Ed Dixon on Writing and Appearing in ‘Cloak and Dagger’ at Signature Theatre

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I am a huge fan of Ed Dixon’s work. I was thrilled to be able to catch up with him, and to see the press performance of his new musical Cloak and Dagger on Sunday night at Signature Theatre.

Ed Dixon.
Ed Dixon.

Joel: Why did you choose Signature Theatre to bring Cloak and Dagger?

Ed: Eric Schaeffer is a dear friend of mine and I love working with him and i love being at the Signature so it was kind of a no brainer.

Why did you choose this title? What other titles were you considering?

I picked the title Cloak and Dagger because I felt it conveyed a whole genre… the film noir genre which I am parodying. the actual title should probably be The Case of the Golden Venus,  but I didn’t feel it was as catchy.

When did you first get the idea of writing the show and how long and how many drafts did it take before finishing the script we will be seeing and hearing on the stage at Signature? Are you still making changes?

I got the idea while i was performing Mary Poppins on Broadway. I had a lot of off stage time and I wrote Cloak and Dagger between scenes. i actually got an inkling of the idea when I saw The 39 Steps on Broadway and realized that you could do a play with only four people. I immediately began looking for an idea that could be done with one man and one woman and two character men.

The Irish Landlady (Ed Dixon) sings “A Real Woman” in “Cloak and Dagger,” now playing at Signature Theatre through July 6, 2014. Photo by Margot Schulman.
The Irish Landlady (Ed Dixon) sings “A Real Woman” in “Cloak and Dagger. Photo by Margot Schulman.

How would you describe the score of the show and what other composers and shows influenced the score? How many songs did you write for Cloak and Dagger and how many are you using in the show? 

There are 27 numbers in the show counting reprises and travel music. (each scene change has a film noir style narration). I replaced the leading lady’s number that she sings in the Chinatown club after the first reading. “Wuhzong Woman” became “Chinatown Blues,” and wrote two new songs as well, “The Agent Song” and “Love Is.” The score is in a pastiche style as Sondheim used in Follies. they try to recollect a specific time and place while still being original. My style is not like Mr.  Sondheim’s but I’m using a similar style technique by mimicking 1950’s film music.

What do you admire most about your fellow cast members’ performances and what is your favorite moment of their performances?

I love all my cast members and they’re all doing marvelous creative work. PS-there are only three of them!

Who do you play in the show and how is he Ed Dixon-like? Is he  based on people you know or other characters in other shows and movies? Why did you want to star in the show when you could have let them hire another actor and sit in the back of the house and relax?

I never intended to be in this show. ever. the role i’m playing has twenty costume changes and I HATE costume changes… particularly quick changes… and they’re all quick changes. At one point I do five changes in about one minute. literally. But Eric asked me to do it, which was a complete surprise… and I just decided to say, Yes.” They’re all Ed Dixon-like and they’re all characters that everyone will recognize because i’m dealing in ridiculous archetypes.

What scene or scenes when you watch them or perform them do you think, “This is really damn good!

The new song “Love Is” which Doug Carpenter, the detective, sings turns out better than i had anticipated.

You are one of the most-if not the most-prolific writers I know. What new shows are you working on now?

My new eight person play L’Hotel about six of the famous inhabitants of Pere LaChaise cemetery in France will debut at Pittsburgh Public Theater to celebrate their 40th anniversary later this year, and my new one man play, which I actually did write for myself. will open Off-Broadway next spring. it’s called Georgie, The Life and Death of George Rose, and it’s about my friend and mentor George Rose.

Is there anything you haven’t tackled yet in your career that you need to try or any role you haven’t played yet that you really want to play?

Not really. Most of the things that happen now are a surprise, like Cloak and Dagger. I’ve been doing this for forty-five years and I’ve pretty much crossed off all my bucket list items… but new things just seem to keep popping up.

Of all the shows-besides Cloak and Dagger-would you really like Broadway theatregoers to see on a NYC stage and why do you think it would be a ‘smash’?

I would like to do a cut down version of Sunset Boulevard on Broadway. I just love that piece.

The Company (Christopher Bloch, Erin Driscoll, Doug Carpenter, and Ed Dixon) sings “The Best of Times (Reprise)” in 'Cloak and Dagger.' Photo by Margot Schulman
The Company (Christopher Bloch, Erin Driscoll, Doug Carpenter, and Ed Dixon) sings “The Best of Times (Reprise)” in ‘Cloak and Dagger.’ Photo by Margot Schulman

 You have such a gorgeous singing voice. When did you first discover you had that talent, where did you study voice, and what have you done over the years to ensure that the voice is still in great shape?

I had a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music. i am a vocal coach as well as all the other things I do and I vocalize and do breathing and vocal work every day. But there is no beautiful singing for me in Cloak and Dagger just character singing which is a very different animal.

What advice can you give students who are considering acting, playwriting, and singing as a career?

It’s more work than you’re anticipating. more than that. more than that. more than that. If you’re interested in a fascinating career that means being self-motivated and self-propelled with little encouragement and little pay that may or may not ever work out… this is the career for you. And however hard you’re thinking it might be… it’s harder than that.

What do you want theatregoers to take with them after seeing Cloak and Dagger?

I want them to leave with their sides aching from laughter.

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Cloak and Dagger plays through July 6, 2014 at Signature Theatre-4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, Virginia. For tickets, call the box office (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.