Hey there -well it has just been nutty-town over here, which is why you haven't heard from me. We had quite the bumpy ride to get to opening night of the Christmas Show... but the good news is I think it's one of the best we've ever had. But getting ready for opening night was a nail biter. I'm typing this right now about 20 minutes before showtime and I have to administer my first of three finals over at IPFW tomorrow at 8am. 8am. Meryl Streep can't act at 8am.
And of course, to add a hefty dose of manly testosterone and even-keeled zen-like chi into the mix... we had good old Nick Rainey returning as our stage manager. Nick has done so many of our Christmas shows he should be called "the Red Nosed Rainey".
We were also trying a kind of a new experiment this year. In order to hire the person who could create us the best arrangements possible, we needed to hire a musical director, who this time around wasn't going to be able to actually come to Huntington. So Nate, from New York, did all the vocal parts and track arrangements from there. Judy Ward, who I fell in love with when we did The Music Man together, was able to come and help us out as a local musical director and teach all the parts etc. So it was a great big tag team effort. At one point we tried a grand experiment - having a 4 hour rehearsal on skype. We all expected it to be kind of a disaster. Would the sound quality be clear enough for nate to hear? Would the connection be consistent or would we lose him every two minutes. It was amazing. So amazing we did it three times over the course of the rehearsal period. For several hours we all just sat in front a computer screen, and like the 2012 version of Charlies Angels gathered around the speaker phone we got some incredible work done.
I was completely dumbstruck at how well it worked. It was the most amazing tool. Here's a little video i took so you can kind of see how things went. Funnily enough the girls in this footage are singing a song that got lost on the cutting room floor!
Crazy right? Like Margot Kidder fused with Vanessa Redgrave crazy. Everything was full speed ahead. We even managed, by some crazy miracle, to find one dress (or rather one style of dress) that fit all three girls beautifully. It was like a bridesmaid miracle! They all looked fantastic in it - we sent shopping for them on like our 2nd day of rehearsal and found them within about 20 minutes in the first store we tried. (JC Penney the mecca of cocktail dresses... seriously ladies... who knew?). And, on our way back to the car, Elizabeth says "I just can't believe how smoothly everything is going...normally by this point we have some kind of a crisis". And Rich and I stopped dead in our tracks. Because we knew. We knew it was THE CURSE. See, I had said a similar thing a few years back the first week of rehearsals. Rich said "you jinxed it" and soon after the entire universe came crashing down on our heads. So, as soon as it crossed Elizabeth's lips Rich and literally groaned. And then - yup - it got rough.
Really it had started before that - but we had all anticipated the problem would just disappear, rather than get worse. Poor Jessie, the minute she stepped off the plane, was sick. She thought it was just a cold - or a reaction to the plane trip - and she'd be fine the next day. But she wasn't. And by day three she could hardly talk. By day four she was on complete vocal rest (unless she absolutely had to sing). Her determination was pretty incredible - we went through eight hour rehearsals with not saying a word but snapping and waving and pantomiming like the missing Marx sister. It didn't get better. She went to the doctor and as the days passed it still didn't get better. The real problem was - it was almost impossible to rehearse the music. Unlike most jobs that actors get - this show doesn't already exist. The first time anyone has ever heard the arrangements out loud is when they sing them. It's not like the sound of music - where everybody knows the harmonies work and the songs don't need to change. Our shows are an evolving beast which can only be evaluated and adjusted when we hear it in the voices of the performers. Plus - when you are trying to learn harmony it's really, really, really hard for people to learn the other parts if they can't hear the other parts being sung (to learn how they fit in the chord). And, on top of that, normally the actors go home and have to do hours of homework to get all the music into their muscle memory - but Jessie couldn't. And it was so hard because when she auditioned she was FANTASTIC. I mean she acts a song like gangbusters and has this beautiful disney princess voice with so much warmth and character. And it was driving her insane to not be at the top of her game.
Finally, 7 days in, her doctor told her she had to give herself time to heal. And we all knew we were at a tipping point. We had no idea if her voice would return by opening night... and if it did, what the musical arrangements would even sound like. And we didn't know if her voice would hold out past the first couple performances with a schedule so demanding - and then, with no understudies, we'd be totally up a creek without an paddle. Or an alto. So we talked to Jessie, and we all decided that the best thing for her to do would be go home and heal. And it was awful. We've had to replace people before, or lose a performer because they weren't suited for the intensity of this job... but we've never had someone we liked so much as a person AND as a talent just not be able to do what they wanted to do.
We knew we had to let Jessie look after herself. We knew we HAD to do a show somehow. And we knew we opened in seven days. We called Nate, talked about our options and began to send out an SOS to some ladies who we hoped might be around. Katie was booked. Colleen was booked. Stephanie was booked... anyone that we knew could step in and handle this kind of pressure that had THAT voice type (since all the parts had been arranged) was booked. It was Christmas - it's like the only time of the year actors can all get work.. or church jobs that pay really great money. That's why we cast the Christmas show in September. I talked to Rich and we went to plan B. I called Will, who we had just gone to see in Indianapolis in a show the week before. I called him and left a message that just said "call me now. now. now." He told me that when he got the message, knowing we were mid-way into rehearsal, that I was probably calling to ask if he knew where the power cord to the keyboard was or something. I asked him what he was doing. he said "I'm having lunch with a friend and then I'm driving home for two weeks to Dayton to spend the holidays with my family". I told him our situation. He said "I can be there in three hours".
Will Hutcheson is a God. Seriously. He had finished his show in Indy the night before, had all of his belongings packed into his car, and had been planning to leave town in an hour. He called his Mom, told her to buy a slightly smaller turkey cuz he wouldn't be there for Thanksgiving, and detoured to Huntington. Will is also one of the fastest learners I know, and certainly one of the hardest workers I've ever met. We love him. He loves to work. And I knew we would somehow...somehow...manage to get through it. He said to me "send me all the music files and I'll listen to the songs on my 2 hour drive to Huntington".
So one problem was solved. We now had a warm (very talented, very willing) body. But the music was a whole other issue. The show was arranged for three female voices. Men sing in a different range COMPLETELY that women (unless you're a castrati...but i figured that might a little much of a sacrifice, even for Will). I called Nate in New York, told him to sit down, and told him where we were. He was amazing. At this point he was just starting to create all the orchestrations - for 24 songs. And he just stopped everything. He redid all of the arrangments. Almost every single one (becuase the solos almost always have backup) top to bottom. He didn't sleep - he still had to go to his other day job. It was insane. Luckily I had lots of footage of Will from the summer so I sent Nate lots of references of his voice. It was madness.
But it wasn't just hard for him. The girls, Elizabeth and Nicole, had to try and clear their databanks of 7 days of harmony parts that they had been memorizing and pounding into their brains. We had sent them the music arrangements 3 weeks before they arrived. They not only had to start learning all over again...but they had to do it trying not to get muddled with the other harmonies to the SAME songs. And harmony stays in your mind... I mean I can still sing the bass line to "you'll never walk alone" from when I was in the chorus of Carousel at age 15. It gets in your brain and sticks.
Will arrived at 8pm. We went to dinner and then until midnight he and I went through every single song Jessie had been assigned. Yes, that's the other thing...not just the group material... what about the solos. They had all been chosen for a girl, and all been arranged. Over skype, he and I and Nate skimmed through everything trying to determine if the songs would work or not. We booted two that didn't. I gave him the song I was going to sing - because I knew he would do it better than me, anyway. And we pulled out a song that I had jettisoned when we went with a 3 girl cast. And Will began the craziest week of his life.
Of course there was one bright spark. There was still one Indiana cookie left for Will. Ann Siegfried, who because she is a goddess, always bakes the cast something yummy for the first day of rehearsal had made them Indiana cookies (with Huntington, OF COURSE) marked on the map...