ZORBA (post-Broadway National Tour, 1986) marked my major conducting debut, at the Chicago Opera House, with Anthony Quinn and Lila Kedrova in the lead roles.
Anthony Quinn was my first star, and I was given endless warnings and dire predictions before I met him. The result you can guess: he thought I was smart, I thought he was smart, he liked me, I liked him, and he made me his first vocal coach to survive three nights; I spent eight months giving him his nightly vocal warm-up and developing a strange, completely non-verbal quasi-friendship of some kind.
He signed his 8x10 glossy to me, "To Fred Barton. Without you – no voice. Anthony Quinn" – and gave me a print of one of his paintings, signed, "To Fred – What would I have done without you?"
I was Associate Conductor to Al Cavaliere, who gave me technical advice, polish, diplomatic tips, and was generally a prince to whom I’ll remain forever grateful.
Launching my career as a feather-ruffler, I pointed out in the first two days of rehearsal that they had Quinn singing in Herschel Bernardi's keys, at least a third too high for Quinn's basso profundo – which partly explained the reviews he got musically on Broadway. I called John Kander about it, and he came to rehearsal, and Quinn’s keys were lowered immediately. Add a little vocal coaching, and one other little orchestration adjustment I suggested to help keep him on pitch, and Quinn actually got a good vocal review from the New York Times on our last stop at Westbury Music Fair.
Being young and overly eager, I suggested to director Joel Grey a major plot clarification, which as formerly staged had confused me into thinking Zorba was an accessory to murder. The good news is that Mr. Grey changed the staging and the plot was clarified (I suggested a second knife – see my future memoirs). The bad news is that this episode encouraged me to think such presumptuous suggestions were welcome from Broadway associate conductors, which of course ain't true. Note to directors: listen to that young guy at the piano – you just never know. Note to young guys at the piano: go ahead, say something. You just never know.