May 16--Everyone knows "A Chorus Line," but director Richard Sullivan finds that people fall largely into two camps when he mentions "They're Playing Our Song": They have never heard of this Marvin Hamlisch musical or they heard the album years ago and looove it.
He was in the latter category, listening to the music from the 1979 Broadway hit throughout college. When the idea came up at Harwich Junior Theatre to honor the acclaimed composer, who died last year, reviving this rarely performed musical seemed just the right choice.
The music "has been part of my psyche for so long so I thought 'What a great way to pay tribute to (Hamlisch) and revisit these great songs,'" Sullivan says.
Serendipitously, when actors Buck Dietz and Caitlin Mills were co-starring last year in "Promises, Promises" at HJT, Dietz brought up the show. He gave Mills the album and asked her to listen because he thought they should do the show together in the future.
And, because of their chemistry together on stage, Dietz and Mills were the first people Sullivan thought of when casting the leads for "They're Playing Our Song." "I was thrilled both said yes," he says.
The musical is an affectionate romantic comedy about the bumpy affair between Vernon, a buttoned-up composer, and Sonia, a free-spirited lyricist, loosely based on the relationship between Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. The two wrote the songs for the show and Neil Simon wrote the book; the musical starred Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein and played on Broadway for 2 1/2 years.
"The story is: How do you collaborate and create with someone, what are the challenges? And what are the unexpected things that happen? What about if you fall in love?" Sullivan explains. "It's so sweet to watch them work out their relationship."
The musical's style has an unusual "conceit," he notes -- the scenes are largely with just these two actors, but each also has a sort of Greek chorus that act as three invisible voices inside their heads. Sullivan says he worked with the actors in those roles to make them different as various aspects of Vernon's and Sonia's personalities.
"It's a very, very strong ensemble, and they contribute so much to this," he says.
The HJT production sticks to the original timing by setting the show in the 1970s, which has been a fun era to revisit for everyone involved. "Robin (McLaughlin) has done a great job with the costumes. I'm not sure it's the most flattering era for a lot of people," Sullivan says, laughing, "but she's done a great job."
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John Watters has enjoyed visiting the notorious Deadwood, S.D., again.
His first exposure to Tom Taggart's melodrama about the Old West set in that infamous town, "Deadwood Dick, or the Game of Gold," came in the 1960s when he was acting in high school with director Jim Ruberti. This melodrama wasn't the stuff of rent on estates needing to be paid by helpless heroines; this was a good vs. evil plot set in the booming gold-mining town of Deadwood with Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, dance hall girls, comedy and music. It was a ball for teenagers.
In the 1970s, Ruberti staged the show on the Hyannis green with a summer family theater group he ran, and Watters was part of that show, too. In 1985, Watters was again on stage with "Deadwood Dick" at Barnstable Comedy Club, for the first time doing it with adults. So, many years later, when the actor-turned-director was looking for a lighthearted follow-up to more serious fare he'd been concentrating on, "Deadwood Dick" seemed a great choice.
And Watters isn't the only one involved with a long history with the show. Costumer Jean Jackson created the "Deadwood Dick" wardrobe for a production 50 years ago in Quincy. "She's having fun redoing it 50 years later," Watters says, even using inspiration from old photographs for the past show.
"Deadwood Dick" is based on a real "masked rider of the Black Hills" who ended up as a performer with Wild Bill Hickok's show, he says, and the play is set in what was a notoriously wild and lawless prospecting boomtown. A cast of 20 brings the place alive. "This is a very big production," Watters says. "We fill the stage with cowboys, miners, dance hall girls, good guys, bad guys, a sheriff, a villain ... all the western motifs of the 1800s."
It's a play with music, with frequent BCC music director Marcia Wytrwal playing the piano in Calamity Jane's Man-Trap Saloon. There's also a lot of verbal comedy and physical slapstick.
This became a problem when the actor playing the sheriff, Jim Batzer, broke his leg less than a week before what was going to be opening night. Initially, Watters said, he'd hoped the actor could continue the part, but it was just too physically demanding, so he had to recast with another actor, whose stage name is Mercedes Lowe, and push back the opening night to May 16.
Batzer "would have been fabulous, but we were lucky to find someone who was able to do (the play) and had the experience to step in," Watters says.
For more theater news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com and follow KathiSDCC on Twitter.
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