"High Society" or "High Anxiety"?

The 2004 Season of The Production Company has commenced with the lacklustre stage version of "High Society". The all-star 1956 movie with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, Louis Armstrong and those great Cole Porter songs, has to date not been the greatest success as a stage musical. (See "High Society" review in Sachwald's World.)

Once again the weakness of The Production Company's method of presentation is apparent in this short season of five performances. Here was an opportunity to take a mediocre stage production and turn it into a musical theatre entertainment for both the performers and the audience. Unfortunately what we ended up with was a musical theatre diorama, a small scenic representation using three-dimensional figures, seen from a distance in an illuminated setting.

This on-going and poorly conceived tradition of presenting full musical theatre productions with two weeks of intensive rehearsals and no scripts in hands at performances detracts from what could be a thrilling event for both performers and audience. While all of the performers who have ever participated in a Production Company musical to date are to be applauded for their skill and talent in rising to these performance demands, they and the audience have missed out on the opportunity of just enjoying the experience because of these demands. The stress of memorising the complete dialogue in addition to preparing the songs, blocking scenes and learning choreography in just two weeks is no way to put on a show. The actors appreciate the work, but they do not enjoy the experience.

With such limited rehearsal time the key to success is Keep It Simple.

 

Imagine the audience sharing the joy of an actor's smile on stage because they are truly enjoying the evening, not just acting a part. Spend less on costumes and scenery and give more rehearsal time to the cast with the orchestra. Ask any seasoned professional and they will tell you it is a nerve-racking experience to rehearse a complete full-length "Broadway" musical in two weeks. (It doesn't happen that way on Broadway.) We're not talking about an actor who has to do a crash course as an understudy for the opening night of major show with the expectation of a long run or last minute revisions and re-writes of a new work. We're talking about seasoned performers who love the repertoire, love to perform, and want to share that love with the audience the best way possible.

There needs to be an enjoyment factor, in rehearsing and performing pre-existing material "in concert". Without it, what is the point of the exercise in creating the event? There is no justification for actors to have to work under such pressure. Even if the audience knows and understands the pressure the actors and production team are under, its empathy and understanding for the production schedule is not what theatre is about.

Musical theatre is a living, kinetic art form, not a museum piece to be observed from afar.

“See you at the theatre!”

Henry Sachwald

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