Sunday, April 18, 2010
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: Week Five
Me in Charlie garb with leading lady Jenn Gambatese
"Yesterday they told you you would not go far...
That night you open and there you are..."
We are officially up and running! This past Friday was our first public performance, technically the start of previews (our official press opening is May 12), and if the audience response thus far is any indication of what we can expect going forward, we will have one heck of a fun run. What a blessing to finally have that infusion of energy that comes with the connection to a live audience! This past week of technical rehearsals was brutal and tedious. I don't mind writing that, since the results were well worth the hours of tedium! Our director, Rob, is meticulous and exacting and his attention to detail is extraordinary, and at times, utterly maddening. Nothing escapes his eye, and everything matters. This is probably why we felt so able to grab the show and run with it when that first performance came. Rob's unflinching perfectionism created a strong and solid foundation for us. Thanks also have to be given to our stage manager, Brad, his assistants Alicia and Derek, and the entire crew. Goodspeed Opera House is a charming venue but it has more than its share of challenges and idiosyncrasies. The primary issue is the plentiful lack of back stage space. There are virtually no wings in this theatre--one walks off stage and has to duck behind a narrow curtain or plaster oneself up against a wall to avoid being seen. Consequently, in a big musical where multiple people, props and set pieces are being hustled on and off the stage, an elaborate system of traffic management has to be devised. The stage managers and crew, by now so expert at this game, have mastered these challenges admirably--I doubt anyone out front (except perhaps those on the very far sides of the house) have any clue how truly shallow it is back stage, or that the movement of bodies back there is more intricately choreographed than any of the show's dance numbers!
The limitations of the theatre also pose challenges to the designers, inspiring ingenious and brilliant solutions. Our set designer has used forced perspective and other artistic applications to create an illusion of depth and space, and employed old fashioned roll drops (rather like enormous window shades) that seem to "fly" in and out; our lighting designer has broken up the space with layers of light and color; and our costume designer has capitalized on the rich fabrics and flowing skirts of the 1880's to transform a small ensemble into a teeming crowd. Our orchestrator, together with our brilliant musical director, have given the sound of a full orchestra to our talented band of eight. Now I know why Goodspeed's productions have always been so acclaimed and respected. It takes extraordinary talent and creativity to present such detailed and spectacular shows on this stage. But don't get me wrong--the Opera House is a wonderful place to perform. Acoustically it is very bright and resonant, and there is something really terrific about performing a show set in the same period in which the theatre was built. It's like stepping back in time. Magical. Musical theatre, like jazz, is a true American art form, and to see a classic like "Annie Get Your Gun" performed in a theatre steeped in history and Americana, in a charming old New England town, must be a unique and thrilling experience for our audiences.
Knowing the pressures being brought to bear upon the company this past week, Goodspeed's staff took very good care of us all, providing meals to the hardworking crew, and making sure that all of us had what we needed. We were feted right royally at a party to celebrate our first performance at the Gelston House next door to the theatre. I am sure I speak for most of my fellow artists when I say that I feel very much appreciated here and it really makes it easier to do the work. I must say that my admiration for our star, Jenn Gambatese, is limitless. This is Jenn's first role since having her gorgeous baby, Josephine, and she could not have chosen a more demanding part to tackle for her comeback! Annie sings at least ninety percent of the music in this show and is rarely off stage. Jenn is not only handling the demands of a challenging part while struggling with seasonal allergies (we are all coping with the onslaught of Spring!) and the full time job of being a new mom, but she is doing it all with grace, sweetness and true humility. She is an inspiration, on stage and off, and I am so happy to be working alongside her. I really love our company of artists, and have a special soft spot for my counterpart in the show, the talented Rebecca Watson, who plays opposite me as Dolly Tate. Becky has worked at Goodspeed twice before and is an accomplished actress, singer and superb comedienne. We have become fast friends and greatly enjoy the caustic relationship between our two scrappy characters, and the audience shares our delight when Charlie and Dolly discover a buried passion for each other at the end of the story!
And so, we can now settle into our run here in East Haddam, and enjoy the deepening and finessing of the show as we perform it eight or nine times a week for the next couple months. Now that we are up, I can also explore the area, see some sights, and enjoy the summer to come. I have heard from many of you, and am delighted that you are enjoying my blog. It's a pleasure to share it with you--stay tuned!