Cast cries “viva!” for songwriter
BAMBERG, Germany — On paper, the bandmaster for the 1st Infantry Division Band may not seem the best choice to write witty, colorful and touching songs for a musical about a wedding.
But when writer/producer Dan LaMorte asked Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gordon Kippola to write some original songs for his play “Viva Las Wedding,” the result was 15 songs that get audience members on their feet and haunt the cast even after rehearsals and performances are over.
“It’s very gratifying to hear actors singing songs that you wrote, and to see that they are well received,” Kippola said. “[Writing the songs] came easily for me. I wrote some while I was in Kosovo and some while I was on leave in August.”
“The songs are really catchy,” said assistant director and cast member Tracy Sherman. “We’ve all got these songs stuck in our heads.
“The performances were very well received. They got up on the dance floor and really got into it.”
Of course, that’s the intent of the interactive play, which had performances in Würzburg earlier this month and in Bamberg last weekend. Audience members are supposed to be wedding guests; they get dinner, drinks and are encouraged to dance, LaMorte said.
“Gordon is an incredibly gifted artist,” LaMorte said. “I’ve known a lot of professional composers during my career, and Gordon can write music with great lyrics quicker than anyone I know.”
That’s a big endorsement from LaMorte, a professional director and acting teacher who ran his own theater company in Chicago for 17 years. Now, he mentors the Act One theatrical group in the Kitzingen military community.
“The variety of songs is amazing,” LaMorte said. “We’ve got these numbers from the Vegas floor show that are witty, even bawdy. His lyrical sense for the love songs is poignant and touching. His music added color and helped build the characters.”
“They just work on so many levels,” said cast member Katherine Anselmo-Henke. “He has a great sense of humor. The lyrics and compositions are fabulous.”
Anselmo-Henke had some reservations about singing in the play.
“I don’t have the greatest singing voice in the universe; it’s not something I really like to do in public,” she said. “Gordon was very encouraging. He’d say: ‘Come on, sing louder.’ And he was always there to help if you had trouble hitting a note that the song required.”
Kippola admits that he can’t hit some of those notes. He said the first time he had to sing the songs to the other cast members was an awkward day.
“I was singing all the songs myself to demonstrate to the cast, and I had to sing a part where Helen of Troy is singing ‘this beautiful face of mine,’ ” recalled Kippola, who also had a part in the musical. “It was just very strange.”
But now, months later and with the performances behind him, Kippola is ready for more.
LaMorte and Kippola plan to get “Viva Las Wedding” produced commercially. But that project will be on hold until Kippola returns from an Iraq deployment, which begins early next year, and then retires after 20 years of service.
“Dan and I are talking about a couple of other shows we’d like to work on, and I may pursue that after I retire,” Kippola said.
“I really enjoy it — the interaction with the other actors and hearing something I’ve written performed.”