Macaluso as Mr. Cox in NYGASP’s new film Cox and Box
Chat with New
York Gilbert and Sullivan Players’ Executive Producer David Wannen and
Producer David Macaluso about their New Musical Film Cox and
Theaterscene.com recently had an
Zoom chat with Executive Producer David Wannen and Creative Producer
Macaluso about their artistic journey amidst the pandemic with their
musical film, Cox
tough . . .the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players make a new musical
film. Indeed, David Wannen, the Executive Producer of NYGASP, got
company down to the South Orange Performing Arts Center amidst the
where they recently shot and fully-staged a musical film of Sir Arthur
and F.C. Burnand’s comic operetta, Cox and Box.
This cinematic experience premiered over the holidays as the grand
their 2020 Virtual Season, streaming into the homes of their loyal fans
the holidays (December 27th through January 2nd).
opportunity to have a Zoom chat with David Wannen and David Macaluso
is the Creative Producer and performs Mr. Cox in the film) about the
challenges they encountered working on their new cinematic project, and
ahead for NYGASP in 2021.
Here is an
from our December 27th Zoom conversation.
How does it feel to have your new musical film making its virtual debut
It’s strangely nerve-wracking.
I sort of have the same anxiety that I would have if I were performing
live. But it’s out of my hands right now (laughs). So it’s that
level of excitement. But I just have to trust in everything [and]
collaborators. It’s sending your baby off.
That might be what adds to the anxiety a little bit. It’s
having that performance at your fingertips that you have input over on
night of the performance. You’ve created this, it’s done.
going to be what it’s going to be and let the audience now see
that’s a different feeling for us. But I’m super excited. I
everyone is going to love it. It’s a ton of work went into
And it’s very polished. It’s a lot of fun. It’s like
sit-com operetta mix. So I think everyone’s going to be really
(left to right) David Macaluso and Matthew Wages, as
Mr. Cox and
Bouncer, in NYGASP’s new musical film Cox and Box.
How did the project take shape?
Our founder and artistic director, Albert Bergeret, approached the
the idea of doing a little tiny film of Cox and
it only has three people in it and it’s manageable. This was a
and Burnand piece—without Gilbert. I had been creative producer
on two other
versions of it on stage before. So he [Bergeret] approached me
‘What do you think about this idea?’ And [he approached] David
well. And it sort of just grew from there. I shot these
pie-in-the-sky ideas. Here’s my broad idea, as big as
then we brought it down to something manageable. But that’s
just started with an idea that took root.
We had a hit with David’s [Macaluso] previous productions. First,
it on a recital that he won the Isaac Asimov Award, our annual
award at NYGASP. David [Macaluso] won that in 2014. And it
wowed everybody in the audience. Then he brought it back in 2016,
where he produced it was at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre on the
And it was a hit then, and everybody loved it. So everybody was
the same thought all at once [about reviving it]. Some of the
members were coming to me—'Cox and
would be a perfect thing for this.’ Everybody felt the
Macaluso and Matthew Wages [the director, set designer, and actor
Sergeant Bouncer in the film) really ran with the idea. And I
getting the first call from Dave, ‘Alright, this is what we are going
It was a big project and I’m glad that we swung for the
Because I think it’s going to pay off in the final product
Would either of you like to put the plot of Cox and Box
in a nutshell for our readers?
Sure. Basically, there’s a landlord, his name is Sergeant Bouncer
runs a board and lodging to two tenants, two working class
works during the day-time, the other works in the evening.
knows that the other one lives there for a period of time. But
one is slightly suspicious. There are real clues, here and there,
the landlord leaves behind. One leaves, [Sergeant Bouncer]
room around with all of the other’s stuff. And so one day
Box] happen to meet--and the wackiness ensues. So it’s very much
sit-com plot in a Victorian operetta style. We have really merged
Daniel Greenwood as Mr. Box in NYGASP’s new musical
film Cox and Box.
Well-summed. I read in my press materials that Cox and
some unintentional social distancing in it. Could you add to
Yeah, there was a lot of space created in the actual function of
play to life. So it’s interesting that [social distancing] is both in
and that [Cox and Box} are unintentionally distancing themselves from
other. Bouncer is controlling all that. And, it’s also for
nod that it was an easier play to stage, if you will, in this difficult
time. It literally was part of our strategy to get this [Cox and Box]
off the ground. I went to Actors Equity Association for months,
months, with lots of Zoom interviews, on getting together a COVID-19
You are stealing my thunder--but go right ahead. I was just about
you about your COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan for Cox and Box.
That [COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan] was a big deal. I don’t know if
heard or not of the great difficulty that many theater companies had in
time who are with professional actors who are represented by Actors
Association. The Union is very exacting in their protocols, and
them. We learned that the protocols that were part of our safety
were absolutely [necessary] and made us all feel really safe. It
helped out the production.
During the entirety of the film, there is great pains taken to be at
feet from each other at all times. Besides all the [COVID-19]
that went forward. Every time they called ‘cut’ the masks went
on. Our specialist went around with hand sanitizer, wiped down
prop, every door knob, everything that was touched. We lovingly
annoyed (laughs). We appreciated all the efforts that went into
protect us. There was a constant whirlwind around us to protect
This is NYGASP’s first-ever film. What was the biggest challenge
the actual staging and filming of it?
Everything had its own moment of difficulty. It’s like any production.
was most difficult? I think timing. Trying to make sure that the
scheduling for the theater was there, making sure that Equity and the
specialist were ok, making sure that all of the pieces aligned at the
time. In some ways if you are doing a longer production and you have a
week to work out things, you have that sort of grace period. We
days to shoot it, in and out, you’re done.
First of all, film is new territory for us. And we are
with a pared-down crew, you know. We don’t have tons of sound grips,
of production assistants. Each person is pulling a huge amount of
a lot of prep work had to be done so that when they did go into the
people knew where they were going and they were able to follow the
schedule. I was totally blown away. I am executively
this. I was sitting in the audience most of the time, working the
computer, making sure the files were downloading correctly off of the
cameras. And I was blown away that they were able to stick to the
schedule, basically to the “T.”
And that’s a lot of credit to our director, Matt Wages, and our
photography, Danny Bristoll. They really worked out the logistics
had to be done when and made sure that we could use our time
For our theater company to shift directions for a moment and work on a
new territory. And I think we were able to do that successfully.
This is your company’s third iteration of Cox and
has your director, Matthew Wages, put a fresh stamp on this one-act
Matthew Wages ramped it up to another level. He did things that
couldn’t do as efficiently on stage. There are a few dream
the film that really highlight it. There’s the moment I like to
“Benny Hill” moment. We are not singing from our mouths but you
encore going on--and we are chasing one another around. It is one
favorite moments. It becomes a mix of Benny Hill and
fits into the farcical nature of the piece. So he was able to amp
and put his own directorial flair, more of a sitcom 1980s feel.
written that way--but he gave it that modern spin, ever-so-slightly, to
To add a little bit to that, he (Wages] did it for the rhythm of the
and added some touches in the way the editing sort of goes back and
the characters are speaking to one another. But it is still
set. It is not a contemporary setting or anything. The one
that David [Macaluso] mentioned is that these dream sequences, which
are a lot
of fun, they transport you into the head of the character. You
of going along with the character’s thinking and they are getting
and daydreaming, essentially, and you are seeing the backgrounds
you’re seeing whatever the character is talking about [happening] in
around them in a very theatrical way, that is obviously
his concept, [Wages] really wanted to maintain that this is
Whatever the audience is going to see tonight is very theater forward,
to right) Daniel Greenwood, Matthew Wages, and David Macaluso
NYGASP’s new musical film Cox
every NYGASP production that I have seen on stage has had a live
orchestra. Given all the COVID-19 restrictions, how did you
bring Sullivan’s music alive during your staging and shooting of Cox and Box?
and Box was
originally written for a piano. So
we took that into consideration. Sullivan wrote it on a piano for
gentlemen’s club. And we were using that music. He later on
orchestrated it, but especially because of COVID times it’s almost
to get a full orchestra together to record for something like [Cox and Box].
We thought [of] the risks . . .the benefits. . .but we didn’t want to
people in danger. So we thought it’s written for piano, let’s do
piano. And our pianist and our music director, Elizabeth
fantastic. She has worked in opera and operetta her entire life
a fantastic job. So it’s piano accompaniment and three
we pre-recorded it.
It’s like Moulin
film. Or like Les Miz,
the film, or any of these modern films of musical plays. It’s
music video, in the sense that the action is synched with pre-recorded
And that also protected the actors because the aspiration when you are
becomes a danger. So if there is more than one person on stage
really becomes an issue.
Yes, it was absolutely a necessity for us not to have live
the years I have enjoyed going to several of NYGASP’s New Year’s Eve
brick-and-mortar theaters. What do you have planned for your
This year we are putting on Cox and
Thursday evening. The
program opens up
with an introduction by yours truly, and I welcome the audience
showing them a beautiful virtual performance. Our colleague Amy
Helfer wrote original lyrics to the madrigal “Brightly Dawns our
Day.” But instead of “Wedding Day,” we do “Holiday.”
[there will be] a nine- or ten-voice performance of madrigal in
with hats. [Our program] has got this wonderful
pandemic-together kind of feel. We will do a little champagne
we’ll all watch Cox and
Box. And we
will have a
Zoom after-party after the concert is done. But before we get to
after-party, we are going to have a rousing chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”
veteran performer who you might have seen [before] on New Year’s Eve,
Holmes. He is going to sing when “Britain Ruled the Waves” with
customary New Year’s Eve lyric changes. So there you go.
Greenwood as Mr. Box in NYGASP’s new musical film Cox and Box
It sounds perfect for your fans. What is ahead for NYGASP in
Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
Yes, we have several. Some of them are for kids, actually.
going to do two education videos coming right up, as some of the first
the first quarter of 2021. One is on Pirates of
a presenter, another one is for Iolanthe.
Actually, one of our actors Kendrick Pifer is leading that one. She has
beautiful plan for getting this up in the schools so that they can
watch it for
their remote programming that they are all doing. And it’s
kids to Iolanthe,
which would be nice. We also have the “Patterpalooza Project”
January that our Artistic Director [and Founder] Albert Bergeret
David [Macaluso] is taking part of that because he is one of our
men of course. Patter people, old and new, going back in all of
recent history and doing an ode to the patter song. So every week
is a new episode, and it will be airing on our social media. Then
some other bigger ideas that aren’t yet fully-formed. I think we
get our Save Our Stages Act. We are very thankful for that.
know what the details are going to be like. But that is a huge
this industry really needed and hopefully that passes very soon.
that might allow us to help us to keep the content going until next
hopefully we will be back to a full production next fall. We are
and willing, and able to do it whenever everybody else tells us it is
ok to do
it. NYGASP is really blessed to be in good enough shape that we
forward to next year. We will be back for sure.
Save Our Stages Act was passed in Congress on Monday, December 28th,
2020, as a part of the economic stimulus bill.
Box, an original
film, shot and fully-staged at South Orange Performing Arts Center with
Actors Equity-approved COVID-19 safety plan.
from December 27th through January 2nd.
on NYGASP and their upcoming events, go to their website: www.nygasp.org
event: The Patterpalooza Project
starting January 2021