Fantastic and Fun rehearsal tonight!
It was our final staging rehearsal before we move into the Carolina Theater on Monday (the cast will rehearse with the orchestra on Sunday); and it was devoted to our Understudies.
For those of you who may not know, Understudies are actors who are prepared to step in to the principal roles if one of the principal actors should not be able to perform for some reason. Most of our Understudies are also members of the regular cast and also perform in the ensemble. This means our Understudies must not only learn their own roles, but also the lines, blocking, music and choreography for the principal role they are understudying. It’s no small feat, and their devoted work has not gone unnoticed.
It is our tradition to set aside one rehearsal late in the process in which all the Understudies perform in all the principal roles. Tonight was that night.
I’ve spoken before about how exciting, invigorating and insightful Understudy rehearsals can be. Each actor brings a unique perspective to a role; and each actor will invariably also bring different nuances and qualities to a performance of previously prescribed music, blocking, and choreography. That’s the beauty of live theater.
Tonight’s performance was indeed a beautiful thing. It had a high level of energy and adrenaline and thus gave us a bit of a preview as to what opening night might be like. Friends and family of many of the understudies were in attendance, so we also got a glimpse of how our production will play before an audience. And the principal actors were also in attendance — perhaps the most appreciative audience of all. Tonight they were afforded the rare opportunity to not only see how the basic blocking and choreography of their role works in the greater scheme of things; but to also get a fresh take on how their character might possibly be approached.
Another exciting aspect of the performance was the renewed vigor and focus it brought to the ensemble. Switching the actors in the principal roles not only mixed things up a bit, but it required the entire cast to juggle all the staging. For every understudy in a principal role, there was a difference in the ensemble where that actor was missing. Collective focus was required more than ever. Adjustments were made on the fly and we found out just how solid our work is.
Changing actors in one role creates a pretty large ripple effect on its own. Changing the actors in all the principal roles can be a veritable tidal wave. If we can shake it up to this extent and still make it work, it must be okay. And it was more than okay. It was funny, and touching, and stirring, and surprising. I know it was a performance in an extremely supportive atmosphere…. with friends, family, cast mates, and production team members rooting for each performer every step of the way. But it was a joyous thing. The responses from our small audience were spontaneous and heartfelt. There were multiple standing ovations in appreciation of brilliant moments in the performances tonight, and those ovations were mightily well-deserved.
This, I believe, is what a solid, ready-for-prime-time show feels like as it heads into the home stretch.