Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Buddy: The Aftermath

So I never quite got around to writing about The Buddy Holly Story while it was running. Which is alright, I suppose: they were not exactly hurting for audience, and the micron of publicity this blog affords would have accomplished little. However, now that the thing is done, I thought it worth talking about.

I've been vaguely documenting the various stages of upheaval at TLT since this blog started. The long collapse under David Duvall, the temporary hiring of Doug Kerr, and finally the import of Scott Campbell from Lakewood. I still can't say for certain the path that Campbell will take the theatre on in years to come (selection of the show and director had come before his time, for example), but I can say that he definitely cares about the progress being made. In and out of nearly every rehearsal, helping hang speakers (and what an adventure that one was), doing what he can, when he can. So that's good.

So then there was the show. The June musicals at TLT can make or break a season; big productions of well-known shows. So when a paltry season last year ended with a failure to secure rights to Pajama Game, and a fallback plan of yet another Duvall-crafted revue, things did not look good.

This season the focus was put on a string of well-known classics, closed out by the newer Buddy. The lead-up to Buddy was, frankly, a mess. Auditions failed to fill out a cast requiring nearly every character to also be an accomplished musicians, and some roles had to be cast on nothing but recommendation. Even up to a day or two before opening, rehearsals were jumbled, songs sloppy, and tech a work in progress (I didn't have a chance to actually run the light board until the final dress rehearsal). Preview night was mediocre at best, and I was prepared to tell potential audience members to avoid opening weekend and wait until we had a few more runs to shore up the problems.

Now, opening night was not our best night. But it shattered all the expectations built by a week of tepid rehearsals, and when audience members started dancing in the aisles through the closing numbers, it became apparent that the show was exactly what it needed to be: an engine of excitement for a theatre trying desperately to drag itself out of a financial and creative hole a few years old.

Night two was better than the first and I believe (don't trust my memory on this, it might have come the next weekend) sported the (so far) highest sales of any performance yet this season. The following Friday, after a sketchy pay-what-you-can night, it started to become very apparent how much buzz was getting out. By the end of the second weekend, bartenders at the nearby Parkway Tavern were hearing from post-show customers (many of them season ticket holders) that this was the best show they'd seen TLT produce in five years. Every night I came out of the booth and caught the first wave of exiting audience, and never heard a single ill word spoken. Even on the worst of the off-nights, when dialogue escaped the brain, sound cues went horribly awry and guitars fell out of tune mid-show, the closing concert seemed to wipe all memory of error away, and the audience never once failed to come to its feet clapping along with Johnny B. Goode and Oh Boy. By week four the aforementioned Parkway employees reported customers saying they'd just come from seeing Buddy a second and occasionally third time

For me, the peak of the show was Friday, June 26th. The first night back after four days off is usually a bit shaky, but every inch of the show was dead on, start to finish. Jokes were hitting, song intros were smooth, tech cues were timed to the point where there was more luck than skill involved in how well they flowed.

I had stayed out of community theatre for the last five years or so, since TLT's production of Camelot. Buddy was more than sufficient to rekindle my excitement at working in theatre, and you can bet I will be back next season for... something. Who knows what. It was a damn good time, probably better than I've had in my years of (mostly) positive theatre experiences. This is the kind of momentum the theatre needs: getting every single person involved excited about the show, from the cast to the crew to the audience.

Thanks to everyone involved for everything involved, and I hope to work with all of you again, because that means that people who love theatre will still be involved in theatre. And that is exactly what TLT needs.

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