Critical Mass: Mike Schulz and Thom White Discuss Area Theatre in 2012 - Page 4 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 31 December 2012 06:00

Rochelle and Jon Schrader in Countryside Community Theatre's The King & IThere were a lot of big musicals – classic musicals – staged this year. Countryside Community Theatre alone had The King & I and Singin’ in the Rain. I mean, they don’t get much more iconic than that. How did those shows go over for you?

Good and ... iffy. The King & I was really impressive. Just flat-out really impressive in scale and in interpretation of character, particularly the king. Because too many people I’ve seen try to emulate ... um ... .

Yul Brynner.

Yul Brynner. [Laughs.] I was going to say Telly Savalas.

[Laughs.] Oh my God, I’m so glad you didn’t.

Yul Brynner. And the actor in Countryside’s production [Jonathan Schrader] didn’t try to be Yul Brynner at all. So the whole show had kind of a different tone, you know? He wasn’t so much “I am right” and “We’re doing things my way” – he was a little more befuddled, and a little more thoughtful, like he was just starting to really think about things. It was really wonderful to see the actor’s subtext, because he wasn’t Yul Brynner.

I’m glad about that, because that’s a show that, for me, can be so good if it’s done well and so deadening if it hasn’t been re-thought at all – if it’s the same old King & I that you’ve always seen.

I feel that way about anything I’ve seen before. I don’t want to see the same thing. I want to see what you do with it.

And Singin’ in the Rain is another show where you can feel “I’ve seen it before,” but if the production’s got some imagination behind it ... .

Countryside’s did and it didn’t. Christina Myatt, who directed the show, made some smart choices with the film scenes. They actually projected black-and-while films that were made by the actors, and the flow between the films and what was going on on-stage worked ... . It was seamless, the way it moved back and forth between the movie and the characters, and it wasn’t a distraction, which it could’ve been. I guess doing it that way was kind of an obvious choice, but it was one I hadn’t seen before. It was a creative obvious choice.

But what disappointed me about that production – and “disappointed” may be a strong word – was that Christina, who also choreographed the show, chose to use Gene Kelly’s film choreography. I’m sure she tweaked it here and there, but I thought, “She’s choreographed other shows, and she’s good – why wouldn’t she do original stuff?” So I was a little like, “I’ve seen this,” and I wanted to see more of her work.

Daniel Pepper in Countryside Community Theatre's Singin' in the RainThat must be hard to determine: When do you kind of need to give the audience the routine they expect? Like with The King & I, in the “Shall We Dance” number, I think you have to do that huge, romantic spin in the circle. But aside from the standing on the lamppost and the splashing in the puddles, how well-acquainted are most people with the specific moves in the “Singin’ in the Rain” number? Do you have to follow the original choreography that faithfully?

In “Make ’Em Laugh,” I would say you do have to stand on the couch and make it tip over. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] Fair enough. And I assume you’ve heard the news about Countryside’s show next summer? Les Misérables? What do you think of that choice?

I love Les Miz. I’ve seen that, I think, five times, and I think that’s a very special piece of theatre. And part of me wants to say there’s nothing that should be too sacred to do [locally]. But for me ... . I don’t know. That’s one of the first big musicals I ever saw, and it’s so good, and it would be so easy for it to not meet expectations. I don’t mean that as anything negative toward Countryside, or anyone else who would do Les Miz, but o-o-o-oh ... . Please don’t ruin it! [Laughs.] Please! And it has to be done on a really grand scale. I don’t think you can minimalize that show.

I don’t know if you can do that show anywhere around here but at Countryside or Music Guild. I mean, with Les Miz, I want to hear a big-ass chorus, damn it ... .

That’s true.

... and they can get a big-ass chorus.

They sure can. So yeah. I think Countryside can definitely pull it off.

Music Guild, as usual, had some biggies this year. Meet Me in St. Louis we discussed. Not your favorite material, as I recall. [Laughs,]

The production I liked. [Laughs.]

And they did Hello, Dolly! Do you have a fondness for that show, in general? Personally, I’ve never gotten the appeal. Except in WALLE.

[Laughs.] I like the songs, and while I can’t actually sit down and watch the entire film in one sitting, I like some scenes ... the ones with no Barbra Streisand. But it has some scenes that I think are funny. It’s fine. Thank God Barnaby and ... the other one [Cornelius] ... are in it. [Laughs.] Those guys were so entertaining [at Music Guild].

Bryan Tank and Tristan Layne Tapscott in Quad City Music Guild's Hello, Dolly!Bryan [Tank] and Tristan [Tapscott], right?

Yes. They were great. They really camped it up.

And Music Guild’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels you liked?

Yeah! Loved!

I’m glad you finally got to see that one, because that show cracks me up. I finally got to see, at Music Guild, [The 25th Annual] Putnam County Spelling Bee, which I had never seen before, and which you saw at the Clinton Showboat this year.

Yes!

Love that show. Loved the soundtrack before, but it’s so well-written. Really smart.

I think what’s fun about Spelling Bee is the soundtrack is more like typical sunny Broadway, and then the book is ... really not. [Laughs] It’s more satirical, a little darker ... . It’s atypical Broadway.

Right. It’s snarky and a little snide ... . It’s that salty/sweet thing again.

Yeah. A nice blend.

I know you liked that production at the Showboat, and since I reviewed Into the Woods and Bye Bye Birdie and enjoyed them both a lot – Little Shop of Horrors was the only other thing you saw in Clinton this summer.

I love that show. I mean, I wouldn’t list it with Les Miz or anything, but I think the show is just so much fun, and the music is so much fun ... . If Spring Awakening is my sad soundtrack, Little Shop is my happy soundtrack. And I liked the Showboat’s idea of a female Audrey II, and I could see what the director was trying for, but I just ... . I thought the production was off. I remember the street urchins ... . Is that what they’re called?

I think so, yeah.

The street urchins [Monique Abry, Heather Botts, and Nyla Watson] were very good. They were very entertaining, they were great in harmony, they were flashy and showy and fun to watch. But I just thought Seymour was too much of a stereotype, and the puppetry was way off, and it just had no ... . There was a little shop, but there was no horror.

Henry McGinniss and Kyle Branzel in the Timber Lake Playhouse's FootlooseDid you miss not going to all the Showboat productions this summer?

I really did! Because I love watching the same actors in show after show after show every two weeks. You get a little microcosm of an actor’s talent watching them in multiple roles. I think that’s so fantastic.

That’s how I felt watching four shows in a row at the Timber Lake Playhouse, which had another crazy-good ensemble this summer. Guys & Dolls and Working were great, and even Footloose, which is a show I don’t care for, was made far more bearable than it should’ve been. It was a ton of fun.

I think that’s really saying something, when not-great material can be raised to a higher level – a much higher level – like that.

Exactly. And Circa '21 usually casts really great freaking people, so shows like Spreading It Around and Miracle on 34th Street are elevated, too. Although the bluegrass musical Southern Crossroads was one of those productions where I really liked both the talent and the material.

Oh, Southern Crossroads! I was very charmed by that one. I went in worried because I don’t ... . Well, I don’t dislike that [bluegrass] genre, but it’s not one of my favorites, and the music was all previously existing songs, so I didn’t know how I’d take that show. But, oh my God, that cast performed the hell out of it.

For sure.

I think the show itself is fine, it’s fun, but they really elevated it. I just loved that production. From beginning to end. I was never bored.

They’re bringing it back next year before it goes on tour. And I think it’s cool that they’re touring that, because it kind of feels like a touring-company show.

It does. And if there’s a Circa show to tour, that one makes sense. I think that would have appeal throughout the country.

Personally, I think the Bootleggers should tour their World Goes ’Round revue that they did this summer, because it was freaking fantastic. But then, you know, there’d be no one left to wait tables, so I guess that’s a non-starter. [Laughs.] Smokey Joe’s Café you liked?

Yeah!

Even though you’re not a big fan of jukebox musicals?

No, but that show really isn’t ... . It’s more of a concert than a musical.

Mariah Thornton and Don Denton in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Freckleface Strawberry: The MusicalAnd you’re kind of in love with Circa’s kids’ shows, I know.

I love them. Love them. They’re consistently great.

I like this literary bent they’re going with these days, doing children’s musicals based on popular children’s books.

It’s absolutely brilliant. I often take Madison with me to those shows, and she’s usually like, “Oh, I have that book,” or “Oh, I want to get that book.” She knows them all. And the current show, Freckleface Strawberry, is so adorable, and there are such good life lessons in it. I needed this when I was little. Why didn’t Julianne Moore write this three decades ago?

You wouldn’t be a grumpy theatre critic then!

That’s right! [Laughs.]

Speaking of kids’ theatre, I didn’t get to tell you that I saw Alice in Wonderland at St. Ambrose [University]. It ran only two performances, but it was so much fun that after seeing the show on Saturday, I saw it again on Sunday.

Oh, really?

Yeah! It just had some amazing visuals – Dan Rairdin-Hale, who directed it, did some really cool stuff with black lights and these huge, beautiful masks ... . It was really something. And I saw all of Davenport Junior Theatre's shows this year – Mia the Melodramatic, Robin Hood, and Beauty & the Beast – and had a ball at all of them. It’s pretty awesome that we generally get such a variety of quality kids’ entertainment in the area.

Absolutely.

In terms of college theatre, we talked about Augustana’s Bat Boy, and again, it would be awkward to talk about How I Learned to Drive, since I was in it ... .

That one was so great.

Luke Currie, Leslie Kane, Jaylen Marks, Macy Hernandez and Elyssa Lemay (top row), and Corbin Delgado and Bill Cahill (bottom row) in Augustana College's The ArsonistsThanks. I was proud of that show. Loved working with that gang. And Augie’s The Arsonists was interesting for you, as I recall?

Yeah. That one had really good lighting effects – the fires and stuff. They do really well with multimedia on that stage. I wish more local theatres used multimedia, because it’s an easy way – well, an “easy” way – for a show to look sharper.

You saw Scott Community College’s The Actor’s Nightmare, which is one of my favorite one-act comedies. I love Christopher Durang’s plays, and that one is so fast, and funny, and kind of profound in its way ... .

It is. I wish that I knew the source material better – the plays it was referencing – because I might have experienced it differently. I still enjoyed it so much, but I think it would’ve enjoyed it even more if I knew the source material.

And Scott’s Don’t Talk to the Actors we saw together, as I recall. The Tom Dudzick comedy.

That’s right. We did.

I really like his work. I wish more groups would do more of his stuff. Richmond Hill, a few years ago, did that Pazinski-family trilogy of his that was just wonderful, and he seems to have a really strong stage voice.

And it feels sincere. It feels real.

Dudzick does heightened stage dialogue, but it’s still ... . You can get away with all those kinds of sit-com-y lines because they sound human. His dialogue sounds the way people talk.

Yes.

Have you liked the student actors at Scott these days?

I have. This will have been the third year that I’ve seen stuff there, and ... . I don’t know how to say it without it maybe being offensive, but this was the first year I found myself thinking, “Wow, some of these kids have a real future in theatre.” You know, maybe not Broadway or whatnot, but they have talent and they should keep going with this.

Kameron Cain, Sarah Butcher, and Isaac Scott in Scott Community College's Don't Talk to the ActorsFantastic!

So if these students are local, I hope to see them in local theatres in the future. Because they’re quite good.

And speaking of students, we mentioned Spring Awakening earlier, which we saw at the Center for Living. That was like the first really “grown-up fare” thing they’ve tried over there, and I thought it was incredibly sincere and touching.

Yes, I thought the strength of the show was that the actors were so earnest about it. You know, it wasn’t perfect, and I think that – while some of them might be upset by my saying this – not all of them maybe had the life experience, I think, to fully understand the scope of their characters and what they were going through. But they were so earnest about it, and you could tell they were passionate about wanting to do it, and they just sold it. I thought that show was fantastic. I would’ve gone back again.

I would’ve, too. I saw it on its closing weekend and absolutely would’ve gone again. I thought the two lead guys [Garrin Jost and Aaron Lord], in particular, were just stellar. Great talent, great presence ... .

Yes. And as much as I love that soundtrack, because I hadn’t seen it before, I didn’t know some of the songs in context. Like the song before that kid kills himself – I didn’t know that was what he was going to do! So even though I know that soundtrack word-for-word, there were surprises in it. That was nice.