Sunday, December 13, 2009

Q&A with Maury Yeston

THEATERMANIA: Why did you think it important to come up with new songs for the film?
MAURY YESTON: The new songs were inspired by three things. First of all, the general principle is that when you make a film based on a stage musical, you can't simply tape the show -- because if you're going to tape the show, then why are you making a film? In this case, the stage musical was inspired by a film and I worked very hard for eight years trying to make it so "stagey" that you have to look at it and say, "How could this ever have been a film?" The stage show was also inspired by the people who did it, such as Lilianne Montevecchi, Anita Morris, and the wonderful Raul Julia who was so dear to us all, but you can't just say let's do it like that again. You have to make it right for the new performers.

TM: What inspired Sophia Loren's song, "Guarda la Luna"?
MY: Sophia has a beautiful contralto; it's a warm, motherly voice. For the stage, I had written a song for Taina Elg [who played Guido's mother in the original stage version], who was a soprano. I though it was irresponsible to simply transpose a song down, when I really needed to write a new song for Sophia. There was already a melody in the show called "Guido's Waltz" that everybody seemed to adore -- I think I must have stolen it from Eric Satie -- and I thought, why can't I write a lyric to it for Sophia that carries the same idea as Taina's song?

TM: You gave Marion Cotillard, who plays Luisa, a different big number than in the stage musical. Why?
MY: In the stage version, I had written a song for Luisa called "Be On Your Own," in which the actress very effectively just planted her feet on the stage and sang. But that's simply not cinematic. Also, in the stage version, we watched the movie Guido was supposed to make come to nothing, and when Luisa gives him the boot, he's already had that nightmare. But we didn't have the nightmare in the film, so her song "Take It All" becomes that nightmare. In his mind, Luisa is onstage doing a striptease, an act which simultaneously empowers her. That song became one of the greatest collaborative moments of my life -- to not only be inspired by this extraordinary actress, but to have her do the song the way she does it.

TM: Kate Hudson's character, Stephanie, has a very different sounding song called "Cinema Italiano" How did that come about?
MY: "Cinema Italiano" has to do with exposition. Whenever you write something, you can't assume that the audience knows anything coming into your show, so you have to give them information. Here we have a film that takes place in 1965 and the main character is based on famed Italian directors like Fellini, Visconti, and Antonioni. The Italian cinema in the 1960s shaped our culture, our style, our lives -- everything from café lattes to Ray Ban sunglasses and those pointy leather shoes and skinny ties -- but we need to educate the younger audience of today about how profoundly this had an effect on the world. Kate is a terrific dancer and performer -- a firecracker -- so we said: "What if she's an enthusiast representing all of America that was going crazy then for Italian movies like Divorce Italian Style and Marriage Italian Style." So "Cinema Italiano" gives us an opportunity not only to celebrate the 1960s, but to educate the audience and -- may I please use the word -- to entertain them."

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