Guest blog by Hans Boeschen
Director of The Buddy Holly Story
In 2011, three years after moving to Columbia from Nebraska, I walked into my first ever community theatre audition. I had been involved in school productions since the second grade, was just shy of a minor in theatre, and had, at that time, been teaching high school theatre for three years. I had never tread the boards in a community production, however. That first audition, almost eight years ago, would change my life.
That was when I met Lou.
Since that time, either Lou or I have been involved with 25 productions ~ on the stage or on the production team. (I am well aware of Lou’s extensive involvement in Columbia community theatre long before we met. I will forever be trying to catch up.) In seven of these 25 shows, we were lucky enough to be working together.
This production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is not only my first time directing for Town Theatre, but it is also the first time Lou and I have joined up as director/musical director. It has been such a joy to have Lou by my side throughout the process. Many times our dinner conversation has been about the show. To be able to ask her about a directing choice or work through a transition has been such a wonderful resource. She has been my biggest supporter, my rock, and my sounding board (pun intended). Not to mention, she is an amazing musical director.
I believe the true power of the theatre is in the connections it builds. Whether those connections be amongst the cast working together for months, the audience who see the raw emotions of each actor, or within the community at large as we examine what life is about through the stage, theatre unites us. I consider myself extremely lucky that the theatre brought Lou and me together and that I get to be a part of such a vibrant community theatre environment.
I am continually thankful for Town for providing a safe space for two math teachers to moonlight as thespians.
With the discovery of so many rich musical pieces, I now had the building blocks to fully construct my narrative. Coming up with character names was a cinch because I could use the names of the characters that originated the songs in the original productions, and then apply these names to my newly created dramatis personae. However, my next step was the most important of all: developing and adapting the characters storylines so that everything worked together in one show.
At the forefront of the “drama” section of my story are 2 female leading characters: Margo (the mature, worldly, yet insecure star) and Eve (a young ingenue Production Assistant that is seemingly sincere). Here were my two ladies that had been inspired by all of the works mentioned at the beginning of this writing. It seemed appropriate to choose the names from the most famous work, All About Eve. Finding two actresses to portray these complex women was actually the easiest part of casting, believe it or not. For Margo, I had to look no further than my own sister, Dell Goodrich (Stand By Your Man). For Eve, I spotted what I was looking for immediately in Mary Joy Williams (Nice Work if You Can Get It). Other characters I included are a playwriting couple, inspired by Karen and Lloyd Richards in All About Eve, Maggie and Bert in42nd Street, and Georgia and Aaron Fox in Curtains (whose names I chose to use). These roles were perfect fits for Megan Douthitt (Mary Poppins) and Corey Langley (The Addams Family). I now needed to select an actor to portray the director of the “show within a show” and love interest to Margo, Mack Sanders, inspired by Bill Sampson from All About Eve and of course Mack Sennett from Mack & Mabel. After a wide search, I finally found the ideal actor for the role: Bill LaLima (Les Mis), who’s warmth and humor shine throughout the story. One more major character needed to be cast: the acerbic, witty, and pantomath critic influenced by Daryl Grady from Curtains, Feldman from The Magic Show and Addison DeWitt from All About Eve, who’s name I knew I had to use. Bob Blencowe (Spamalot) agreed to join the cast.
With these theatrical stock characters in place, I knew I could easily develop my narrative. But, I needed additional characters, of course. To approach these personalities, I first looked at what songs needed soloists, and constructed from there. To sing the beautiful “Lion Tamer” from The Magic Show, I immediately thought of Town newcomer Robin Saviola. Her character, who is also inspired by Maggie from 42nd Street as well as Birdie from All About Eve would be named Cal, after the soloist from Magic Show. To sing the quintessential title song from Applause, the lovely and talented Allison Allgood (Sugar) came to mind. This character became a combination of the original soloist form Applause, Bonnie (who was portrayed by Bonnie Franklin. In like-fashion, all of the ensemble members of the original production went by their own names as a cheeky homage to their real-life gypsy status); and Gittel from Seesaw, who originated the hilarious “Nobody Does It Like Me.” To give credit to Applause, I named the character “Allison” after its actress and made her the bartender/owner of Backstage Bar. To be the soloist in the big dance number in the show: “It’s Not Where You Start” from Seesaw, Anthony Matrejek (Nice Work If You Can Get It) was a natural choice. His character, David, would be a combination of Duane from Applause and most importantly, David from Seesaw (a Tony Winning Role for Tommy Tune). To play the tap dancing bartender, Phoebe, Samantha Livoti, was selected. This character is partly inspired by a minor character from All About Eve, but will be featured much more prevalently in Backstage. A new addition to the utilized classic theatrical keynote is the character of the leading lady’s mother, Belle, whom is being portrayed by the great Kathy Hartzog (Driving Miss Daisy). Belle arrives a few times throughout the course of action in Backstage to keep her daughter, Margo, in check and administer to her a healthy dose of reality.
The remaining actors and actresses in the show include Nate Stern (The Addams Family) as Christopher, an aspiring director and member of the ensemble of the show within a show. Emily Northrop (Sugar) will portray Cathy, a struggling actress that gets to amuse and move the audience. Josh Kern (Grease) is back as Jerry, the leading man of the show within a show. Lisa Akly (The Little Mermaid), Tracy Davenport (White Christmas) and Town newcomer Rachel Rizzuti, play Broadway performers Wanda, Angela, and Jill, respectively. Rebecca Goodrich Seezen (Spamalot) will join Jennifer Davis (Spamalot) will bring to life the roles of Donna and Dina, two Broadway singers and dancers that get to “sparkle” with their soulful and upbeat songs. William Ellis (The Little Mermaid) will join Jalil Bonds and John Dixon (in their Town debuts), as ensemble members Herbie, Brick, and Oscar, respectively. These three gentlemen are clever and witty throughout the show. Town veterans Kristy O’Keefe (Peter Pan), Emily Clelland (The Little Mermaid), Roxanne Livingston (Nice Work if You Can Get It), and my lovely cousin Agnes Babb (Mary Poppins) will take the stage as featured dancers Arlene, Bambi, Nicki, and Marjorie, respectively.
We hope these three blog entries have given you a little insight into how this show was conceived, constructed and put together. It’s been fun and we look forward to seeing you tonight! Visit www.towntheatre.com or call 803-799-2510 for tickets.
And don’t forget the pre-show reception at 7:15 PM!
In 2014, I had the pleasure of directing a concert presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies as a fundraiser for Town Theatre. It was an exhilarating, rewarding, creative and, above all else lucrative experience, that not only showcased over 30 of Columbia’s most talented singers and dancers, but exposed audiences to a number of Sondheim’s seldom heard (in Columbia) masterpieces.
In the Spring of 2016, I approached Town’s Executive Director, Shannon Willis Scruggs, about another potential project for the Summer. I was itching to not only direct something again, but to also again reap the numerous benefits for both Town and the community that I had with Follies. I had a few specific musicals in mind, but Shannon suggested a more artistically stimulating idea: what if I found a common theme among several different musicals and crafted a story of my own, using the characters and motifs from these shows as a starting point. An idea dawned on me: show business! There are so many entertainment industry musicals with similar themes, characters and story lines. I had a plot constructed in my head in minutes. I would take the standard, often-used keynote of an older actress threatened by a younger one and place it in a context that would allow other performers to present entertaining and humorous anecdotes about life in the entertainment world.
The aforementioned keynote plot had been utilized in any number of plays, musicals, screenplays, and stories. Early movie musical star, Bebe Daniels, at the tender age of 32, was the “older” actress made to feel insecure upon the arrival of the pert, younger Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street. Vocally untalented Jean Hagen was green with envy toward the lovely Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain. On a totally different level, the seasoned Susan Hayward fought tooth and nail against the rising star of Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls. But perhaps the most famous story line that falls into this common motif can be found in both a motion picture and later a Broadway musical, both based on the same short story: “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr.
The movie is of course All About Eve and the musical is Applause. In both adaptations, the fabulous Margo Channing struggles to maintain her dignity, sanity and career when the young Eve Harrington infiltrates her world. The 1950 film deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and featured exquisite performances by Bette Davis as Margo and Anne Baxter as Eve. The 1970 musical won the Tony Award for Best Musical and allowed the usually dramatic actress, Lauren Bacall, a chance to sing, dance, and hold her own as a new Musical Star. Even more impressive, in my humble opinion, was the performance of the brilliant Penny Fuller, who seemed to take the character of Eve to a multitude of additional levels. When Bacall had decided her time with the successful musical had come to a close, she was replaced by none other than Anne Baxter, who was eager to portray Margo this time.
These musicals and films rank among my favorites, and for good reason: they each narrate a similar show business fable characterized by age, jealousy, revenge and envy. As a performer, how many times had I been an eyewitness to backstage drama. Obviously, such drama would be a cornerstone in the plot that I began to construct. But, there’s more to show business than just drama: there’s passion. Performers, as all artists do, create because they are driven by a force that they cannot control. Rue McClanahan described the call to act on stage or film “a religious experience.” Rightly so, if you ask most artists, they’ll usually explain that they put in the time, work and endurance simply because they must. Their lives aren’t complete without fulfilling that urge to express themselves. As the original cast of A Chorus Line stated: “can’t regret what I did for love.” It was then that the second part of my plot dawned on me: allow my characters the chance to share stories, experiences, anecdotes, and general feelings about their lives in “the biz.” More than just recollecting, I also wanted to give my characters an opportunity to have some fun: workshop ideas, sing songs that they’ve always dreamed of singing. Where else would be the perfect place for my characters to accomplish these tasks other than a bar? More specifically, a bar owned by, run by, and catered towards actors. A bar that was constructed on the stage of an abandoned theatre in Brooklyn. A bar with a simple name, like “Backstage.” And why not make the name of this bar the title of the show? Most of the action will occur there anyways, and doesn’t that word bring to mind everything I am hoping to convey through my story? So there you have it: the show will be entitled Backstage: A New Musical Revue.
When I found out that Town Theatre was going to be doing The Addams Family, I knew I had to audition! Creepy and kooky were two things right up my alley. I actually walked in to audition for Pugsley Addams. Yep, I wanted to be the Addams’ son. (I didn’t think I would actually get it, but I needed to try for me.) So, on January 17, 2016, I drove to Town Theatre for auditions. I was extremely nervous. I had some friends with me — Tassie Collins and Danny Niati — they were my rocks for this audition. They kept me calm and even helped me with the dance routine. (And — it is so cool that they are sharing this show with me on stage!) Finding out I was cast was an even bigger moment for me. I was actually seeing a show when I felt my phone buzz. I was so excited that I wanted to tell everyone, but since the cast list wasn’t posted, I had to wait. It was an excruciating few days to say the least. When I could share the news, I shouted it from the mountain top. I had people telling me how excited they were and how they all wanted to come and support me. It was an amazing feeling. My journey had started.
I rehearsed more than I ever had ever rehearsed before. It made me smile every time I saw the people with whom I was going to share the stage get more into their own characters. With every line dance and bunny hop, we moved closer to an amazing show. Even with all of this practice, I was still terrified. I hadn’t been in a production since I was in high school. Would I mess up or fall on my face? Would I forget where to stand or how to move? Opening night was fast approaching.
My heart was pounding as I waited for the crypt doors to open and make my way onto the stage. As I walked out, the lights were so bright! In a flash, the opening number was done. It was the most amazing feeling in the world. Not being on stage — not the rush of performing. That feeling that was lifting me up was the support I had received from my cast mates — their pats on the back, their nods of encouragement. The cast of this show truly has become a second family to me. Every person started as an individual, but has come together to make this show something of which we are all very proud.
I am proud to say that I am a part of such an amazing cast and crew. I am proud to have been given the opportunity to perform and to be seen. I am proud that people have put their trust in me and support me. I’m also proud to say that you… yes you… you need to follow your dreams. You need to get out there and do what makes you happy. You need to try new things. If it doesn’t work out the first time, don’t give up. No one should ever have to ask, “what if?”
So as we launch into our third week of shows, I can only tell you how much I am enjoying being an Addams. And I know you will enjoy seeing us too! Snap snap!