.
Luisa Spinatelli, born in Milan, is a renowned costume designer who has been working with La Scala since 1965. Her numerous opera and ballet productions include Attila, Andrea Chénier, Mazepa and George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She has worked in the world’s leading opera houses including in Cairo, Turin, Palermo, Berlin, Tokyo and London, among others. Her work also extends to musical productions including Peter Pan; Kiss Me Kate and Shrek the Musical.