Monday, March 22, 2010
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: Week One
Goodspeed Opera House is a renowned Tony Award winning theatre, and the place where some really great American musicals, like "Annie", had their genesis. It is also dedicated to preserving and rediscovering the rich heritage of musical theatre. So of course, I have long wanted to work here. What I hadn't realized was how charmingly tiny and jewel-like the theatre is. With an extremely small stage, no fly rigging, and a house of around 350 seats, it must take enormous ingenuity and creativity to present the lush, beautifully mounted productions the company is famous for. In addition to the modest size of the theatre, it is also located in a quaint but rather removed part of central Connecticut. The nearest shopping is a half hour's drive away and with the exception of a handful of restaurants, a liquor store, a post office and a public library, Goodspeed is the only reason to visit little East Haddam.
I joined a handful of performers on the vans that the company provided to shuttle us, on a windy, rainy day from midtown Manhattan to East Haddam. We were all taken to our accommodations, mostly in charming, well worn old houses within walking distance of the opera house. In the evening the theatre's volunteer guild treated all of us to a welcome dinner, served buffet style in a room below stairs at the venue. It was a lively gathering, sort of like a boisterous first night at summer camp, and we were able to mingle and introduce ourselves. On Tuesday, the weather cleared, the sun came out, and we got a first touch of Spring for our first rehearsal day. The cast, crew, and staff of the theatre gathered in the rehearsal hall and we did our first day introductions, received information from company management, and met our director, Rob Ruggiero, who gave us a brief overview of the concept of his production and a viewing of the set and costume designs. Rob approaches plays and musicals with the same commitment to authenticity, truth, and a desire to tell the story in a human way that audiences can relate to. To that end, "Annie Get Your Gun" will feature sets inspired by the weathered big top tents and colorful antique posters of the original Buffalo Bill's Wild West. The costumes promise to be rich and sumptuous, providing a textured and dazzling glimpse of the 1880's. It's always exciting to come together on that first day and get a look at the creative journey that lies ahead.
My first rehearsal week was fairly light. Our talented choreographer, Noah Racey, used his time to tackle the more intricate and demanding dance numbers with our amazing ensemble of dancers, and there were calls for learning music, table sessions to discuss character and story with our director, and a really exciting first read/sing through with the full cast toward the end of the week, attended by designers, Goodspeed producers, and invited guests. Our generous sponsors treated the entire company to a sumptuous meal at the elegant Gelston House, adjacent to the theatre, and we all felt very special indeed. The energy here is very positive, enthusiastic and nurturing.
My character, Charlie Davenport, seems to be modeled after the real life general manager and owner of Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Nate Salsbury.
I did some on line research this week during my free time and discovered that he was quite a guy: an actor, singer, director, writer, and producer of vaudeville and large scale extravaganzas. He was a Civil War vet who survived the brutal Confederate prison camp of Andersonville, he singlehandedly turned Buffalo Bill's operation into a money making venture, and his accomplishments as an impresario inspired none other than the great showman Flo Ziegfeld. In "Annie Get Your Gun" Charlie represents the show biz side of things and as such, he is more slick and citified than the Western characters in the story; always wheeling and dealing, and full of one liners and funny punchlines. I worked with our dialect expert this week on creating an authentic Brooklyn accent for Charlie, thus providing further contrast. I also had a preliminary costume fitting which helped to shape even more of Mr. Davenport's snappy image. Sharp suits, elaborate vests, bowler hats, and watch chains will give him that city slicker vibe, as well as a pair of 19th century wire rimmed spectacles. I am growing a mustache for the role and hopefully, by our first performance, it will have grown enough for me to wax it up and give it that barbershop quartet style! Character work has always been one of the great joys of acting for me, so this guy will be fun to inhabit for the next few months.
Spring has finally arrived and the weather here in the charming Connecticut River Valley has been spectacular, giving everyone an infusion of hopefulness and good cheer to start our musical adventure with. The crocuses and jonquils are starting to bloom and the air is fresh and warm. I will be blogging weekly as we roll along here, and hope to include rehearsal photos, profiles of our talented cast and creative team, and a little bit of travelogue-ing about this charming part of Connecticut. Meantime, please become a follower of my blog here on blogspot.com, and if you are on Facebook, I encourage you to join my fan page as well as the Goodspeed Musicals fan page for all kinds of fun updates on "Annie Get Your Gun." Happy Spring!