Friday, 21 September 2018

Relaxed

I caught opening night of Mamma Mia! last night. I won't repeat what I say every time about the power of musical theatre when it's designed, built, staged and performed by pros. One of them, Stephanie Roth (who plays one of Donna's old pals) listened politely while I babbled on, repeating myself. (I had a serious crush on her Mary Poppins three years ago at Globe.) Ms Roth pointed out that in the course of its run, a show like Mamma Mia! relaxes into itself. I think she meant that once the show has reached its final form, it settles into a mature richness free of anxieties, uncertainties, doubts. Ever so subtle, this relaxing. A slight sag here, lift there. A second sooner or later with the next cue. That these performers do this without letting the show sag into lethargy--well, that's why and how they're pros. 

(I've heard actors talk about getting a show into their bones. Same thing. You don't have to learn it, you don't have to figure out where you're going. You know all that. Now you can let it sing.)

I've almost got my Oak Floors! to the point where it can relax into itself. This has been going on since I finished the first draft, which is why it felt important to get there. The piece is far from where it would be after a three-week rehearsal period with 20 actors, a 5-piece band, a director (and assistant), a choreographer, a stage manager (and two assistants), three designers (set, costume, lights), two operators (sound and lights), several dressers, not to mention the carpenters, painters, technicians, front-of-house and box office staff, and the admin apparatus of the theatre company. But I've got the walls up, at least, before the snow flies, and I can work on the interior details.
One correction from last entry: credit for the book of Mamma Mia! should go to Catherine Johnson, not Judy Craymer (who gets an "originally conceived by" credit.)

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Re Mamma Mia!

The other night I viewed a rehearsal run of Mamma Mia!opening this week at Globe Theatre in Regina. As directed by Stephanie Graham, the show offers more than a staging of ABBA ear-worm material. (But there be worms, nevertheless.) That is, the songs are presented as revelations of character, in keeping with most musical theatre practice these last few decades. 
As songs that are acted as well as sung, they tend to be slightly slower in tempo than we might remember, more thoughtful in delivery. The ABBA sing-along fans I observed in the audience might be disappointed by this approach, feeling that their unbridled enthusiasm for the music has been, well, bridled. 
It might be a concession to such a view that prompted the play's creator, Judy Craymer and company, to give us two ABBA hits, "Dancing Queen" and "Waterloo" (over to you, dear reader, with the ear-worm), after the story of the play has concluded. No holding back of tempo or tone here. ABBA fans can leap to their feet and turn them loose.
I took a notebook to the run, ready to jot down anything I thought I learned. In this case, I'm reminded of yet another Sondheim nugget--that the best songs are those that give the singer something to act. Pros that they are, these Globe actors  can make the songs envelope us, even sweep us away. 
Now I turn back to Oak Floors! with an eye to what its songs must do.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Oak Floors! Where are you now?

First draft finished at the Johnson House in Cypress Hills, I left the piece for 12 days and performed it for my sisters at Mabel Lake.

Wait a minute. By performed, I mean I tried to sing as much as I could in a voice as good as I could summon, forgetting the tune now and then (and without prop, set piece, lights, costumes, choreo, a band, and 500 bodies).

The result was not electric, but the audience was full of sisters (3). They were rapt and, I'll hazard a guess, enchanted for a moment or two.

I'll tell you, if I ever want to try that act again, I've got work to do.

Then I left the piece for a week but, now home, I have returned to it now. To flesh out the music and work on the long process of getting the whole thing out there. Watch this space for details!