Priscilla 2011 – Milano

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – the Musical, is going to be on in Milan.  I guess in some ways it’s a natural fit for a show that is so about costume and style to be in the city that lives and breathes it, but it’s also quite peculiar that this all-Australian musical is setting down roots in the middle of Italy.  The country has only recently begun embracing big commercials musicals – there have been tours, but the sit-down shows began recently with Beauty and the Beast and Mamma Mia!  And I think The Last Five Years did a few nights at La Scala.

Our producers saw the show in London last year and adored it.  So plans are apace for the Milanese premiere in the next year or so.  A funny thing happened on my way to Broadway – I got sent via Milan to brief our producing team on how we cast the show, and to begin work on the translation into Italian.  Yes, we are going to do Priscilla in the Italian tongue.  The movie is a cult hit here, like everywhere, but there’s something about the flamboyance and heart of the musical that made our producers jump at the chance to debut the first non-English production of the show.

I flew in on a Wednesday and Silvia, our gorgeous producer, scootered in on her Vespa, all fitted black leather and long hair, kissed me on both cheeks (I knew how to respond because I’d seen La Dolce Vita) and pulled out a map to show me what areas to explore that afternoon.  After a whirlwind visit of the Golden Triangle, the Duomo and a few bars, I came home and passed out after about 36 hours of being awake.  The next morning I walked to MAS to meet our team.

MAS is a drama school that is rapidly growing, but also an event management company and producer of live entertainment.  There were students everywhere and the building was designed within an inch of its life – polished orange concrete floors, white walls and iMacs.  I loved it.  I spilled into the conference room to meet Elisa, our casting agent, Fabio, the MD, Elizabeta – who is trilingual (maybe more) – born in Italy but English accent by way of Brighton.  And our resident director, Toto.  Did we ever laugh when we got to the line after the bus broke down!  (Except that no-one really knows Wizard of Oz in this country – suck on that, Wicked).

There are many good things about working in Italy.  They have an inhouse cafe that delivers fresh pastries and amazing espresso whenever you call.  Everyone speaks over the top of each other, gesticulating all the while, and yet, because I can’t understand anyone, I’m not expected to have a response, so I get to sit calmly till Elizabeta explains it to me.  I respond and it is thrown back to them.  They are all so passionate about the show, having seen it in London.  We got right down to the casting breakdown and I explained, possibly in more depth than I ever have, what we look for in every single role in the show, from the essence of Bernadette (I got to use Almodovar as a reference here, being adept at finding common cultural examples.  I think I said Sophia Loren at some point, too), right down to the sheer skill any female swing on the show must have (the ability to cover all three amazing Divas AND all of the female characters).

Over quite a few hours we worked through the show, role by role, with a break for piadinas.  They were very interested in knowing that Tick’s don’t tend to have a type, but you look for an actor that inherently brings charisma to the role, and can straddle that masculine/feminine divide.  They agreed that Will Swenson was very handsome.  We talked about whether Adam could be non-Caucasian – of course, but we have to make sure that there is a point of difference when Jimmy and Cynthia enter the scenes, otherwise there’s no point.  I said we often cast redheads as Marion.  They don’t really have any in Italy.  By the end of the day we’d completely pulled apart the show and they felt confident in beginning the first rounds, knowing that this will be a real training experience for Italian performers.  Italy is full of brilliant actors and singers and dancers, but usually ones that excel in their one specific field.  It has been considered declasse to do all three at once, but this show will teach them that the triple-threatiness of musicals is something to aspire to.

The team took me out to a traditional Osteria (not the one of my last blog) for the perfect meal; antipasto with plates full of parma and prosciutto and meatballs, an amazing red from Tuscany, carbonaro pasta, beef packed with herbs.  Dessert was apple pie, Italian style.  And then shots of sambucca.  They have a tradition here that would probably end in my death if I lived here.  The waiter leaves the bottle of sambucca for you to help yourself.  Sambucca is strong.  When he came to take the bottle – he filled my glass to the brim.  It was a challenge I was happy to undertake.  We then hit a gay bar, I think.  No-one in the bar seemed gay.  But there was an MC who riffed over the top of the Rihanna songs, wearing a Trevor Ashley-esque jacket (floral wallpaper from the Bahamas), so I guess it was.

The bottomless Sambucca
Elizabeta and Toto
Elisa and Silvia

The next day was the meeting to prepare for when the official translator is chosen.  Elizabeta, Toto and Cristiana from the press office sat around the table again to talk about what every sentence in the show means.  I had never thought of what a minefield this script is – almost every line in the first three pages has a double meaning.  The humour, when it isn’t character-driven, is in the fact that a word means two things.  For example;

“…so as the surgeon said to the transsexual, it won’t be long now.”  Easy enough, right?  Wrong.  First I explained the joke – “the humour is in the fact that we’re saying, it won’t be long until the next act is on, but we also need to have the phrase mean you won’t have a long penis anymore.  Or any penis, really.”  This is about five lines of dialogue into the show.  There are jokes like this every second line.

Then there are the cultural differences – they don’t really know Sesame Street, or the Wizard of Oz, so the Emerald City means nothing except literally, “the city that is coloured Emerald.”  Or more shockingly, The Sound of Music!  And that is referenced a lot in our show.  On the positive front they do know every single song in the show.

We worked through the script, me very literally explaining what every line of dialogue means – “Don’t come the raw prawn with me means Don’t try and pretend you don’t like him when I know you do, Bernadette.  Is there an Italian phrase that does this?  No, you don’t have to use gamba….Have you heard of Azaria Chamberlain?  Not really, ok.  Well, this dingo came into a tent…Yes, Bob knows that Cynthia has insulted him but he’s trying to keep some face in front of the drag queens…”  It was actually really fun.

And then there are the joys of discovery of NEW puns that can work in Italian.  I learned many different things gays are called here – “Finocchio” which literally means “fennel” and refers to gays because they used to burn fennel and gays once upon a time.  But imagine the “Pinocchio” puns that can be made – and he IS Italian!  – “Prociorne” means “raccoon” and “frociorne” means “gay”.  So you could have a joke that goes along the lines of;

My mascara keeps running, I look like a “prociorne”.

Better than than a “frociorne”.

Clearly there is some work to be done there, humour-wise.  But the possibilities!  I also learned they don’t say “Break a leg” for good luck but “In culo alla balena”.  Which means, “in the arse of a whale.”  That’s gold, people.

So we worked out way through, highlighting areas of concern and the translator will now have a thorough understanding of what s/he is working with.  I bid arriverderci to our wonderful team, kissed everyone on both cheeks and headed back out to the evening described in yesterday’s blog.

Next stop, Broadway!

Published by bryantandfrank

Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank make musicals. And other things.

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