Book by: Elizabeth Diggs. Based on Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully: Lyrics by: Tom Jones: Music by: Harvey Schmidt
Goodspeed Musicals, Chester, Connecticut, - Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre, August 1 - 25, 2005 The York Theatre Company, NYC - December 2005
The popular award-winning children’s book is now a stirring, intimate chamber musical by the authors of “The Fantasticks.”
Set in 1890s Paris, “Mirette” tells of the most unusual friendship between a strong-willed ten year-old girl and a jaded tightrope walker. Young Mirette is delighted when she discovers her mother’s grumpy new boarder is none other than the Great Bellini, whose glorious tightrope-walking days were cut short when he lost his nerve.
Demonstrating an innate talent for balancing, she convinces the reluctant Bellini – against her mother’s wishes – to teach her his craft. But when Bellini, determined not to disappoint the girl, stages a comeback performance only to find himself paralysed with fear, it is Mirette who must climb the wire and help him regain his courage.
With minimal production demands, an inspiring story and charming characters who will steal your audience’s hearts (including the spunky title role and the gruff man whose icy exterior she breaks), “Mirette” joins the ranks of Schmidt and Jones shows that are sheer theatrical poetry.
Act I Paris, 1899
After a brief fanfare, the curtain opens on Mirette, a ten-year-old girl, gazing out at the town. She sings of the adventure and change that she hopes will accompany the dawn of the new century. She disappears as her mother, Madame Gateau, enters, sweeping. She introduces her hotel and explains that it is where the artists and “theatre people” stay while performing in town. The guests then appear, one at a time, and introduce themselves.
Mme. Rouspenskaya is a large woman with a “grand manner.” She is a Russian singer, specialising in folk songs. Tabac is a juggler, Clouk and Claire are acrobats and an inseparable duo, Gaby is a beautiful, striving ballerina, and Camembert is the comic. They are all very happy at Madame Guteau’s and love her little daughter Mirette. Mirette enjoys hearing all of their stories and doesn’t mind waiting on them during their stay. They depend on her.
Set pieces fly in towards the end of the last number, and the ensemble and Mirette strike a tableau. After the applause, Claire confides in Mirette that she wants to give up performing and move to the country. She says she is envious of Mirette’s secure and safe life. Mirette, however, longs for adventure and asks Mme. Rouspenskaya how someone knows if they have a special talent. She replies that they must be discovered and the talent must be nurtured. Mirette and Rouspenskaya sing about what might lie in Mirette’s future.
As Mirette bends down at the front desk to do a chore, a dark and mysterious man enters. His name is Paul Bellini, and he gives three months advance rent for a tiny room in the basement. Mirette questions him and learns that he is not an actor but has travelled much. We learn from Mirette that her father died in Brazil after leaving or “running away” from her and her mother. Paul is unsettled by the girl’s directness and after she shows him to his room he asks her to leave. Alone, he sees himself in a mirror and reflects on his mysterious life and his need to run away and hide. He wonders if he’ll ever tire of running and if he will one day face the stranger in the mirror.
The lights come up on Rouspenskaya who is singing, a cappella, of her days as a child in Russia. During the song, Rouspenskaya is continually interrupted by Camembert, the older clown, who has bought a porcelain box for Gaby. He is smitten with her, but he is sure she hates him. Madame adds that Gaby cannot hate him because that would require her to think about him, and she does not. Camembert agrees and adds that they are both too old and ugly for love. In a rage, Rouspenskaya calls him a peasant and leaves.
Mirette is hanging laundry outside and imitating all of the artistes, when she sees Bellini practicing a tight rope walk in the courtyard. She asks him not to stop and, then, if she might have a try at it. He tells her she will only fall.
She steps up, but after one step, jumps down. Bellini refuses to help her and leaves, but determined, she practices all day and finally masters three whole steps.
The next morning, all of the artistes are watching from their windows what has become a daily occurrence. Bellini practices his wire and Mirette watches, unobserved, until he leaves. She then hops on the wire and practises what she learned. Bellini catches her and forbids her to go near his wire. He retreats and she continues. He returns and this time reprimands her, but she shows him what she can do. He watches and is actually impressed. He looks at her feet and says that she is blessed with a rare foot. She tells him that she wants to learn and he tells her she is not ready. She asks when she will be ready. Paul tells Mirette that the high wire is a life choice, a passion and an obsession, but undeterred, Mirette begs him to teach her. Finally, he agrees.
The next scene is at the Music Hall. Tabac is juggling knives and misses the handle on one. He grimaces and leaves the stage. He is shortly thereafter fired. Madame Gateau asks him for the rent when he returns home and after a bit of persuading she agrees to give him a few more days. Meanwhile, all of the artistes are gathered to congratulate Gaby on getting a solo dance. Everyone brings a little something, including Camembert with his porcelain box. Gaby is very grateful and everyone is happy until Tabac tells them that he’s been fired.
They sing him a song of encouragement. The excitement of the party is interrupted by Bellini, who bursts in and demands some peace and quiet. Just then, Madame Gateau calls Mirette for bed and the party disperses.
Mirette confesses to her mother that she wishes to be a wirewalker and that Paul Bellini is going to teach her. At first, her mother is concerned, but agrees that, as long as the wire remains low, there is no harm. Mirette describes how she feels on the wire and her mother tells her that the life of an artiste is a difficult and sad one. She tells Mirette how lucky she is that when she grows up, she will be able to run a boarding house as she does.
In a cross over sequence, Clouk and Claire do a few acrobatic tricks while Bellini sets up the wire. Bellini and Mirette begin their first lesson. All is going well for Mirette and she is a disciplined student. Bellini, therefore rewards her with a higher wire. She becomes afraid, but his inspiring, firm words convince her to walk. The artistes observe from their windows. Just as she begins her walk, her mother cries out to her. Mirette looses her balance and falls, grasping the wire and then gently falling to the ground. A furious Madame Gateau sends Mirette to her room and confronts Bellini. Both, of course, think that they know what is best for Mirette. Her mother wants Mirette to be a woman with a husband, a family and a secure life, while Bellini argues that Mirette has a talent and will never be able to betray her gift. Both feel that the other is forcing his/her own desires on the girl.
During the Entr’act, Mirette and Bellini practise on the high wire. Madame Gateau calls for Mirette and crosses the stage. Bellini and Mirette quickly hide. The artistes join her mother in calling for her. Mirette calls from off-stage and all of the artistes, one at a time, present their new acts to Mirette. Soon, however, the stage becomes chaotic, with everyone singing, dancing, and miming, and Mirette runs off covering her ears.
Gaby then enters and tells the group about her new act and costume. She will be playing the Great God Pan! Gaby leads all of the artistes in a song about Pan.
As they all applaud and cheer Gaby, Max enters. Max is a promoter of talent who helped all of the artistes to get their acts together. After greeting his friends and giving Mirette a surprise gift, he asks what the “Great Bellini” is doing in town. Some of the older actors remember the Great Bellini and want to know where he is. Max tells the group that he was the most amazing High Wire Walker of all time. He and the artistes recall all of his daring tricks on the wire and are shocked to learn that the dreadful man living in the basement is the Great Bellini. They wonder what has happened to this magnificent man to make him so unpleasant, so afraid, and so alone.
Mirette goes straight to Paul and asks why he didn’t tell her that he was the Great Bellini. He denies his identity, but eventually confesses that he was the Great Bellini, but that something has happened to change him forever. Mirette offers to help him, if he would just open up to her. Bellini is outwardly unmoved by Mirette’s words and tells her to leave - that he cannot teach her anymore. Mirette fights back saying that he must teach her and asks what he is so afraid of. In a burst of anger, Bellini yells that he is sick of Mirette and that he can’t stand the sight of her, adding that it is no wonder her father ran away. Mirette gasps in pain and runs away. Bellini, wishing to take back what he said, calls for her, but she is gone.
Mme. Rouspenskaya is talking to Mirette with her mother, but Mirette is unresponsive. Gaby enters in an expensive outfit and announces that she is moving to a more spacious apartment. Camembert begs her not to go with the rich American, but both embarrassed and proud, Gaby leaves, requesting an aperitif be sent to her room. At the same moment, Tabac tries to sneak by, when Madame Gateau once again demands his rent. He admits that he cannot make the payments and she has no choice but to let him go. The others wish to help him, but fear that he will never be able to pay them back. The artistes reflect on the difficulties of a life on the stage.
Bellini enters and tells Madame Gateau that he is leaving. She demands that he give Mirette an explanation and calls for her. Mirette enters, looking like the living dead. Bellini is shocked and frightened by her appearance and movements. She will not look at him. He tells her that he is leaving and reveals to her the reason that he cannot teach her. One day, in the middle of a difficult act that he had performed hundreds of times, he was overcome with fear and had to crawl off of the wire. He tells her that she must find a teacher that can do the tricks that she must learn — that he can no longer. Mirette tells him that her dream is dead and leaves. Like a bolt of lightening, Bellini realises what he must do. He calls Max over and tells him to gather the necessary materials for him to walk across the roofs of Paris that evening. Everyone is shocked. He says he must do this for Mirette… and for himself.
During the finale medley, Bellini takes to the wire and Mirette knows what she must do. She climbs the tower and joins Bellini, inching slowly towards him. They take hands and all of his faith and courage are restored. He lifts Mirette upon his shoulder and a huge banner falls behind them reading “Mirette and Bellini! Wirewalkers Extrordinaire! Stupendous Feats!”
- Sitting On The Edge - Mirette
- Madame Gateau’s Colorful Hotel - Madame Gateau, Mirette, Artistes
- Maybe - Mirette, Rouspenskaya
- Someone In The Mirror - Bellini
- I Like It Here - Mirette
- Irkutsk - Rouspenskaya
- Practising - Bellini, Artistes
- Learning Who You Are - Bellini, Mirette
- The Show Goes On -
Camembert, Mirette, Artistes
- Feet Upon The Ground - Madame Gateau
- Clouk and Claire - Clouk, Claire, Orchestra
- If You Choose To Walk Upon The Wire - Bellini, Artistes
- She Isn’t You - Madame Gateau, Bellini
- The Great God Pan - Gaby, Artistes
- The Great Bellini - Max, Mirette, Artistes
- Sometimes You Just Need Someone - Mirette, Bellini
- Madame Gateau’s Desolate Hotel - Madame Gateau, Bellini, Artistes
- Finale - Company
- MADAME GATEAU - The proprietor of a small hotel in Paris that caters to Music Hall "Artistes"
- MIRETTE - Madame's daughter, ten years old.
- BELLINI - A dark, brooding man with a mysterious past.
- TABAC - A juggler and jack-of-all-trades, desperately poor. In his twenties. A boarder at Mme. Gateau's Hotel.
- MME. ROUSPENSKAYA - A singer with a "grand" manner. Russian. She has been on the scene for years. Her age is a secret. A boarder at Mme. Gateau's Hotel.
- CLOUKE & CLAIRE - Acrobats. A couple who know each other's every thought and gesture. Boarders at Mme. Gateau's Hotel.
- GABY - A beautiful young dancer-mime. A boarder at Mme. Gateau's Hotel.
- CAMEMBERT- A sad clown, with years of experience. A boarder at Mme. Gateau's Hotel.
- MAX - A Promoter of talent.