I found the entire process of pre-production, casting, rehearsing and performing THE MUSIC MAN to be incredibly rewarding, satisfying and just plain fun. I entered the process somewhat dubiously. I was to be working with a set designer that I had never worked with before (and one who was relatively inexperienced), I had a “minor” heart attack two weeks before auditions, we were going to be delayed in getting on stage to rehearse and to build the set due to the installation of a new rigging system, and suddenly the task of mounting the show seemed huge and daunting. I started worrying (even thought I assured my doctor that I could easily manage my stress level) that we wouldn’t have enough people audition and certainly no one to play the leads. The choreographer, Lisa Blanton, costumer, Jamey Varnadore and music director, Ryan Deal, all worked hard to keep me calm and assured me that we would be able to put together a talented cast.
Well, it turns out they were correct. We had 109 people audition for the show and were able to assemble an outstanding cast (see previous blogs). Not only were the people we cast talented, they turned out to be wonderful, disciplined, dedicated and hard-working. And man, could they sing! And dance (and those that weren’t dancers could move well and worked hard enough so that we didn’t have to eliminate dance sequences from the production numbers)! This tremendous group of folks made my 75th production as director an exhilarating experience.
Rebecca Primm, the previously mentioned set designer, was also terrific to work with—after some minor communication “burps.” She fully bought into my deconstruction concept and designed a wonderful sparse set that nicely outlined the necessary parts of River City, Iowa called for in the script. We decided that we would focus on the people of the town that Meredith Willson patterned after real people from his life in Iowa. With 41 people in the cast and very little backstage space, we didn’t have room for a lot of scenery anyway. I found it amusing that one local reviewer has several times referred to the “budget strapped” set! Ha! Not even the case. It was a conceptual choice and one that is utilized even on Broadway these days. And it is a concept that truly worked for this production in many ways, including fast and efficient scene changes. This put a lot of pressure on the costumer, as the pop of color had to come from the costumes. But, Jamey Varnadore rose to the occasion, providing brilliant, colorful 1912 costumes—for the cast of 41, many of whom had multiple costume changes!
Some thoughts about Lisa Blanton and Ryan Deal. This was the 4th show that Lisa and I have collaborated on. We are now like an old married couple who can finish each other’s sentences. We have no turf issues—if she sees something in the staging or acting, she is comfortable in commenting and likewise, I comment about the dancing! As for Ryan Deal, he is the best music director/vocal coach in this area. He can work magic with the vocal dynamics of an ensemble. They are both fabulous talents and nice people.
The performances were quite consistent in quality, particularly with the addition of audience feedback to the equation. The timing and precision of line-delivery, the energy and vitality of the performers and commitment to the material were solid for every single performance. We did have one interesting performance on the Friday of the closing weekend. The dimmer pack fueling the lighting for the show became temperamental and the lights began to go off and on and off and on with the blackouts happening faster and faster and the blackouts lasting longer. Stagehands had an electric fan blowing on it, cast members flapped their skirts at it and I waved a production photo at it—all in vain attempts to cool it down. Finally, I stopped the show, explained the situation to the audience, asked their indulgence and we continued the show with the work lights. And that night, at the conclusion of the curtain call (and following a standing ovation), Bobby Mauney (Harold Hill) had the audience sit down for an “important announcement.” The boyfriend of Kristin Graf (Ethel Toffelmeier) came onstage, took her out of the ensemble, got down on bended knee and asked her to marry him. She said yes and the audience again stood and cheered. The magic of the theatre experience!
I loved the whole damn process! (Plus, ticket revenue put the show in the top 4 highest grossing Theatre Charlotte shows—bonus!!!!)
Director, The Music Man