Featuring a diverse lineup of performers ranging from two first-timers to the stage to several with theatrical degrees, Stage East’s Broadway Musical Revue was a treat for enthusiastic audiences on November 1 and 3. Box office smash shows Wicked, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera were well represented with 8 of the show’s 22 numbers, as well as an array of hand-picked shows: Annie, Annie Get Your Gun, Big River, Cats, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, Evita, Fiddler on the Roof, Into the Woods, Newsies, Oklahoma, Show Boat, South Pacific and West Side Story. The show’s soloists were given the chance to choose their favorite songs to bring to the stage, resulting in an eclectic mix of stories and styles. “My favorite part about musicals are the songs, so this show was nice because we got to cut out all the fat, so to speak, and just sing songs,” noted Stage East newcomer Zach Smith, who appeared in five numbers. “It’s always good to widen your horizons with theatre, brush up on your acting and singing chops,” added Smith, a singer/songwriter, drag performer, and lobsterman who received his BA in theater arts from Brandeis University. “I ended meeting many new friends and hopefully collaborators, as an added bonus.”
“After much soul searching I decided to join the Broadway musical because there were no auditions,” said Marlene Russ, who until the show remained strictly behind-the-scenes, volunteering in the EAC kitchen, her “safe space” due to her catering background. Her first rehearsal was a daunting experience: “People show up and are finding seats and in front of everyone I am asked, ‘Are you a soprano or an alto?’, to which I reply, ‘I don’t know. I have never done this before.’ At this point I am ready to run because of course I am the center of attention, but I find a seat. I am given sheet music which is in not one but two foreign languages which I do not know. By the end of the night I am so confused that I am sure I will not be coming back. This is way out of my league and my comfort zone. The director asks as I am leaving how I liked the rehearsal. What I am feeling is dazed and confused. But I tell her I am not sure this is for me and her reply is come back, and if nothing else just move your lips! This gave me the courage to come back and stick with it.”
In the end, Russ was thrilled and grateful she didn’t flee. “Warming up before the show I could feel the excitement building, and waiting behind the curtain, peeking out seeing so many people in the audience coming to see us was a rush I have never felt before. Working with so many talented performers who were dedicated to this show to make it a success was one of the best experiences I have ever had.”
Mark Macey, a recent addition to the city as EAC Island Institute Fellow, received theatrical training in Utah, but not in the musical realm. “I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone singing in the Broadway Revue, but I’m glad that I did. I got to meet so many wonderful people from Eastport and neighboring communities and had a blast performing with them.”
Lori Schnieders, a UMM professor, seasoned actor, occasional director, and longtime singer with Quoddy Voices, despite the double commitment of commuting from Cutler for rehearsals, chose to sing “Memory” from Cats.“”As a little girl I would walk around the house with my mom’s hand mirror, using it as a microphone singing Broadway songs at the top of my lungs, then as a young woman I got to see a “real” Broadway show on Broadway—Cats! I was in love, never dreaming that one day I would see my own son on that same Broadway stage. I continued to sing those tunes I loved until one day I woke up at 70 singing the song from Cats that has always been my favorite, realizing that I finally understood the meaning of the words I’ve sung for so long.” Mirror in hand, Schnieders’ rendition of the tune was poignant and beautiful, and a benchmark of the emotional depth of the revue.
“It was a pleasure to work with some performers from other parts of Washington County, including some young people new to the area,” noted co-director, Nancy Tintle, who wrote for the show’s program about the evolution of musical theatre from the chestnuts enjoyed as a child with her father, to upbeat shows written after World War II when spirits needed a boost, to more sophisticated contemporary shows. “Songs about overcoming adversity and repression appeared alongside a darker comedy. Always, to me, this music is about the human spirit and its ability to survive, strive for freedom, to love and defy the gravity of life.”
“The audience response was overwhelmingly positive with many people asking if we will do this event again because they loved it so much,” said co-director Beth Goodliff. “I know that I really enjoyed working with the singers on their songs and putting the show together. I could see this becoming an annual or bi-annual event in the future if the interest remains high.” Goodliff extended thanks to co-director Tintle, and to Mark Macey, who was stage manager, designed the lighting, and performed on stage, as well as numerous other tasks. She also praised John Newell, accompanist, “Without whom we couldn’t have succeeded.”
For his own part, Newell greatly enjoyed his task: “It was such a pleasure to play for the Revue! The choice of songs was terrific; Nancy and Beth put together a very effective mixture of numbers from older and newer musical hits, keeping it fresh. Some of the songs I had never played before, and I also got to work with several wonderful singers who were new to me and to the audience here in Eastport.” Asked whether he had a favorite tune from the show, he responded: “One of my favorite numbers was the opener, ‘Willkommen,’ from Cabaret, featuring Zach Smith with the chorus. The audience really came to life instantly and everyone knew that they were going to have a great time!”
Those inspired to learn more about Stage East, and to become involved with future projects and productions are invited to attend the group’s Annual Meeting and County Fair-Themed Party this Saturday, November 9 at 2 pm, at EAC. Learn more about the event here, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.