By Alison Rooney
In the great tradition of “let’s put on a show” comes GLEEful, the little show that could, and the little show that got bigger, quickly. GLEEful, which opens on Friday at the Depot Theatre, is this fall’s “Depot musical,” a time-honored autumn treat at the theater. It wasn’t always this fall’s musical, in fact it has a little of the “you’re going out an understudy and coming back a star” lore about it already.
The fall musical is generally a production starring adults, occasionally with participation from younger members of the community. Last year’s gritty presentation of Threepenny Opera was just that. Plans were for a similar scenario this year, but just before the auditions took place, there were late-breaking logistical difficulties relating to the intended production, the ironing out of which would have caused too great a delay in the rehearsal process.
Enter Lisa Sabin. A classically trained singer, actress and vocal coach (she teaches locally), Sabin had taken a few mother-of-small children years off from performing, after a career in which she had sung at Symphony Space, Town Hall, and Avery Fisher Hall. She was itching to perform again, and had booked an evening at the Depot, scouting talented singing kids locally in hopes of inviting them to share the stage with her for the one night. The notion of a “Glee”-like romp through high school concept was suggested to her coincidentally by both her husband, Marc and her friend Frankie. Sabin checked out the summer Depot Youth Theatre productions of Bye Bye Birdie and Pajama Game, but then got a bit sidetracked. On the cusp of calling it off, she got a phone call from Nancy Swann, creative director at the Depot, informing her of the situation with the first musical scheduled, and wooing her with an “I hear you have great ideas and are organized…” and presto: quicker than you could stir up a bowl of ramen noodles — insta-director and insta-show. Having had a heads- up on some talented kids, she then found more talent, of both the kid and adult variety, through hastily scheduled auditions. And thus GLEEful was born.
GLEEfulcelebrates the joy of youth as expressed in songs chosen by Sabin, after casting, to showcase the talents of each individual singer. The first few weeks of rehearsal were spent trying out vocal material. Once that was set, improvisations with character development followed and then Sabin created storylines, many with a beginning-to-end journey and multiple resolutions. The result is a show packed full of solo and duet show-stoppers — there is no filler material here – as well as many high-energy group numbers. The music ranges from traditional Broadway belts, presented in an untraditional way — an 11-year-old boy delivers the Rose’s Turn anthem from Gypsy (usually performed by a middle-aged woman) — to today’s pop, rap and singer-songwriter hits, all presented with a different spin.
Sabin recruited Haldane High School math teacher/dancer Kristen Savastano-Peparo as choreographer, after seeing her work on the dance numbers set to Thriller and Ice Ice Baby performed by the teachers at the last two Haldane talent show nights. Expect to see some hip-hop moves and more.
The audition process yielded a group of kids and some game adult foils, all of whom have that “born to be on the stage” genome. The kids range from 9 to 16 and come from several local school districts, with Haldane, Garrison, Wappinger’s, Lakeland and Poughkeepsie represented. The adults range from “do not ask” to “no way am I telling” and include Mark Colvson, who recently played Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady at Wappinger’s Community Players, Molly Heily-Werner, seen in the World’s End Theatre production of The Seagull last spring and The Depot’s very own house manager, Julie Heckert, who stepped in at the last minute into the show that stepped in at the last minute! The cast is a true ensemble, with no larger/smaller roles, and with that special moment or two in the spotlight for each member. The result, as described by parent of two cast members Erika Wood, who designed the poster, is “joyful, adorkable, loseical, nerdlicious,” which does indeed capture the spirit of the show.
During the rehearsals, cast members were asked to occasionally keep a production diary and also to post zippy personality details either “as” or about their character on GLEEful’s lively Facebook page. Here is an except from one diary followed by a small sampling of these offerings from some of the youngest and, well, oldest participants:
“If (I mean When) you come see our show, here are some things you will experience: a love triangle, a diva, a mother who won’t butt out, a relationship between a harsh principal and a grumpy janitor, pen-pals who meet, a girl who gives fabulous makeovers, a know-it-all, a little twerp, and a shy boy who breaks out of his shell. All of this between tons of amazing songs! See you at the show! …..“The New Girl”
“Okay, rehearsals are SO fun! I’m a little nervous about my solos–well, my big one and my little ones. AAAaaaHHHhhh! OMG! Loser Like Me is kinda hard to remember, but I’m practicing! Also I LOVE my character and all my lines! Everyone in the cast is so great! Love, Farrah”
“Hi this is Agnes Barker here and I’m feeling very unGLEEful! Why you ask? Well because I’m the school janitor and I hate kids and every day I get to clean up after these brats. Its amazing just how much refuse one child can produce in a day.. Stay tuned for more drama of the UNGLEEfull GLEEfull story.
“Hi! My name is Todd, Todd the Terrible! I like to throw things – especially sharp things. With my dad away and my mom not paying much attention to me I can only make myself better by singing. I know, it’s Terribly Terribly sad.
“What’s all this singing and dancing about? This is a school! …Bust a Move with me just one more time young man…!” Signed, Harvey Weeks, Principal
“Hi, I’m Annabella Joy Adams and I just want everybody to know that at some point or other, you will get a makeover from me. Personally, I really don’t care when. Basically, I rule the school and someday the world!!! Be ready to worship me as your queen. Ta-da!!You can see this yearbook full of crazy cut-ups singing and dancing their hearts out when GLEEful opens, on Friday night, Oct. 21. Set design is by Dana Kenn; lighting by Donald Kimmel; and music direction by Paul Heckert. Nancy Swann is the assistant director, Julie Heckert the stage manager and, completing a trio of Heckerts, Hudson Heckert will run the lights.
The show runs for four weekends, Oct. 21 through Nov. 13, Friday through Sunday, with Fri/Sat performance times of 7:30 p.m. and most Sundays at 4 p.m., with the exception of Sunday, Oct. 30 which has a special show time of 1 p.m. so that should there be a rain date situation with the annual Cold Spring Halloween Parade (which is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. with a rain date the next day, same time) audience members can see the performance and then repair to the postponed parade, post-show.
On Sunday, Oct. 23, there is a special benefit performance for the Depot Theatre, coupled with a cocktail party at the home of Joe and Kathy Plummer. Some ticketsare still available for the benefit — call the Depot for details. Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets. For more information visit the Depot website or phone 845-424-3900.
Production photos by Dana Kenn, except as noted
Cast member photos by Erika Wood