Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"What a brilliant conception," said Herman Wouk, who has had a few brilliant conceptions of his own, from "The Caine Mutiny" to "The Winds of War," and should know one when h sees it.
Wouk was talking about the new Tom Stoppard-Andre Previn opus, "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour," which opened Tuesday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Not a regular member of the Washington party scene, the rather retiring novelist (who insisted "I don't give interviews") was lured to an opening-night party by his admiration for the scintilating British playwright.
Among the few hundred friends and admirers who dropped in to congratulate the playwright and the composer-conductor were former Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas, former Arkansas Sen. and Mrs. J. William Fulbright, Ron Nessen, Mr. and Mrs. Livingston Biddle, Joseph Duffey, John Hechinger, Harry McPherson and Mr. and Mrs. George Stevens.
"I'm a great admirer of Stoppard," said Wouk. "I've seen nearly everything he's done. This isn't on the scale of 'Jumpers' of 'Travesties,' of course, but what a brilliant conception, working a 90-piece orchestra into a drama."
Philip Buchen, a legal adviser in the Ford White House, was particularly impressed by the Russian flavor of Previn's music - "a little bit like early Shostakovich." Others at the party thought they heard echoes of Prokofiev, but everyone agreed that the music had a Russian sound.
"I asked Roger Stevens whether he had invited the Russian ambassador," Buchen said, "but he said the ambassador was out of town."
Composer Previn confirmed that the Russian flavor of the music put in deliberately, and said that audiences so far have been very enthusiastic and many orchestras are showing an interest in this unusual addition to the modern repertoire. "Productions are being planned in about a dozen countries," he remarked with a big smile.
One possible problem, said Wood, who plays the madman Ivanov and does some virtuoso solos on the triangle, is that the music is quite complex and requires a lot of rehearsal. "It doesn't sound quite the same with a smaller orchestra, and theater musicians have a lot of trouble learning to play it. With a symphony orchestra it sounds great."
Gretchen Poston, who schedules the musical and other entertainments at the White House, was enthusiastic about the show and said she would like to see it performed there not in a cutdown version but with the full symphony orchestra, if she could find room for it. Someone asked how such a performance might affect detente, and she smiled enigmatically.
Wood, who plays the harpsichord and owns three of them, was asked by someone whether he had to join the musicians union to play his virtuoso triangle solos in this show. He said that it was not necessary as long as he was on stage (the "stage" is three small sections carved out of the area occupied by the orchestra.) Near the end of the play, Wood leaves the "stage" and goes into the orchestra. "Did you notice I never touched the triangle once I was back in the orchestra?" he said. "If I did they'd all walk out."
Wallach confided that he had wanted Stoppard to put one line in the play not for himself, but for the psychiatrist, who is a tool of the totalitarian government. "I wanted him to have the line 'There's a schizophrenic conference and I've half a mind to go,' but he wouldn't do it," Wallach said.
While declining to give an interview on his new novel, "War and Remembrance," a sequel to "The Winds of War," Wouk did drop a hint about his idea of novelistic form.
"I can't tell you what it's all about in less than the 1,100 pages it took me to write it," he said. "I remember when 'The Caine Mutiny' was condensed by the Reader's Digest Book Club they sent me a copy and I didn't want to read it. I said to my wife, Sarah, "If this condensation is any good, that means there's something wrong with my book. If I could have said it in one word less, I should have.'"