Moving forward

Michael Mayer on Single All The Way, composer Anton Sanko, and what’s coming up in 2022

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Michael Mayer on Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl that he is directing: “She’s a wonderful singer and very funny and charming and warm and not Barbra Streisand.”
Michael Mayer on Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl that he is directing: “She’s a wonderful singer and very funny and charming and warm and not Barbra Streisand.”

In the second instalment with a very engaged Single All The Way director, Michael Mayer, we discuss composer Anton Sanko (The Seagull with Nico Muhly and Mikhaël HersAmanda); songs by Whitney Houston and Britney Spears; Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle and The Morning Star, and working with John Logan on the world première of Swept Away (music and lyrics by the Avett Brothers, starring John Gallagher, Jr., Stark Sands, Adrian Enscoe, and Wayne Duvall) at the Berkeley Rep.

Nick (Philemon Chambers) with Peter (Michael Urie) in Michael Mayer’s Single All The Way, screenplay by Chad Hodges.
Nick (Philemon Chambers) with Peter (Michael Urie) in Michael Mayer’s Single All The Way, screenplay by Chad Hodges.

Michael is also scheduled to direct two upcoming Broadway productions - Beanie Feldstein in Funny Girl with Jane Lynch as her mother and the Neil Diamond musical - and then Jeanine Tesori's Grounded at The Metropolitan Opera, followed by Aida.

From Berkeley, California, Michael Mayer joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Single All the Way and what’s coming up in 2022.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The music is quite bizarre, for instance those songs at the bar [written and performed by Dan Finnerty as Kevin the Snow Plow Man]. You have worked with the composer of the Single All The Way score before, haven’t you?

Michael Mayer: Yes, Anton Sanko did some of the score for The Seagull. You remember when Nico Muhly was unable because that got pushed so far that he didn’t have the time to finish the score, so Anton came on to finish? He’s extremely accomplished and he’s also really quick, which was great.

AKT: He also did the score for Mikhaël Hers’ Amanda.

MM: Yes, there’s a kind of film composer who when presented with something, he just knows how to dive in and give you what you want.

AKT: Those musical numbers, like the Britney Spears one, were they all in the script originally or were you adding?

Peter (Michael Urie) purchasing the wine for the holiday celebrations
Peter (Michael Urie) purchasing the wine for the holiday celebrations

MM: No, we wanted that, that was the goal. We knew we wanted Whitney [Houston], Joy to the World, for that montage. And we wanted something like the Britney [Spears]. We did not know at the time that Britney was going to have such a resurgence.

It was a real fluke that Britney’s quest, ultimate freedom and all the publicity that she got was going to be at this time. Remember this was written two years before [by Chad Hodges]. All of that was in there. Who knew that she was going to be back in the news?

AKT: What are you doing now? What’s coming up for you?

MM: At the moment I’m in Berkeley, California, and I’m doing a new musical, which is not a jolly Christmas story. It is written by John Logan, the screenwriter, you would know him from Hugo and Sweeney Todd. He also did a couple of James Bond movies. He works with Scorsese a lot. He did Gladiator. He has written a very dark but beautiful and haunting ghost story about four survivors of a shipwreck, a whaling vessel, in 1888. Again, this was supposed to happen two years ago, then the virus came, now we’re doing it.

Nick (Philemon Chambers) with Peter’s mother Carole (Kathy Najimy)
Nick (Philemon Chambers) with Peter’s mother Carole (Kathy Najimy)

It’s about what you do when the unthinkable happens and you’re four people stuck in a boat trying to survive. What do you do to survive? How far do you go? What do you do to protect the people you love? What would you do to see your family again? And can you live with the consequences of your actions? Is there such a thing as grace? Is there such a thing as redemption? It asks all the big questions. I’m telling you, just watching those four wonderful actors …

AKT: Who is the cast?

MM: John Gallagher, Jr., Stark Sands, Adrian Enscoe and Wayne Duvall. Wayne Duvall you know from Billions, Adrian Enscoe is one of the leads of the show Dickinson, Gallagher and Stark were both in my American Idiot and they’ve both done a lot of film and TV as well. But you look at them in this lifeboat and it’s like aren’t we all just isolated in our little lifeboats?

Haven’t we all been there for the last two years? Don’t we dread going back into it again? It just feels really too familiar. And the songs are all by the Avett Brothers who are a really gifted roots band based in North Carolina. I have to say, Anne-Katrin, it is a grim story.

AKT: Even when a story is dark, as long as it gets to you and has you thinking and gives you new ideas it’s uplifting. I just finished reading the new Knausgaard novel The Morning Star.

Peter (Michael Urie) with cool Aunt Sandy (Jennifer Coolidge)
Peter (Michael Urie) with cool Aunt Sandy (Jennifer Coolidge)

MM: Oh how is it?

AKT: It’s great. It has different perspectives, different first-person voices. Suddenly a bright new star appears in the sky, it has elements of a thriller, of the horror genre even.

MM: I want to read it. I think he’s a fabulous writer. I only know the My Struggle books.

AKT: When you know the My Struggle books, you will recognize him in many of the characters in this one. It is the perfectly strange follow-up. What about your Neil Diamond project?

MM: That comes up in the summer in Boston. Right after I do Funny Girl on Broadway. So I’m super busy!

AKT: As always! Who is your Funny Girl?

MM: Beanie Feldstein!

AKT: Wow, that’s fascinating!

MM: Yeah, she’s terrific. She’s a wonderful singer and very funny and charming and warm and not Barbra Streisand. Very different, so I think she will not be compared, because she’s a completely different animal. It’s the first time it’s been revived in 58 years and it’s a beautiful score. And Jane Lynch is playing her mother. It should be very funny and good.

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s latest novel The Morning Star is on Michael’s list: “I think he’s a fabulous writer. I only know the My Struggle books.”
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s latest novel The Morning Star is on Michael’s list: “I think he’s a fabulous writer. I only know the My Struggle books.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

And then Neil Diamond is in the summer; we’ll start it in Boston and hopefully it will go well and we get a theatre in New York for the fall or the winter, you know, if Broadway is still happening. It’s just very strange to be planning anything for this unknown future. But you have to move forward, if it all stopped then nothing would be ready to go when things start up again.

AKT: Right, I think it’s the best way forward. Is it all stage or do you have any movies planned?

MM: Everything I have is stage. And then I’ve got more operas coming up.

AKT: What are the operas?

MM: The next opera will be a new opera by Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the music for Caroline, or Change [book and lyrics by Tony Kushner] and she wrote the opera Blue. This one is called Grounded. It’s about a woman fighter pilot who becomes pregnant and then gets “grounded” so that she becomes a drone pilot in the Gulf War.

AKT: You are everywhere! What an unbelievable range!

MM: We are reading so much now about what these drone pilots go through. What they’re told they’re doing and what they’re not told, what’s classified and what isn’t. And they’re told to shoot these people and it turns out that so many of them are completely innocent. Anyway, it’s a disturbing story.

Michael Mayer to direct Jeanine Tesori's Grounded and Aida at The Metropolitan Opera
Michael Mayer to direct Jeanine Tesori's Grounded and Aida at The Metropolitan Opera Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: And told as an opera, a drone pilot opera!

MM: Why not?

AKT: Why not, yes! Again, you hop around between places and centuries.

MM: And then Aida.

Swept Away previews begin on Sunday, January 9 and the production opens on Thursday, January 20 and is scheduled to run through Sunday, March 6.

Read what Michael Mayer had to say on casting Single All the Way, the costumes by Véronique Marchessault, the challenges of filming in 2021 during the pandemic, the fate of Broadway theater, and remembering Joan Didion.

Wishing every one a Safe, Healthy, Happy New Year! Single All The Way is streaming on Netflix.

Share this with others on...
News

The best of 2021, according to France's rising stars Unifrance’s 10 Talents To Watch in 2022 pick their favourites

Last exit for a stylish maverick Director of Diva and Betty Blue dies at 75

I see something in your eyes Iva Radivojević on Anne Waldman, Jorge Luis Borges, Alain Resnais, Mohammed Dib and Aleph

Experiencing difference in a positive way Dagmar Schultz on Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992

French actor dies in ski accident Gaspard Ulliel was face of Chanel and star of Saint Laurent

OFCS announces awards nominations Dune and The Power Of The Dog get nine nods each

More news and features

We're currently bringing you coverage of the French Film Festival UK.



We've recently covered Tallinn Black Nights, plus DOC NYC, the London Korean Film Festival, Aberystwyth's Abertoir, New York's Newfest and Sci-Fi London, the London Film Festival, Manchester's Grimmfest and the New York Film Festival.



Read our full for more.


Visit our festivals section.

Interact

More competitions coming soon.