ATI set to present world premiere of ‘Mr. Confidential’


Samuel Garza Bernstein became fascinated with the story of Confidential magazine and its owner Bob Harrison.

Garza Bernstein’s book about the Hollywood magazine from the 1950s came out in 2006. It was called “Mr. Confidential: The Man, His Magazine & the Movieland Massacre that Changed Hollywood Forever.”

“(Harrison) really changed the face of journalism, for better or for worse, and it was phenomenally successful,’ Garza Bernstein said. “Confidential outsold TV Guide and outsold Time magazine. At its height, 6 million people were reading it. We kind of think of it from the ‘LA Confidential’-kind of darkness. But the more that I got into the story and the family behind it, the more that I found it wasn’t that at all. It was very funny, very lighthearted, and really my mind started churning that it could be a musical.”

Actors Theatre of Indiana will present a world premiere of “Mr. Confidential” April 28 to May 14 at the Studio Theater at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

ATI had a reading as part of its Lab Series in February 2022.

When Garza Bernstein decided it could be a musical, he reached out to composer David Snyder,

“I thought it was in his wheelhouse because he loves standards, and he worked with, I mean, he worked on arrangements and charts that were done for Judy Garland and for Frank Sinatra and has been in that kind of musical world for a very long time,” Garza Bernstein said. “We sat down in 2010 and started writing the musical, and it’s been a very long road, but musicals are kind of like that because there’s such a gigantic enterprise with so many moving parts.”

The project started with some readings in New York and then had a developmental small production at the New York Music Theatre Festival in 2014.

Garza Bernstein said the language of the magazine convinced him it could be a musical from the start.

“He wouldn’t talk about a beautiful African American woman; he would talk about a Nubian nymph. He loved the alliteration,” he said. “He loved puns and wordplay. It really lent itself to a musical comedy.”

Harrison faced a trial of conspiracy to commit criminal libel in 1957.

“All of these stories they talked about were true, but it became kind of this media circus,” Garza Bernstein said.

Garza Bernstein said Confidential magazine’s position was, if the court wanted proof their stories were true, it would subpoena every celebrity it had written about.

“No one wanted to go on the stand,” Garza Bernstein said. “Liberace did testify to the absurd libelous claim that his theme song should be ‘Mad About the Boy,’ which is what the magazine said. He took great umbrage at that, but I think we all know his theme song was ‘Mad About the Boy.’”

There was a hung jury, but Garza Bernstein said had he been convicted, there was almost a 100 percent chance the verdict would be reversed on appeal because of several questionable decisions by the judge. The case was never retried and

Harrison sold the magazine.

“The magazine was in existence through the early 1970s, but it never again had the financial success it had under Bob,” Garza Bernstein said. “But it also wasn’t as fun. It became like every other tabloid magazine.”

ATI co-founder Don Farrell is playing Harrison. Fellow co-founders Judy Fitzgerald and Cynthia Collins are also in the cast. Garza Bernstein said most of the cast is from the Indianapolis area.

Snyder said the ATI reading offered him a great opportunity to create orchestrations that could bring the swinging 1950s to life.

“At the New York Music Theatre Festival in 2014, we had piano, bass and drums,” Snyder said. “For our premiere at ATI, I’ve been given a seven-piece orchestra and have spent the last month creating the custom orchestrations for this group.”

Snyder said Garza Bernstein did a lot of rewriting of the script between 2014 and last year’s reading.

“The show now really has an emotional center, and that has helped me so much in the crafting of the songs, underscore and orchestration,” Snyder said.

Snyder said the idea of seeing the full production is extremely exciting.

“Normally for a new musical, the cast and musicians would have more time to become comfortable with unfamiliar material,” Snyder said. “But some of the cast did participate in the 2022 reading, which is helpful and, of course, there’s that adrenaline rush when you just have to commit to bringing your full concentration every minute of rehearsal.”

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