Actors Theatre of Indiana Presents: Mr. Confidential
The Studio Theater // Apr 28 – May 14
Book and Lyrics by Samuel Garza-Bernstein, Music by David Snyder
The sizzle starts here … A story of family, dreams, innocence, love and scandal. When Bob Harrison created Confidential Magazine in 1952, he gave the public gossip, humor and sex. But he also offered something totally unexpected — the truth about the rich and famous. It quickly became the #1 selling magazine in America. Soon, Bob wasn’t just telling the story, he was the story, with headlines, scandals and a wild ride of his own. A giddy, vibrant tale set in New York and Hollywood at their most glamourous and dangerous. This is a fable, but almost all of it really happened! Don’t miss this World Premiere!
Purchase tickets at thecenterpresents.org.
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing playwright and director Samuel Garza-Bernstein about the upcoming world premiere of this fascinating production. Having discussed the Confidential Magazine empire and the people who ran it, along with Garza-Bernstein’s take on its rise and fall, this upcoming world premiere has my endorsement for being the “Must See” production of the season!
Janelle Morrison: We can’t wait to welcome you back to Carmel, Indiana, and are excited for the world premiere of “Mr. Confidential”! You published the book “Mr. Confidential” in 2006 and have been working on the musical since 2009, and that included a reading with ATI last year. How did that help the progression of this project?
Samuel Garza-Bernstein: You know, when you do a reading like we did last year [at ATI], that was pretty full out — we did all the songs, and it was rehearsed very full on — it gave us a chance to get to know one another. I don’t think I had any trepidation or anything, but certainly after working with the [ATI] company, I felt like the luckiest person ever. It’s been a real collaboration.
JM: As a student of journalism, I remember learning about Mr. Harrison’s publications. Before there was TMZ or the National Enquirer,there was Confidential Magazine. It’s human nature to be curious about celebrities and about the well-to-do, don’t you think?
SGB: It’s very tribal. It’s a way of protecting the “tribe,” because we enforce ideas about what is proper behavior. So, looking out to find who isn’t behaving is kind of, from an evolutionary standpoint, is part of how we enforce norms of behavior. I don’t think that over the centuries, it had the internet, entertainment journalism, and show business quite in mind, but I take how we respond to gossip and see it’s very much hardwired.
JM: Not much has changed since the days of Confidential. The celebrities are still playing off of the press, for good or for bad.
SGB: Our choreographer Willem [de Vries] worked with TMZ when it was launched and was in charge of the NYC office. He’ll tell you how Kim Kardashian’s people would call him and say, “Hey, we’re gonna be over here,” so he would show up with the photographers, and then the Kardashians would angrily say, “They [press] won’t leave us alone. We don’t have our privacy.” That was hand in hand — the stars themselves or their representatives would give the stories, and then it would be this “scandal” but a fun scandal mostly. There were all these headlines swirling around, they’d threaten to sue, and everybody got attention. It was kind of a win-win most of the time.
JM: What about Harrison’s life and the Confidential Magazine “story” made you want to take it on and not only write a book about it but a musical as well?
SGB: I had been in the Confidential [Magazine] world for 20 years and knew some of the people that the book and the musical are about. When I set out to write the book about this, it was almost happenstance. I found out that I knew a woman at the center of the magazine in another life. She had been the flame-haired femme fatale, the “Duchess of Dirt” — Marjorie Meade — who was on trial in 1957 and also Bob Harrison’s niece. She and I were on a charitable foundation together.
I portray [Marjorie] in a way in the show that at the heart is true to the spirit of who she was. However, I have not particularly highlighted the part of her [personality] that answered one my questions in the way that she did. I asked her, “Do you ever look back and kind of regret a story or think maybe the story went too far and we shouldn’t have done that?” And she just looked me square in the face and said, “No. The people we wrote about … the Ava Gardners and Lana Turners were trashy people in how they behaved. What did they expect?” Not a lot of self-reflection in that answer, but who am I to judge? When you think about the standards of that day, and you think about what was written about the stars and what they were getting into, and they got into an awful lot … I mean, Lana Turner wasn’t sitting around being a housewife. [Laughing] She wrote in her autobiography, “I planned on having one husband and seven children, but it turned out the other way around.”
JM: Do you think Harrison was intentionally pushing societal boundaries for the betterment of society, or was it just all about selling magazines? And what would he think about social media?
SGB: He wasn’t exactly a deep thinker about society. He embraced this ethos of talent, beauty and fame mattering more than prejudice. I continue to think that Bob was sort of indirectly responsible for certain societal things and doors opening up to diverse communities, but that was purely accidental. He had a mission to sell magazines. I would say he would harness social media and relish it. He would not really think about the consequences, because he wasn’t a guy who thought about those. We show [in the musical] how he created the monster and how the monster then kicked him in the ass. “Mr. Confidential” is your classic morality tale.
JM: Well, I am beyond stoked to see how you and the entire cast and crew are going to bring Harrison, his people and the magazine to life on stage here in Carmel, Indiana!
SGB: We will have three projection screens that will bring 700 images to life in animated form! Marlene Dietrich was featured in one of the early [Confidential] stories, and we do a thing with her on the cover of the magazine, and she turns and winks at the audience. We will see the stories coming together with giant pictures, and there are 54 paintings made specifically for this show because there are 18 settings, and each has three paintings for the three screens. There are nine songs that have choreography, and there’s a giant tap-dancing number! And the two leading ladies have 14 costume changes, including scenes where they will have quick changes on stage! “Mr. Confidential” is a musical and a visual feast! It’s got a great story to tell, and we are out to entertain!
Don Farrell as Bob Harrison
Diana O’Halloran as Jeannie Douglas
Shelbi Berry as Marjorie Meade
Tim Fullerton as Howard Rushmore
Cynthia Collins as Edith Tobias
Judy Fitzgerald as Frances Rushmore
Jacob Butler as Michael Tobias
ENSEMBLE (playing multiple roles but identified by their most important character):
Jaddy Ciucci as Francesca de la Peña
John B. Vessels, Jr. as Walter Winchell
Jason Frierson as Preston Wright
Kieran Danaan as Fred Meade
Matthew Conwell as Alex Coveny
Emily Bohannon as Gail Forrester
Megan Arrington as Betty Zeidler