Archive for Thoughts About Current Shows:
[title of show]
The past two weeks were among the most exhilarating and creative I’ve had in my life. I directed a production of the Broadway musical [title of show] with four amazingly talented actors in a small, 3/4 thrust black box space seating about 55 people. Working on this show solidified the kinds of things I want to do with the rest of my career. More about that later.
[title of show] is a work with which I became familiar by listening to the cast recording. I found it intriguing, certainly hip and cutting edge, but I wasn’t sure if there was much substance. I then saw the Broadway production and pretty much flipped for it. I was so impressed, not only with the comedy, which was seriously funny, but with the depth of the writing and the attempt to say something important in a unique way.
About 6 months ago, R&H Theatricals announced that [title of show] was available for licensing. In mid-May, I asked some actors about their availability, checked with the State Theatre about space, and requested a license for [title of show] for performances July 8-10.
I had no idea the pure joy and thrill that was awaiting me! I asked musical director Angie Benson to MD and play “Mary” (a role originally played by a man, Larry Pressgrove) and she began music rehearsals a couple of weeks prior to the official start of rehearsals on June 28.
From the moment we began staging the piece in our 16 x 12 rectangle, I knew we had something very special on our hands. Brad Frenette, as Hunter, was absolutely nailing the style and sense of humor that is mandatory in the role, while Dan Gleason brought an outstanding tenor and wonderful sense of humor as Jeff, the composer/lyricist and perfect partner for Hunter. The two guys began playing off each other beautifully right away and their three duets (“Two Nobodies in New York,” “An Original Musical,” and “Part of It All”) were thrilling, funny, and moving.
When the women joined us, both Kelsey Lope as Heidi and Alison Morooney as Susan, quickly found the style of the piece and brought wonderful individuality to their roles. They were as perfect as the guys. We all laughed a LOT as we found many, many layers of comedy in the seemingly simple (but not simplistic) script.
It had been 4 years since I staged a show in the round. Although this was 3/4, I was grateful for the experience of working in the round and quickly established each of the four characters in the four corners of the space and purchased identically designed chairs in 4 different colors from Target. That was the set!
I placed Hunter in the up right corner, giving him (our protagonist) the main focus as he jokes, cajoles, goes crazy, and eventually gets the musical he writes with Jeff to Broadway. I put Jeff in the opposite diagonal corner, with the girls up left and down right. It was fun to find ways of staging the piece to include variety while keeping the storytelling clear. Locations change constantly and quickly throughout the show and lighting was a big help in keeping it clear for the audience, thanks to our brilliant lighting designer, Greg Ray.
We were able to isolate the four corners when there were phone conversations then bring up a more natural room light when the characters were in the same place at the same time. We used blue and red washes (sometimes separately and sometimes together) to indicate “fantasy” sequences or scenes/songs taking place in the minds of the characters. We had 98 lighting cues in [title of show] and each was vital to clarity and pacing.
Sound effects are a crucial part of the show. There are 6 voice mail messages, several of which help amplify behavioral traits of each of the characters, while two are important, plot advancing devices. All need to be heard clearly and distinctly and yet sound like voice mails. There are several other sound effects and are precisely timed to the action.
The show, because of its lack of pretense in production values, appears to be simple. And in some ways, it is. Only 4 actors, no orchestration, no set necessary. But in other ways, it is exceedingly complicated and the most important complication is the casting of the show. If you don’t have 4 extremely likable, attractive, and hugely talented singer/actor/comedians, the show cannot succeed. The boys especially have to have the singing chops to sustain a HUGE load of music with voices that are rangy and thrilling to listen to. The role of Susan can have an inexperienced singer, but she must be able to sing in 4 part harmony and hold her own in “Die Vampire, Die” and several other smaller moments. The role of Heidi must have a kick-ass soprano belter or else the script doesn’t make sense.
With each actor, there must also be a level of comfort with improvisation. This is somewhat tricky because the show is tightly scripted and, I’ve found, any variation in wording of the lines, no matter how off-the-cuff sounding, tends to kill the line. But the show needs to feel very spontaneous and there are many, many moments that are open to bits of business that just cannot be entirely dictated by the director. In our production, we found so many wonderful moments together, with ideas I gave to cast members and they took off, or with suggestions from the cast that I was able to help refine.
With this cast, we were able to create our very unique version of [title of show] without changing a word. In fact, we used every swear word in the script and the audience loved every minute!
We had only 9 days of rehearsal before opening and the cast took up that challenge beautifully. We were very ready for the audience and that opening night crowd gave the cast a tumultuous ovation, with many, many moments receiving long gales of laughter and all songs getting huge hands. Of the 5 shows, three were completely sold out, one was more than half full, and one, our experimental 11 pm show, was sparsely attended but very well received.
I had a profound experience with [title of show]– an experience I did not expect to have. I knew it would be fun and I was so looking forward to working with four pros. But the depth of the artistic experience surprised me. I felt we were all working at the top of our games and the themes of the show– pursuing dreams against all odds, the importance of true friendship, nurturing your passion– all resonated with a pounding force and actually cleansed my soul. Yes, that’s right. I felt a purity of purpose and action that I’m not sure I ever felt with such clarity.
Working on [title of show] confirmed all that I want to be as a theatre artist– as a director, a writer, and a human being. Thank you Hunter, Jeff, Heidi and Susan, for bringing this small but oh so important work to the world. Thank you Brad, Dan, Kelsey, Alison, Angie, and Karen our stage manager, for joining me.
Not bad for a show with only four chairs and a keyboard.