Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thank Heaven for Creepy Dolls (An Ode to Jeannie)

As those of you who know my aesthetic were probably already aware, I love me some creepy dolls and puppets onstage. My guidance to props designers I work with is usually to find something as off-putting as possible when we use them. For instance, when I directed Caucasian Chalk Circle  for Promethean Theatre Ensemble a few years back, this is the puppet we used to represent Michael, the young child that is the cause of the plot's major dispute:

And, when Sara Gorsky (who played our lead Grusha, but was also working on the show's PR and Marketing a bit) sent me a series of stock photos we might choose as the show's marketing/poster image, I fell in love with THIS one at first sight:

Looking back at my last few shows, this is definitely turning into an aesthetic mini-trend for me- when I did Coraline back in 2014, when I was considering the best way to represent the dead ghost children, we wound up decapitating some dolls and putting LED lights in the to make them glow:

....which brings us to Goblin Market. When I was planning my way through the blocking and stage pictures for the show, one idea I had involved the staging of the song "Do You Not Remember Jeannie," sung by the character Lizzie to her sister Laura. In it, Lizzie castigates Laura for having stayed out late with the goblins and eaten their fruit, reminding her of the horrible fatal demise of a girl they knew named Jeannie who had fallen into the same trap years ago:

"She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died..." 
The number is a fun little confection that mixes foreboding with a bit of saltiness and humor at the same time. And to embody that, I decided that we would have Lizzie use on of the dolls from their toy shelf to represent "Jeannie," both for the sillier parts at the start of the song, and also to give it a doll funeral of sorts in the toy chest when the song becomes darker and more melancholy near the end. My props designer, Rocky Kolecke, really outdid herself with the doll that she found to be Jeannie:


She's a beaut, ain't she?  Unfortunately, I don't think we'll be able to work with her again- she was a total diva in rehearsal. Here she is right after our stage manager told her that break time was over:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Music Man Sequel Titles

A friend of mine, David Lipschutz, and I, were recently joking around on Facebook and decided to play a quick game of Parody Sequels-  where you each try to one up each other on the best (by which I mean WORST) parody sequel titles to musicals that have no need whatsoever for sequels. There actually is some precedent for sequels to musicals, though they generally wind up in the rubbish pile of musical history:

Annie Warbucks (the sequel to Annie)

Bring Back Birdie (the sequel to Bye Bye Birdie)

Love Never Dies (the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera)

The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public (if you have to ask...)

In general, musicals have an even more dismal record as far as successful sequels than film franchises, and certainly a worse record than books.  The only sequels I can think of off the top of y head that were truly successful and worthy works of art in their own right were William Finn's Falsettos musicals.

With all of that in mind, below please find David and my ideas for likely sequels to The Music Man:

Prequel: The Music Boy
Muthic Man 2: Winthrop'th Revenge
Music Man 3: Pick a Little, Kill a Little
Music Man 4: Paroot of All Evil
Music Man 5: My Fright Night
Music Man 6: Sadder but Deader Girl

Would love to hear any of your suggestions for additional music man sequels (or other unnecessary sequels to musicals) in the comments!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We Play Rough.

On Sunday November 1, we struck the set, costumes and other items for Goblin Market. One of the things we had to return was a borrowed dressmaker's dummy that we got from Sacred Art, the store run by our marketing and PR director, Kate Merena. We used the dummy as a stand in for the girls in the show- at one point, both of the actresses are playing goblins who are tempting one of the sisters, and we used the dummy to represent the sister who is being tempted, being acted upon and caressed by both of the actresses playing goblins.  As the scene teaches its climax, the dummy gets knocked over and one of the sisters removed her goblin mask and steps back into the scene as herself. Unfortunately, this dummy was made of fiberglass, and unbeknownst to us until strike, the knocking over of the dummy across 19 performances had a, ahem, deleterious effect:

What can I say? When we play, we play rough.

p.s.- Kate knew what we were going to use it for and was totally cool about it. Thanks Kate!

Monday, November 2, 2015

More Goblin Market photo goodness

There were many photos of Goblin Market by our excellent show photographer Cole Simon that turned out great- but only a few could become the official press photos. Here's some of the rest that I really enjoyed:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fifty / Fifty

Hi folks!  Yesterday Goblin Market closed. It was one of the most beautiful shows I've ever done, and I learned a tremendous amount from it. We did get one more great review from on of my favorite bloggers- young Ada Grey- link here! Here's a little taste:

"People who would like this show are people who like goblin fairy tales, feminism, and fruit. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. It had so many good elements to it, like the singing and the acting and the story. I loved their production of Coraline last year and I hope to see more of their productions in the future."

Speaking of future productions...I'm just about done nailing down the rights to my next project. I also have been tapped to direct a show next season with another theater company, but I can't announce it yet. More detail soon!

On to other things. One interesting thing about Goblin Market was the audience experience of the piece. Everyone was uniformly blown away by the music (our two actresses sounded spectacular, especially together, and we hired a band to perform the original orchestrations). But in some areas the audience reaction was anything but uniform. In particular, we had one technical element that we'd thought out months in advance and took substantial effort to accomplish: our set had a bunch of creepy Victorian dolls on shelves at the back of the stage. During the musical number "Here They Come," in which one of the sisters becomes a goblin that tempts her sibling, she starts a chant that goes:
"Cat like and ratlike / ratel* and wombat-like."

*A ratel, by the way, is the proper name for a honey badger. I know, I didn't know that either! Wikipedia did though.

Anyway, the first two times she chants that, we rigged some of the dolls so that their eyes would light up. Awesome, right? It would be both a cool callback to the glowing doll heads we used for the ghost children in Coraline, and flirt with the idea that the chant is calling up some kind of malignant spirits.

Here's the thing though....this happens during a really intense part of the show, when both of the actresses are very busy with business downstage center. And talking with audience afterwards,would you believe that about half of them never even noticed that the doll eyes lit up at all? And keep in mind, this isn't exactly a subtle effect:

Go figure.

Friday, October 16, 2015

TheatreWorld Internet Magazine loves us Too!

Apparently I'm Mysterious and Haunting. : - )

"Goblin Market is an operatic feast of poetic verse...movement director Derek Van Barham creates a fluid ballet....elaborate and intricate Victorian clothing designed impeccable by Beth Laske-Miller....Stephanie Stockstill and Jennifer T. Grubb accompanied by a lively orchestra (directed by Jeff Bouthiette) sings the recitative lyrics with tremendous passion and powerful and unforgettable voices"-  Ruth Smerling, TheatreWorld Internet Magazine

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Another great review for Goblin Market- we're Reader Recommended!

We got a terrific (if brief) review in the Chicago Reader today for Goblin Market. Everyone who's seen this show has thought the performances are really superb- don't miss a chance to get tickets!

" What makes Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem truly creepy is its lurid imagery, dark implications, and aura of sexual hysteria. All are present in this chamber-opera adaptation presented by Black Button Eyes Productions. Polly Pen’s score is impressively sung. "
-Tony Adler, Chicago Reader

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Some great reviews for Goblin Market...

We've started to get some press coverage for Goblin Market, and overall it's been pretty favorable. We run through October 31, so those of you who love a dark fantasy musical should check it out- tickets available here!

From Time Out Chicago:

"It's the perfect choice for those who prefer seasonal Halloween fare of a more classical, high-minded flavor...the performances deliver, as does the accompanying music. What matters most rings true."

From Gaper's Block:

"There was no doubt that Stephanie Stockstill and Jennifer Grubb were amazing...this story theater production is one to see."

From New City Stage:

"Laura (Stephanie Stockstill) and Lizzie (Jennifer T. Grubb) have incredible operatic ranges with which they sweetly harmonize and deftly trill."

Don't miss it!  : - )

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Some Goblin Market production photos, and a preview clip

Well, last night we had the opening performance for Goblin Market! I'm tremendously proud of the show and the work that everyone has put into it; I think we've created something stunningly beautiful. Not everyone's cup of tea, but definitely something worth catching. We've got some production photos below, as well as a clip of my two lead actress, Jennifer T. Grubb and Stephanie Stockstill, performing an excerpt of their song from the show, "The Sisters." All photos by Cole Simon. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Goblin Market the Musical trailer

Just wanted to share a little trailer I put together for the show.  Enjoy!

Tickets are on sale now- click here to purchase!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Coming to Chicago October 2015: Goblin Market the Musical!

Hi everyone, just wanted to announce my latest project: opening this October I'll be directing the musical adaptation of the poem Goblin Market, originally written by Christina Rossetti.  This adaptation was written by Peggy Harmon and Polly Pen, and Polly Pen will actually be coming to the show on Thursday October 8!    This is a short, dark fantasy musical that is already shaping up to be fantastic in rehearsals- and we shot some publicity photos earlier this summer that came out great- I've posted them below. Enjoy, and here's the link to get tickets.