So there’s this hot new show running in L.A. right now called For the Record: Tarantino. It features the music from Pulp Fiction, Death Proof, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Any fan of QT’s films will love this clever, intimate production and we are so excited to have Anderson Davis, the Director/Writer of the show here to talk about it.
About For the Record:
Film’s most memorable characters and songs have always been permanently etched into celluloid and digital history, unchanging and frozen in time…until now. LA’s hit For the Record series breathes a new kind of life into the movies by adapting the works of great directors to a theatrical concert setting. It’s a unique form of live entertainment that immerses its audiences in the worlds of cinema and music. The series features leading talent from stage, record and screen as well as rising stars – embodying iconic movie characters and giving them new musical voices. Past FTR shows include: Coen Bros., Scorsese and Baz Luhrman.
Congratulations on the show! It’s very fun, cool and original. Will you tell us about choosing the work of Tarantino and then how you landed on the structure?
Thanks! I usually have to fly back to NYC so quickly after Opening Night that I miss out on the part where you actually sit down and enjoy it. I guess if I had really made a mess of things I’d want to get the hell out of town before anyone figured out who was responsible, but I’m starting to think I would’ve been ok. I’m glad you had a good time.
For the Record: Tarantino was actually the very first chapter of the series three years ago when it was done in a cozy 60-seat cabaret space in Los Feliz. When my collaborators, Shane Scheel and Chris Bratten, first created the series, it was the soundtracks of movies like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs that inspired the idea: bringing the movies to life through their soundtracks. It started as strictly a concert, but when I first joined the team about a year later, the iconic scenes and characters from the movies were showing up between the songs to give each tune some added context. The series was gaining some momentum by that point, and pretty soon a wall was torn down, the room expanded into what is now Rockwell Table and Stage, and I officially signed on as Resident Director of the series.
The current Tarantino show, which is now the 8th show I’ve developed with the FTR team, looks a whole lot different from that first concert. For starters, there’s a knife fight, a sword fight, a fist fight, blood, a six-piece band including horn section, gun fire, and a severed ear, but most of all the show has developed beyond a concert cabaret and into something that I hope feels like hanging out inside the mind of a great filmmaker when they’re listening to their favorite songs. Instead of taking you through highlights of each movie one by one, I wanted to weave all of the movies together throughout in a way that reveals interesting relationships between them.
Here’s a moment I like from FTR: Tarantino: Its starts in the basement tavern scene of Inglourious Basterds, a slow-rag, saloon style version of “Who Did That You” from Django Unchained is sung by the piano. Once Stiglitz says “auf wiedersehen to your Nazi balls” the room explodes in gun fire until Django caps it off, pun intended, with a shot into John Brittle’s heart. Before John Brittle can collapse, however, Beatrix Kiddo’s plunges her Hattori Hanzo steel katana into his heart and then, finally, the sword is removed from his heart by Butch leaving the dead man, who has now become Maynard from Pulp Fiction, in a heap on the floor. The music comes to and end when Butch turns to Django, who has now become Marsellus, and says “You ok?” to which Marsellus replies, “Naw man, I’m pretty fuckin’ far from ok.”
Yes! That’s such a great moment! Overall, it’s so impressive how you intertwined the tales of all these classic characters. So, besides granting rights to do the show, was Tarantino involved at all?
No, not yet. His only involvement up to this point has been as enthusiastic fan – or more like aloof father. The one who isn’t around much but when he is you really want him to be proud. We’ve been talking to him about curating the space – if Jack Rabbit Slim’s is his diner, we’d love to see what his nightclub looks like.
How long was the rehearsal process and how many actors are in the cast?
There are 9 characters in the show and each role is played by 2 or 3 different actors who rotate performances. I think we have 25 actors total in the cast. We do this so that when one our actors books a recurring role on a TV series or a Broadway show we are covered. It was a much longer than usual rehearsal process this time, about 2 months. Mostly because in addition to developing a brand new show, we were also opening a new venue which required a total overhaul of the lights, sound and stage design. It was an insane process, but I love our new home.
Well, you picked a great venue to stage this – why did you choose DBA and do all of your FTR shows play out using the entire space like this one?
Debuting the new FTR: Tarantino in its brand new home, DBA, was incredibly exciting for us. We’ve always considered our type of entertainment somewhere between a nightlife experience and a cabaret theater, so it’s been essential to find a space that has just the right balance of club energy and theater focus. Beau Laughlin of Cardiff Giant was a fan of our shows at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz and when he offered the space to us we couldn’t pass it up.
It really important to me that the experience of seeing a For the Record show is unlike anything you’d see on a screen, be it movie, television, or computer. I’d love for the audience to feel like they are within the action and not looking at it from afar. One of the ways I try to accomplish that it by sending the actors into every nook and cranny of the room. The experience of not knowing if the next moment will be across the room or in your lap is something you don’t get at the movies. Well, not yet at least. Gravity was pretty close.
It’s a very physical show for the actors with a lot of fight choreography in the mix. How difficult is it for them to balance singing, acting and the stage combat?
The stage combat was probably the most difficult aspect. It’s a group of singing and acting professionals so that part was in their wheelhouse from the start, but doing a knife, sword, or fist fight effectively and safely with audience members all around you is incredibly challenging. Plus, each actor is sharing their part with one or two others so on any given night it will be a different combination of fighters. I think everyone thought I was insane for wanting to put a sword fight in the middle of a packed nightclub but the actors worked their asses off and it looks great.
There are so many great songs from each of his films interwoven together, how did you choose them and what are some of your favorite moments? BTW, I really loved all of the Django Unchained songs and performances – so good and powerful!
There are certain songs that are absolute essentials for any Tarantino concert. Songs like “Misirlou”, “Stuck in the Middle with You”, “Across 110th Street”, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, “Cat People” and “Django” will be forever linked in my mind to the film in which they were heard. It’s the lesser known tracks that made working on this project so much fun – songs like “If Love is Red Dress”, “Urami Bushi”, “Lo Chiamavano King”, “Street Life”. Digging into these soundtrack selections gave me an even deeper appreciation for QT’s films. My wife is Japanese and when I first went back and listened to “Urami Bushi” she told me the title’s translation is “My Grudge Blues”. What could be more perfect for Beatrix Kiddo? Of course, it wasn’t long before I realized the inspiration train was moving in the opposite direction. Meiko Kaji, the singer of “Urami Bushi” and the lead actress in the Lady Snowblood films, was a major part of QT’s inspiration for Kill Bill. The moment in FTR: Tarantino when that song is heard is an ode not only to Kill Bill, but also to QT’s inspirations. It’s one of my favorite moments.
What songs didn’t make the cut?
In the previous version of FTR: Tarantino there were a few songs that eventually were replaced with others. Songs like “Harvest Moon” from Reservoir Dogs, “Long Time Woman” from Jackie Brown, “Battle Without Honor or Humanity”, “The Man With the Big Sombrero” from Inglourious Basterds. Two songs I love that I wish could’ve made it are “Hold Tight” from Death Proof and “Trinity Titoli” from Django Unchained.
What’s your favorite Tarantino film? How about song? Character?
Impossible question… Well, the truth is, if you told me I could only own one film for the rest of my life I’d probably choose Pulp Fiction. (That or Taxi Driver or Boogie Nights or Singing in the Rain) But that’s kind of a boring answer. The opening scene of Inglourious Basterds is one of my favorite scenes in all of film. As for songs, I’d probably have to say “Bang Bang” but at the moment I’m really into “Malagueña Salerosa” from Kill Bill Vol. 2. Best characters have got to be Colonel Hans Landa and Calvin Candy but Fabienne is my one true love – other than my wife.
Why do you think Tarantino fans will like this stage adaptation? Especially since I’m sure many of them are skeptical.
Because it isn’t a cheesy musical parody. It’s a badass motherfucker. And while there is plenty for the Tarantino novice to enjoy in the show – i.e. great songs played by a killer band, amazing scenes that are entertaining even without context, fights, blood, hot bodies, cocktails, whatever – the show was created for the true fans. It’s a great time no matter what, but there’s an extra layer of little details and hidden connections that only a deep knowledge and appreciation for the films would reveal. It’s my inside joke to those who get it (people like your readers I’m sure).
Any particular director you’re looking to cover next? Maybe Sofia Coppola? There’s definitely some cool music/scenes to cover between The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette and The Bling Ring…
Francis and Sofia are definitely on our list. As well as Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Tim Burton etc.
I know Tarantino was at one of the first performances, did you all get any direct feedback?
Yeah. He was pretty excited about how the stories overlapped and mashed up together. I think he was surprised how well the concept worked having so many different characters and story lines to follow. Standing in the back by the tech booth trying not to watch him take in what I had done to his work was pretty nerve wracking. I was relieved when he said he loved it. If it sucked he probably could’ve pulled the plug on the whole thing right then and there.
Oh yeah, and the night he was there, when Colonel Hans Landa was just about to execute the Jewish dairy farmers hiding beneath the floorboards of a neighbor’s home – which is one of the only completely silent and absolutely still moments in the show – there was an earthquake.
Amazing! Tarantino and earthquake all in one night – almost too much – sensory overload! So what’s next for you? Besides another FTR?
Working on a new concept album experience called “TurnTable” at Rockwell Table and Stage. The first edition of the series is “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” by the Smashing Pumpkins. I’m hoping it’s going to feel like some kind of live, immersive music video. Also, working on an actual music video and a new theater company with my choreographer/wife in Japan. It usually takes me a few seconds each morning to remember what time zone I’m in.
Well, huge congrats to you and the cast and all involved with FTR: Tarantino and thanks so much for the inside scoop. Fans, go see this show – you will not be disappointed. All the best, Anderson.
Thank you for the shout out and great talking with you!
Anderson Davis began working as resident writer/director of the For the Record series with the P.T. Anderson chapter and has continued to adapt the scripts and direct for the series ever since -including the recent, hugely successful run of For the Record: Baz Luhrmann. Originally from Louisiana, he began his career as an actor on the Broadway stage. Soon after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, Davis joined the Broadway revival of Les Miserables. He spent the next several years starring in leading roles around the country including Lt. Cable in Lincoln Center Theater’s highly acclaimed first national tour of South Pacific.
Other current and upcoming projects as writer/director include a short film series, music video, the new concept album series “TurnTable” at Rockwell Table and Stage in L.A., and working with his choreographer/wife to bring new theater ideas to Japan.