Stories & Cast Interviews
William Parry Navigates TITANIC and much more....
William Parry (L. as Captain Edward J. Smith)
I was born in Steubenville, Ohio, which is right across the Ohio River from my hometown - Follansbee, WVA. There was no hospital in Follansbee.
Mom was from Ohio, Dad had been born in England. His Father was killed in WWI in the Battle of Ypres when he was about 5. When he was 16, his widowed Mother remarried a Mr. Alfred Parry who was visiting relatives in Wales. A friend of hers suggested that they meet. He had a pretty good job in a steel mill in Follansbee. His wife had recently died and left him with three daughters to care for. After a fairly brief courtship - they got married. Then she packed up her daughter and son and sailed to America on the Queen Mary. The three of them got on a train out of New York City and headed to WVA, never having been in the United States. This was 1927.
As you might imagine, Follansbee, WVA was quite a change from London. Particularly for a 16 year old boy and his 18 year old sister.
My Dad didn’t get back to London until he was about 60, when he had a most welcomed reunion with his relatives.
I grew up in Canton, Ohio. Canton was a city of about 100,000 people. All the grade schools were ‘neighborhood’ schools, Which meant - everyone walked to school - walked home for lunch - then came back for the afternoon session. I thought everyone, everywhere did that. Didn’t really realize how lucky we had it.
I went to the same grade school where my Mom taught fourth grade. She, too, came home every day for lunch. I loved playing sports, playing with my friends outside everyday after school, singing in the church choirs, singing with my pals (over the years I would be in quite a number of folk singing groups), singing in high school choir.
When I went to college (Mount Union College, Alliance, OH), I had in mind that I was going to be a Methodist minister. As often happens, a number of factors came into play in the first few years of school. Not the least of which was the tremendous social and political turmoil in the country in ’68 and ’69.
I did not continue my pre-ministerial studies. I became an English major - looking for something else to connect with - something else to pursue that I had a passion for. I had always sung and had performed in shows in high school. Mt. Union was a small school (about 1200). I knew many people in the theater department and went to all the plays. One evening, I was watching a good friend of mine in Lion In Winter and I began looking at it through new eyes - finding myself interested in it a fresh way. I stayed up all night talking with my friend. The next day I went to the head of the Theater Dept. and told him I’d like to ‘try out’ for their Summer Theater program. I did. As I’ve said, it was a small school. I got great roles in that Summer Season. The next year, my senior year, I took every theater course I could manage and played leading roles in every show they did.
I was hooked.
After graduating - I joined three Mt. Union graduates in Marblehead, MA, and we started a theater in a small Unitarian Church. Stayed in that idyllic seaside town for almost two years. Probably two of the best years of my life. Friends I made in those years remain some of my dearest and closest.
I played Captain Smith on the National Tour of Titanic, about 12 years ago. I had seen the show in NY when it was in previews - before they had found the ending to the piece. It was clear, even without the poignant closing they would discover, that it had depth, great resonance and a deep humanity - as well as a perfectly sumptuous score. Some of the most stirring choral singing (and arrangements) I’ve ever heard in a musical.
One of the many elements that resonated for me, was the notion of my Grandmother and her two children, sailing to America in 1927 aboard the Queen Mary (15 years after the Titanic). Certainly not people of means, she was leaving everything she knew behind her to head off to what she hoped would be a better life for her and her two children. Into the unknown. Armed with hopes and dreams.
That notion rings through very strongly for me in Titanic. I think it’s one of the lasting images the show leaves you with. And why it can be so affecting.
Having the chance to tell that story every day for the better part of two years on the Tour was a real joy.
Some of my favorite shows: Well... there are a lot. Off the top of my head, of shows I’ve been in: Sunday in the Park with George. Loved that cast, the whole workshop process of it, watching it come together, watching them piece the story together, watching preview audiences begin to connect to it more deeply as the pieces of the show took shape. That glorious story - glorious score - and a perfect cast. What a gift, to be part of that...
Camelot with Richard Burton (later, Richard Harris). 1980 - The 20 year Anniversary National Tour. Richard Burton had been an true favorite for a long time. I played Sir Dinidan and understudied him. (I have a lot of Welsh blood in me - on my Mother’s side.) The privilege of watching him do the show every day for a year, is something I will always be grateful for.
And listening to Christine Ebersole sing “Before I Gaze At You Again” 8 times a week was... well... let me just say that I cannot imaging anyone, anywhere singing it with greater clarity, insight, and depth, with a voice that was pure and true. As she held the final note, the violin (viola?) did an ascending line. Every performance, her voice and the string became one - melding, spinning together. Real moments of artistry. And I got to hear it eight times a week. And I got a lifelong friend from this show - Richard Muenz.
Time and Again. At the Globe Theater in San Diego. Wonderful musical, with great potential. Written by a long-time friend, Skip Kennon. All told, worked on it for about 10 years...
Dispatches. By Elizabeth Swados - from a book by Michael Herr based on his articles on Vietnam for Esquire Magazine. At the Public Theater, about 1977. Workshopped this (rock) musical for some time with a terrific cast. A lot of personal investment in that show - for all of us, I think...
Leaf People. By Dennis Reardon - directed by Tom O’Horgan. At the Booth Theater in 1975. Produced by Joe Papp and the Public Theater. A flawed play about Indians living in the Amazon River Jungle and the effects that the encroachment of civilization were having on them. Sounds a little dry. Was anything but. Probably the most difficult physical work I’ve ever done preparing for a play - and, in the end, the most rewarding. And I loved Tom O’Horgan. Did 7 shows with him.
Pure Confidence. Play by Carlyle Brown at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Directed by Kent Gash. Wonderful play with a terrific cast. Great material to dig your teeth into. And I got to do it with the woman I’ve been with for over 20 years - Maureen Silliman. Now there’s a treat...
... and some of the many memorable shows I’ve seen: Trojan Women. At La Mama, directed by Andre Serban. About 1976. An exquisite production with a cast that had worked together for months and months and months developing this piece. The only way that kind of theater can happen. There were archetypal images in it that have stayed with me to this day. Archetypal in a Jungian definition: an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience and present in the individual unconscious. I had read about that, but never experienced it. Until I saw that production of Trojan Women. The kind of moments that reach in and pluck the sympathetic stings that connect us all as humans. Hey - not bad for an evening in the theater.
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Final performance of the original production on Broadway. There were moments of real and powerful theatrical magic in that performance. I’ll always remember it.
A Little Night Music. Original production on Broadway. Oh, my, God. What a cast!!! And the first Sondheim show I saw. When my Mother came to town a week after I’d seen it - I couldn’t wait to take her. Perfectly glorious - so witty, so enchanting, so engaging, so utterly delightful.
The Cherry Orchard. Lincoln Center Production, dir. by Andre Serban, with Meryl Streep and Raul Julia - AND - The Bridge Project Production, dir. by Sam Mendes at BAM. The first of them so completely memorable with its remarkable cast, its surprising humor, and deft direction.
The second, dir. by Sam Mendes, was one of those perfect evenings in the theater. For my taste, every element in it kept adding to the evening. At intermission, I turned to Maureen and said, “I want this to never end...” And I meant it... It was that exquisite.
And speaking of exquisite. For my taste, the original production of Light in the Piazza was the most exquiste piece of musical theater I’ve ever seen. Everything on the stage was... well... perfect. Nothing overshadowed, or overpowered, rather, everything contributed beautifully (perfectly?) to the sum of the piece: the lighting, the costumes, the sets, the direction, the music, the orchestrations, the performances - all were of a finely tuned, finely honed piece - all were fitted together perfectly.
Now, that might seem like it wouldn’t be too tough to do - if you have a bunch of talented people in the room putting something together. But, those perfect collaborations are like catching lightening in a bottle..
The musical has a Tony-winning score by Maury Yeston (Phantom,Grand Hotel, Nine) and a Tony-winning book by the late Peter Stone (The Will Rogers Follies, 1776). Titanic won a total of five 1997 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Orchestrations, and Best Scenic Design.
As the original ad campaign for Titanic mused, the ship of dreams set sail from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912, and in the spring of 1997, she finally arrived in New York. The massive $10 million production, at that time, was one of the most expensive in Broadway history. The musical opened to strong critical notices at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Don Stephenson, Director of our production here at WBT, played Charles Clark in the original production. After the Broadway run, He felt “What a shame that Titanic can’t be done more often.” The large number of actors needed, the massive sets and the expense involved rendered it prohibitive for most regional theatres. Don Stephenson had this idea: “Why not bring those stories and that glorious score to more people, up close and personal?”
He got together with Mr. Yeston, Kevin Stites (musical director of the original Broadway production), Liza Gennaro (choreographer), and musical director Ian Weinberger who arranged a beautiful reduction of the complete score to be played by six dynamic musicians, as opposed to the 30-plus who played the Broadway show.
There would be no tilting stage or tri-level set, instead, lighting, scrims, projections, spatial use of the theatre and other effects would sweep the audience up in the story. A cast of 20 replaced the original 40. "In this production everybody sings everything," Don said. The cast doubles and triples up on the roles, and the audience is just a few feet away as they sing some of Yeston’s gorgeous choral numbers; “There She Is,” “Godspeed, Titanic,” “We’ll Meet Tomorrow.”
In directing this piece, he felt that with the background of “an abstract, stark, minimalist set, the acting should be white, hot and emotionally messy” "I keep coming back to what would I do if I were there? How would I react in those moments? We all wonder-- and we can't really be sure. The numbers distract us from the fact that these were individuals,” he said. “They were on an intoxicating adventure. It was, until it wasn’t, The Best Day Of Their Lives."
In July of 2011, The Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY, presented this new version directed by Don Stephenson, to critical acclaim. In August of 2013, The European premiere of the brilliantly scaled down chamber version, Directed by Thom Southerland, opened at London’s 240 seat Southwark Playhouse, to rave reviews.
WBT is proud to be presenting Titanic. Because of the intimacy our space, it’s easier to relate to the personal experiences of the passengers and crew. The bigger issues that have always been part of the interesting back story (upperclass hubris, working class dreams, bravery, selflessness, love and cowardice) are presented at hand, rather than at arms length in service to the spectacle. The new orchestrations sound amazing. The story is fresh, lively, deep and stirring. There's life in the “old girl” yet. Sail on!
* Included are some excerpts from Philip Hoffman’s Titanic blog. Learn more at: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/168357-PHOTO-EXCLUSIVE-Philip-Hoffmans-Hangar-Theatre-Titanic-Journal