As Goodspeed Opera House is finally reopening its doors to theatergoers, things are different.
There are, of course, the public COVID rules; everyone must be fully vaccinated or have a pre-approved exemption and a negative COVID test – and they must all wear a mask unless drinking in the bar or outside.
But the pandemic has also brought about changes in what Goodspeed is portraying.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s previously planned “South Pacific” just wouldn’t work. It’s a huge musical; Goodspeed’s cast was to consist of 27 performers, including swings and liners.
In deciding what to replace in, Goodspeed stuck to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s music but chose to produce a review, with five actors in the cast.
“A Grand Night for Singing: A Celebration of Rodgers & Hammerstein” debuted in 1993, and unlike a traditional review, it has a bit of a narrative. Rob Ruggiero, who heads the production of Goodspeed, says it’s about “how we view a relationship, love, marriage and children.”
Within this framework, however, Goodspeed’s production strives to bring something new to the proceedings. With the agreement of Concord Theatricals, which licenses the music and theatrical rights from the Rodgers & Hammerstein catalog, the creative team at Goodspeed changed the order of a few numbers and cut a few songs.
More importantly, they have reinvented the coin for the year 2021.
When Goodspeed Artistic Director Donna Lynn Hilton brought “A Grand Night for Singing” to Ruggiero, who was on board directing “South Pacific,” he recalls, “It made sense that a celebration of Rodgers & Hammerstein is meaningful to the Goodspeed audience, and I agreed. The thing is, when we talked about it, I said, “Yeah, AND…” I think it’s important that if we doing the show, it has to feel like it’s from 2021 and really connects to that time and place that we’re all in. So we knew how we were launching it was important. We wanted the cast to represent really the world today, so it’s a very diverse company. Of the five people on stage, four are BIPOC artists (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), in different ways. great group of people.
With those three women and two men in the cast, says Ruggiero, the “A Grand Night for Singing” team responded to individual performers because the show is built on the company. They also wanted to explore the material differently.
“We know we need to look at the material for this 2021 goal, which means it needs to reflect all relationships. You know, it’s a celebration of the R&H canon, but it’s really a celebration of love and life, using the R&H canon to explore a relationship and a connection, ”he says.
“I said right away that it couldn’t be just a man-woman in 2021. So we play with all this fluidity. We also bend genres, so songs that are traditionally female are male and vice versa. It was a lot of fun.
In “Oklahoma! Curly sings “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” to Laurey. In the first issue of Goodspeed, however, it is with contemporary sensibility and a woman sings it to a man.
“He says right away: ‘We’re going to break some rules here,” says Ruggiero.
“Such a thrill”
Being back in Goodspeed’s rehearsal room, Ruggiero says, was “such a thrill. It is very moving for an artist – for a director or an actor, the choreographer, the musical director. All of those moments that you took for granted – and it wasn’t like you took them for granted on purpose, but it was just part of what we were doing in our daily creative process – each of them is now empowered, I Assumed. There’s just a lot more gratitude and a lot less worrying about the little things because you’re so happy to be together.
The opening moments of “A Grand Night for Singing” will also reflect the impact of the past year and the joy of returning to live theater.
It begins, Ruggiero says, with a black void, symbolic of the feeling of the past year and more. Then an actor takes the stage.
“We’re really looking at what it’s like to be on stage again. And then we hear music, and there are other actors and there is an audience. It’s really an organic opening in a way. We look at their friendship and their relationship. Their connection to each other kind of starts our storytelling, ”he says.
An idea Ruggiero originally had on how to start the show had to be scuttled. He had considered bringing performers down the aisles of the theater, but knew early on that this couldn’t happen due to COVID-19.
Beyond that, however, the COVID protocols didn’t affect the staging of the show too much. Goodspeed follows the guidelines of the Actors’ Equity union.
Ruggiero notes that everyone “understands that you can’t put on a show and not make the actors interact. It does not work. You can do a concert, but then it’s just, like, five microphones, six feet apart, and they sing.
The production keeps the artists at a certain distance from the audience.
Everyone in the “A Grand Night for Singing” company is fully vaccinated and they’ve created a pod. Very few people other than that were allowed in the rehearsal room. Performers wore masks unless they were working on stage, Ruggiero says, and he wore a mask unless he needed to take it off so they could figure it out, but even that was at a distance.
“Everyone is very careful and trying to honor this security module,” he says.