Triple threat theater
A Broadway Revue
I think we can all agree that it’s great that Broadway “Comes to Reno” every year. But how many times can you stand to watch Annie, really? Or Oklahoma or Phantom of the Opera, for God’s sake? With the appearance ad nauseam of such staples, one might start to believe that all musical theater comes from Rodgers and Hammerstein or Andrew Lloyd Webber.
But as TMCC’s Musical Theatre Touring Company has continually demonstrated in its year and a half of existence, to our great relief, those plays barely scratch the surface of what musical theater is all about. For their upcoming show, called simply A Broadway Revue, MTT has rounded up a couple of dozen pieces from shows most locals have probably never seen, and some that many might not have even heard of: Assassins, Altar Boyz, Avenue Q, Sweeney Todd, Spring Awakening, Carousel, Urinetown, Sweet Charity, A New Brain, The Wiz and short theatrical pieces by the Neo-Futurists playwright collective.
“Nothing against the ‘golden age of theater,’ but you can see those old shows anywhere,” says Paul Aberasturi, Chair of TMCC’s Visual and Performing Arts department. “There’s a whole new generation of stuff coming out, and that’s what’s driving theater forward. We wanted to push our students to learn these things for when they’re out there auditioning, and we want to push the audience to try something new.”
The performers are being pushed in a lot of ways, actually, according to company manager John Frederick, who, as one of Revue’s 17 cast members, explains that MTT forces students to become a “triple threat.”
“These students will be able to walk into any audition because they’ll have acting, singing and dancing experience, and that’s really what it takes these days,” says Frederick.
As choreographer Catherine Eardley points out, it takes tremendous skill and endurance to boast this wealth of experience. “To really belt out a song, and play a character, and dance takes a lot out of you. It’s incredibly difficult; so I tell my students that they’re athletes, and they have to keep their tools in great shape, because it takes a lot of endurance.”
Plus, they have to shift with lightning speed. In one minute, the men play to the crowd as the fictitious Christian boy band “Altar Boyz,” shaking their hips and making the girls swoon, and, in the next minute, the tone is somber as these same men join the rest of the cast in an eerie tune from Sweeney Todd. They shift on a dime, without the aid of set or costume changes for mood, meaning that they must utterly be their characters.
“As a touring company, we have to be portable,” says Frederick. “That’s why we don’t rely on sets or costumes. It makes for quicker transitions from scene to scene, and it’s really helping the actors to become better, because they have to. We have to razzle-dazzle them ourselves.”
So far their plan is working. The Redfield Performing Arts Center, where the majority of their shows take place, is a great, intimate setting, but the overwhelming crowds they typically attract can’t all fit in. Frederick says that for Hair, the troupe’s last production, 60 to 80 folks each night got turned away at the door.
“When people leave our shows, they say how surprised they are that it felt so professional,” says Frederick. “We’re not just your typical student theater.”