Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Buzz in the air - by Mo Brady

I had been looking forward to June 9, 2009 for a long time. Well, about five months actually. I got the call to join the cast of the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can in early January, and the subsequent months have been filled with anticipation, pride, and preparation for our first rehearsal. So, to say the least, it has been thrilling to finally be in the rehearsal room and start working on this show.

I would say the biggest surprise about the rehearsals so far has been how comfortable they have been. In many ways, we're just putting up another show. This production feels similar to the other four 5th Avenue shows I've been a part of this year. Last season, DAT5 has become a second home, so I feel very comfortable and capable within its walls. I walk the halls of the theatre with a familiarity and an ease that allows me not to be flustered by the amount of star power we have in our rehearsals.

It's not just the space that feels comfortable, but also the people. I look around rehearsals and see many familiar faces: two of my Pontipee brothers, Karl Warden, Kyle Vaughn, along with Shanna Palmer from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, one of my oldest friends, Jason Kappus, who I first shared The5th Avenue stage with in West Side Story, stage managers Amy Gornet and Bret Torbeck, who I had the pleasure to work with on both Sunday in the Park with George and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers last season. Even our rehearsal accompanist, Dwight Beckmeyer, is a familiar face from many previous productions (it seems that the theatre can't get rid of either of us!)

We spent the first week of rehearsal doing what we do at the beginning of every rehearsal process: learning the material. The week was filled with constant music rehearsals and choreography sessions. The learning curve is steep but nothing out of the ordinary, although Marc Shaiman's ensemble voicings are surprisingly difficult to pick up (I'm not used to being so challenged by note memorization, but his jazz-infused score is full of surprises.)

The choreography sessions consist of learning patterns: small snippets of moves that Jerry Mitchell then tries on different people in different positions in different spaces on the stage. The challenge of those rehearsals has not only been remembering the steps, but which version of the steps we last tried.

And while a lot of what we've done feels normal, there is a buzz in the air. It's an excitement that permeates each day of rehearsal, one that I've never felt in a rehearsal process before. We are putting this show on its feet for the very first time. And while I will be careful not to jinx our show, there is so much talent in rehearsals that I can't imagine how we could go wrong.

Everybody, from writers Marc Shaiman (music & lyrics), Scott Wittman (lyrics), and Terrence McNally (book), to director Jack O'Brien, choreographer Jerry Mitchell and musical director John McDaniel, down to our ensemble, is highly capable, highly inventive, and highly passionate about this story. And yet, at this point, there are more questions than answers about the show. This week, a lot time was spent this first week discussing the tone of the show: while the creative team seems pretty clear about the story they want to tell, they are still creating the way in which that story will be told.

It is the exploration of how to tell this story that has been the most exciting part of our rehearsals thus far. During our final rehearsal of the week, the entire company sat around in chairs, reading through the script and singing the songs. When actors had lines or songs, they would go into the middle of the circle and act their material from there. And at the end of each scene, Jack would give a few pieces of direction, or comment on the tone of a song or a line. It honestly felt like we were creating the show right then and there. For my part, his thoughts about the ensemble and our motivation to tell Frank Jr.'s story were elegant and powerful. Suddenly, I was seeing the material we had spent all week on in a new light, which made each song more poignant and vital.

It was a fantastic end to a thrilling week. And I'm looking forward to June 16, June 17, June 18.... and beyond.

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