A BROADWAY BIRTHDAY
By Terri Tabor
“Do you remember in ‘Dolly’ when …..”
“I’ll never forget in ‘Showboat’ when …”
“What about the time in ‘South Pacific’ when …”
Hang around the buffs of the Tupelo Community Theater, and this is the talk you’re apt to hear.
Although the theater troupe stages about seven productions each season, it’s the Gum Tree musical that’s the most talked about. This year’s production of “My Fair Lady” marks the 10th anniversary for the Gum Tree musical which began with “Showboat” directed by Vicki Helms Carter in 1986.
Two TCT veterans give some clues as to why people can’t wash those production’s out of their hair.
Jess Mark, a board member of TCT, says the show usually packs the 640-seat Lyric Theater for every performance. “It’s by far the most popular show every year,” he said.
Beverly Clement, who has participated either as musical director or an actress in eight of the last 10 musicals, says the musicals seem to be the most popular because of their lavish makeup, multiple sets, costumes and scores and huge casts that range anywhere from 30 to 50 people. “I think it’s just because of the massive production of them. I think people love music and people usually just have a good time.
“That doesn’t mean to say the quality of other shows is any less,” Clement added.
Mark says the musicals are different in a sense. “A really serious drama like “Shadowlands” or the “The Glass Menagerie” is very wearing and draining on a cast and [those dramas] take an enormous emotional investment. These things are fun. You have to spend a lot of time getting ready for them. It takes a real commitment of energy and enthusiasm from the cast,” he said.
TCT musical rehearsal time usually runs for about six weeks, three three-hour nights a week, Sunday afternoons and then additional rehearsals nearer to show time. That doesn’t count the off hours in which directors, stage crew and cast put in building and painting the set.
But the time and effort is not a factor for the directors and actors who are dedicated to making the show the best every year.
“We take these musicals very serious because they bring in a lot of revenue for us,” said Sonja Jenkins, another TCT veteran. “That’s where we spend most of our money and that’s where we get most of our money.”
Jenkins and Mark both can’t seem to get enough of directing. Despite the long hours they keep coming back for more. Jenkins has sat in the director’s chair for three productions including “The Music Man,” “Oklahoma,” and “South Pacific.” “My Fair Lady” marks the fifth musical Mark has directed. And even when they weren’t directing, the two have made other appearances in musicals either as cast members or stage managers.
“I have worked on every bloody one of them,” Mark says and jokingly adds that “brain damage” is what keeps him coming back. But more seriously, he says, “It’s what I do for fun, instead of bass fishing, working in the yard or building cabinets, I love it.”
“The theater bug bites quickly,” Jenkins says.
The one thing that spreads the “theater bug” quickly is the memories and friends each production generates.
Lynn Nelson, a TCT veteran who has acted in seven of the 10 musicals, said every one of the musicals has a favorite memory.
“It’s kind of like summer camp every year,” she adds.
One of the memories that sticks out in Nelson’s mind is the “Old Man River” number in “Showboat.” “That’s the one musical we got a standing ovation in the middle of the show,” she said.
Mark has a similar memory from a scene in “Hello, Dolly!” when the waiter ensemble came out singing “Hello, Dolly!” and performing a kick line on a ramp over the audience. “That’s the most profound audience reaction I’ve ever seen. The orchestra could not go on because the audience would not stop applauding,” he said.
Although the veterans tried most of them could not even joggle a memory of an embarrassing blunder or production mishap, which goes to show how polished the productions are.
“You would think there would be something …” Clement said. “I can’t think of anything that’s ever completely thrown anybody off.”