A ‘Grand’ start for theatre
It's a fresh take on classic songs
Music, acting, dancing — the stage awaits!
The curtain rises, house lights down, stage lights up and the seats …
Well, last season, from a box office standpoint, “we kind of knocked it out of the park,” said Mo LaMee, head of the theatre arts department at Colorado Mesa University.
Creating a season is a tricky thing, LaMee said.
On the one hand, there are the audience favorites to consider. On the other, there are the students who need performance opportunities that prepare them for the kind of work they will find after graduation.
“We kind of go on a four-year rotation of things we feel are important things for students to have experienced in their undergraduate program,” LaMee said.
So last season, Robinson Theatre was the scene for “James and the Giant Peach,” “A Christmas Carol” and “My Fair Lady.”
This season, of course, will be different and diverse, said LaMee, who compared the season to going to an art museum.
You “don’t really expect to like every piece of art that you see, but it’s worthwhile to see the whole thing,” he said.
In addition, those who enjoyed seeing certain CMU student actors cast in different roles last season will be able to see them continue to grow and change this season, he said.
The Robinson Theatre stage will open Thursday, Sept. 28, with “A Grand Night for Singing,” a review of 37 songs from the musicals created by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
Think: “Maria” from “Sound of Music”; “Some Enchanted Evening” from “South Pacific”; and “Shall We Dance” from “The King and I,” to name a few.
“Even if you don’t know Rodgers and Hammerstein, you would know some of these songs,” LaMee said.
“A Grand Night” is a “fresh interpretation” — it opened on Broadway in the early ‘90s — of the classic songs it uses to take five characters through the phases of romantic love, he said.
Along with “wonderful singers,” this production will feature a live band of local professional musicians, he said.
The curtain goes down on “A Grand Night” on Oct. 8, then back up in November for “Our Town,” a play LaMee is set to direct.
Written by Thornton Wilder, first produced in 1939, “I’m really excited about it,” said LaMee, who is reading a biography about Wilder.
Many people see the play as a warm and comforting story about people living in a New England town early in the 1900s, LaMee said.
But it’s not that simplistic. It’s about living in this world within the context of our mortality, he said.
“Our Town” considers that “we aren’t going to be here forever” and at the same time, “it’s a miracle that we exist at all,” he said.
“It’s going to be a slightly anachronistic production,” LaMee said, but he hasn’t yet decided exactly how he will make the play a little more contemporary to address the misplaced nostalgia and to show that the messages of “Our Town” are still applicable today.
“There is a kind of sternness to it,” LaMee said. “It’s just a really great play. It’s very powerful.”
And then it’s time to switch gears, put on the dancing shoes and warm up the vocal cords with “Thoroughly Modern Millie” beginning in February.
“It’s got great music and a fun silly story,” LaMee said.
‘THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE’
Set in the 1920s, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” follows a small town girl who moves to New York City, becomes a flapper and is intent on marrying a wealthy man.
Amanda Benzin, CMU’s new assistant professor of dance, will choreograph the production’s dance numbers, and she “is just an extraordinary tapper,” LaMee said.
And then the mood of the season will switch again in April with “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play.”
This play is more of a “devised piece,” LaMee said.
It was created by writers and actors in a bank vault under Wall Street who were exploring what would happen in a post-apocalyptic world where there was no more television, he said.
After trying to recreate episodes of the shows “Friends” and “Cheers,” the group landed on the “Cape Fear” episode of “The Simpsons.”
Thus “Mr. Burns” features a cast of survivors of an apocalyptic event trying to recall this episode of “The Simpsons” complete with commercials. The play shows how the episode is acted out right after the event, seven years later and then 75 years later.
It’s a play tied closely to the American cultural landscape and a “curious exploration,” LaMee said.
“People have just really been inspired and engaged in the intellectual conversation (of the play) or they’ve hated it,” LaMee said.
Which goes back to LaMee’s comparison of this season to an art museum, and while members of an audience may or may not care for “Mr. Burns,” “they may really love a great evening of music,” he said.
Scattered between these Robinson Theatre plays and musicals are other offerings: Bravo Cabaret productions with more music and acting in October and May, dance concerts in November and April and other performances held in the Mesa Experimental Theatre.
Also new this year is hearing assists for productions, LaMee said. Those interested in this service can pick up a headset at the box office prior to a performance.
A list of productions, synopses and ticket information can be found at coloradomesa.edu/arts/theatre/index.html.