January 9, 2014
There was a blessed event today. No, no one had a baby. But at around 4 PM I heard a voice in my ear murmuring “Hey, Stevie!” in an insinuating way, and I turned around to see that Hal Cazalet had slipped into the chair behind me. I knew he was due in from London—ETA 2:30 PM at Newark—but I never thought he’d saunter in so early or so casually. In fact I really didn’t imagine we’d even lay eyes on him till tomorrow. I have rarely been so happy to see a human being as I was to welcome Hal this afternoon.
A little background. Hal was my student at Juilliard in the mid-90s, and we went on to do several notable NYFOS projects together after he left school. He is a brilliant singer and actor, as well as a wonderful composer; I’ve programmed a few of his pieces over the years. Hal is also the great-grandson of P. G. Wodehouse, and it was because of him that NYFOS first did a Wodehouse/Kern recital, then entitled P. G.’s Other Profession. Hal and I took that program to Washington D.C., London, and New York, in tandem with Sylvia McNair; the three of us also made a Wodehouse/Kern CD in 2000.
I met Hal when he was the age of my cast. Today I found it heartwarming and sobering, in equal measure, to collaborate with this handsome, settled man, the father of three. Hal has mellowed, but he has lost none of the springy, apple-cheeked vigor I remember from his youth. He bonded instantly with Mary Birnbaum—they appear to be a co-directing team made in heaven—and he jumped into action when the two of us pressed him into service. Jet-lag? Not a sign of it. He was always a clever, adept performer—the funniest Nanki-Poo I ever saw, a deliciously slimy Don Basilio in Figaro, and a class-A recitalist in Schubert, Fauré, and Britten. But by now he’s become a true master of the stage, and he electrified the room with his charm and his stage smarts. After he showed Ben and Alex the choreo for “We’re Crooks” I finally said, “Hal. Please. Would you…just sing it for us?” There followed three minutes of pure magic—he instantly morphed into a pugnacious music-hall thug imbued with a goofy, light-footed grace. None of us could take our eyes off him.