The Decatur and Nashville parts of the cast and crew hopped a plane in Nashville at 6:00am and arrived to meet the Bristol, Connecticut parts of the cast and crew in the afternoon. We dispersed to the houses where we would be sleeping. My sister Beki, who played "Edna" the homeless woman,and I shared the guestroom at the Mazzarella house. Darren and my Nashville production client Michael Hodges, who played "the derelict", would take couches and airbeds. Others of the Decatur cast shared another house - I think 7 girls shared one bathroom with our choreographer. Immediately after taking luggage in, we went to St. Paul's Catholic high school. My first clue to the difficult conditions was the complete lack of air conditioning in the school and auditorium. There were big fans, but it was hot and most of us sweated bullets throughout our stay.
When we walked in, we noticed the beautiful set Mark Mazzarella (Bristol producer and director at St Paul's Catholic High) designed and was building with help of Dave Glanovsky, Rich Parsons and Jake Larkin. Mark introduced Darren Butler (writer and director) and me (music writer and director) to the combined cast; tentative schedules for the days to come were announced and then we all went into the music room for music rehearsals.
I quickly gave them the basics of Power, Path & Performance method and then realized not everyone knew all the songs. People with laptops started copying and handing out guide vocal cds I had made to the people that didn't have it, and we began rehearsing the title song "Runaway Home". It wasn't blended, the parts were wrong, some voices were thin, straining, yelling, or too soft. Hmmm. It was gonna be a long week. I hit the pillow hard, worried and stressed that night.
Mark Mazzarella's wife Lisa became our hostess angel... we woke to breakfast already prepared for us as though the breakfast fairy had visited in the wee hours of the morning. It would be this way every morning, and every night when we drug our carcasses back, there would be snacks awaiting us as we gathered literally around their round table to discuss the progress (or lack thereof). We carpooled to the auditorium and began music rehearsals with a vengeance.
Then after lunch Darren took them for scene rehearsals. These began with our awesome choreographer "Sweet Sue" Kirkes stretching us in directions that most of us had never gone! It was a great way to start a rehearsal. Sue "blocked" the scenes with Darren, brilliantly creating movement as she discovered the physical possibilities (or not) of our cast. I grabbed any cast member not in a scene he was working at the time and we multi-tasked to optimize our time. Meals were always provided by Lisa and other moms such as Janice D'Ambrosi, Bonnie Parsons and Sheila Haney in the teachers lounge so we could get back to work. These women had it ready and afterwards cleaned up so we could work.
This was pretty much a repeat of Day 2. By that night almost all the scenes were blocked. I think they ran the whole first act that evening. Mark Mazzarella had designed a beautiful, amazing set and the finishing touches were still being built by Mark, Dave Glanovsky and Rich Parsons (our Starbucks supplier - bless him!) as we rehearsed.
This was Sunday morning. Some of the cast went to church, the rest slept in. I was among the latter, I'm afraid. But I prayed a lot, let me tell you!
That afternoon we met at Eric Miller's studio where I began producing the cast vocals on the tracks I'd previously cut at Ronny Light's studio in Nashville. Oh my gosh... we had so little time. I had to work fast and furious, and I thought the cast would end up hating me! But... they all came to the mat and worked like pros. They were amazing... the studio had little air conditioning and there were cast members laid out everywhere like sardines. No one complained much, and by that night we got most of the ensemble parts done. The studio was where they really began to trust Power, Path & Performance principles, because they began to blend, be in tune, sing with power and authority, and had no throat strain even with the pace we kept. I was so proud of them.
We began singing at the studio at 9am and finished the last solo just in time to meet the deadline we had in the afternoon. In between solos, Darren took some of the cast outside the studio on the lawn to rehearse new script changes! I think there were around 23 songs, some double-songs with ensemble and solo parts. Whew!!! Then we went back to the school auditorium where they began scene rehearsals and more choreography blocking. That night, they did the whole second act. I watched, and became aware that somehow, it was coming together. The studio experience had really brought everyone to new vocal levels. We had intended to run the whole show after that, but it was far too late.
We tried on headsets for the first time, guided by our expert sound engineer Dave Glanovsky. I was scared of these, because they had to be turned on, muted and mixed with very complicated cues. But it started sounding really good. Somewhere in all this, Darren added three new scenes and we took out one song we'd already recorded. Whew! We rehearsed music and scenes, we grabbed dancers that were supposed to dance in the scene of the song we deleted and they generously agreed to turn into much needed stage crew. We rehearsed "tech" ... the dangerous dance of set changing in the complete dark, which would be done by our cast and crew. Our lighting expert Joe Trelli had his hands full with special effects and complicated cues. Oh My Gosh... how was this ever going to come together??? AHHHH!
The cast rehearsed scenes again... many things were still shaky. Sue and I grabbed actors not involved on stage for choreography and music rehearsals. Somehow in the midst of everything, head shots were taken by a pro photographer friend of Mark's. After the cast was finally dismissed, Joe (lighting pro), Darren and Mark stayed at the school til after midnight to get the cues right.
OK... now off to bed, because tomorrow was the ONE PERFORMANCE we would do, with theater powers-that-be and major casting agents in attendance!
Everyone got to the school at 9am for dress rehearsal, which was to be filmed by Mark and his brother Tony Mazzarella. As Darren ran a few scenes which needed kinks worked out, last minute tweaks of sound, lighting and set changing were completed. Then we ran the show, filming the whole thing. It was beautiful! We sent everyone off to rest for a couple of hours before cast call for the show.
At 5:30 we premiered the short movie "A Fix", which is the back-story of two of the play characters. One of the stars of the short...Skye Bartusiak and her mother, casting director Helen Bartusiak...were in attendance. They, Darren and cast member Bridget Lappert (who also starred in the short) did a public "talk back" meeting while the cast got ready for the show. at 6:30, the lights were turned down and my heart skipped several beats. The Mazzerella brothers began filming our showcase performance.
The show went off with only minor hitches. The response from the 400 or so in attendance was nothing short of tremendous. They laughed, they cried, the roared. I have never been so nervous... I had no control over the outcome. Every professional we talked to who saw it tell us the same thing: We have something. As I said goodbye to Helen Bartusiak, she looked at me and said "Judy, I'll see you on Broadway". That night I slept in grateful bliss.
Day 8 & 9
The cast trained to NYC to hang out and go to some Broadway shows. My sister and I got to spend some time together getting lost on subways, dealing with crazies, meeting wonderful and helpful New Yorkers who steered us right, going to China Town and ground zero, eating at the best Italian restaurant I've tried (Il Cortile on Mulberry St). We hope to be back before long :) Two of our cast members, Daniel Martin and Liza Montgomery were taken by a major talent agency and told they could work Broadway almost immediately. Bridget Lappert already has this agent and freshly impressed her.
We all slept in and then assembled for a picnic at the Mazzarella house before heading out to the airport. One of my favorite memories is when they asked me to play something on piano... I started the chords to "Runaway Home" and we sang it to the rafters. Tears all around, hugs like we'd known each other all our lives... whew. This play has to make it. It means too much and leaves too much love behind it not to.
It was a miraculous transformation that led to a show none of us will ever forget. Mark Mazzarrella and his wife Lisa have been like angels to this play... without their help (and that of their tech savy sons, Matthew and Michael), and all the other parents and crew who stepped in with anything we needed, we could not have done this. I am so grateful to everybody... especially the precious, patient, hard working cast. Special thanks to Geoff and Shelia Haney who bought us plane tickets. Darren did an amazing job at getting the actors deep into their charactors. He was a patient, kind and brilliant director, who got the best out of everyone. Sweet Sue was the same as choreographer... I loved the way she worked with the cast. Darren, Mark, Sue and I seemed to be joined at the hip by the time it was over. Joe and Dave (Lights and sound) were finally breathing!
Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to take you on this journey with us. (And this is just what I remember... there was so much more). It was incredible to share this journey with my sister Beki, we'll never forget it. Next phase will find us, with the help of Mark Mazzerella, sending the DVD, sound recording and script to top producers. And we'll see how the show goes on.... Wish us luck!!
Wanna see pictures? I have some working shots... there will be shots of the play in future to show you as we get the DVD edited. If you are a cast member and see any pictures of Leah Holleran or our precious dancers-turned-stage-hands, please leave a comment so I can update the pic titles.
Go here for pictures.