|Ogunquit Playhouse, 'back in the day'|
The 'show a week' paradigm of summer stock is still thriving in big professional summer theaters around the U.S., the most prominent being the MUNY in St. Louis, the Sacramento Music Circus, and the place I am fortunate to be in right now: Music Theatre of Wichita. All of these theaters offer apprenticeship and internship programs for young artists, continuing the legacy of summer theatre as a vital training opportunity and a bridge into the business. MTW operates under the URTA (University Resident Theatre Association) contract, and assembles, each season, a core company of talented college performers and recent grads, who get to do five shows in ten weeks with top notch directors, choreographers, and visiting actors like myself. These young triple threats are the cream of their colleges and conservatories and the talent is just--WOW.
|MTW's lavish, in house designed and mounted "Beauty and the Beast"|
But the days of slapping up some flats and reworking some old stock costumes are a thing of the past, and the old barns that used to house summer theaters have given way to state of the art facilities, like the Century II Center here in Wichita. Here at MTW, shows are presented in a 2,100 seat concert hall, with lavish sets and costumes (some from Broadway and tour productions, some made right here on the premises) and with an orchestra of upwards of 18 pieces! Broadway productions don't have orchestras of this size anymore, so to be able to present a big musical with that kind of lavish orchestration is an incredible opportunity. This ain't your grandpa's summer stock!
What remains the same as of old, however, is the breakneck speed of the summer stock schedule. From first rehearsal to opening night of "Nice Work If You Can Get It" we have a whopping eight days of rehearsal and tech. Nothing tests your mettle quite as profoundly as having to learn an entire role in a complex musical in a week, and then deliver just seven performances before moving on to the next show. Larry Raben, our director, and Peggy Hickey, our choreographer, are doing a superb job of recreating our production from the Gateway and Ogunquit Playhouse of last summer, for which we had three weeks to rehearse and two multi-week runs to refine. Seems like utter luxury as we power through this process!
|The ladies of MTW's "Nice Work"|
I'm lucky on this first show because I am recreating my role from last year, so I am ahead of the curve! I am in awe of our talented principals and energetic young ensemble who are just nailing this busy Gershwin musical with total finesse. I will get a taste of the real MTW experience when I follow up this production one week later as Cogsworth in "Beauty and the Beast," a show I have never done in a spectacular physical production. Studying one part while rehearsing at hyper speed on the other is every bit the challenge you think it is! But as we keep saying, with a smile and a shrug, "THAT'S SUMMER STOCK!"
If you are in the Wichita area between June 8 and July 3, come see me in one of these glittering shows. Visit the theatre's website for more information.