Apologies as I’m a day late this morning! Managing overloads of excitement during the past several days has pushed yours truly to the limit along with the Paramount Team I’m lucky enough to be working with! On Sunday with the final performance of Les Miserables, the realization that we have completed four successful seasons of Paramount’s Broadway Series hit me hard with great significance and pride. We are four years old! We have presented 16 productions! And the glorious closing night of Les Miz was emotional and celebrated as our first, My Fair Lady, if not more so! This just doesn’t get old! This cast felt the bittersweet pangs of closing certainly no less; the hugs and tears, the good byes to special people, special work and a special place. The shared gratitude for everyone’s participation, boundless! Whether you worked on it or in it or attended it, thank you! And over the weekend, we learned Paramount’s Broadway Series subscriptions have already surpassed 24,000!
Monday morning began bright and early on the road to auditions for West Side Story at the downtown Chicago Equity Office. Remarkable actors, one after another, came in to sing, raising the bar, heightening the competition. These are the actors from which we create the fabric of the play and upon whom we will build our story. This is just the first day of a long process of listening, seeing, focusing on the artist and the individual’s connection to Leonard Bernstein’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, Arthur Laurents’ and Jerome Robbins’ characters based on their 1950’s New York street gang vision of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. How they meet the challenge of the range musically and emotionally creates a sense of privilege for us watching, attending the nuances of their commitment and honesty with so much appreciation for them. Everyone behind the table amazes me with their passion as well. Each of them tireless here with so much going on! With me sits Tom Vendafreddo, Music Director/Conductor, who has just come off the entire preproduction and run of Les Miz, (and Mary Poppins AND The Who’s Tommy) with no break into today. Ditto for Choreographer William Carlos Angulo, who danced in “Poppins” and assisted on our Tommy and Drury Lane’s terrific Billy Elliott in which he is also currently performing…and my Assistant Director Trent Stork and Company Manager Kaylee Oost, who have both just wrapped up the entirety of Season Four and heroically, mind you…and I look at them and they are fresh, bright, enthusiastic and energized like its our first time! And here we are with not so much as a pause going right into Season Five on the morning after closing night!
By 6:00 Monday evening, I headed up to Lincolnshire where the Marriott Theatre hosted The Sarah Siddons Award Show/Fundraiser honoring recent Tony Award winner and Chicago’s own Jessie Mueller, who captivated her audience with her artistry. Producer Dominic Missimi requested I attend as one of Jessie’s Chicago theatre directors, (I directed Jessie in Meet Me in St. Louis at Drury Lane) and I got to hob nob with Chicago theatre elite, Tony Award winning actresses Deanna Dunagan and Heather Headley (who raised the roof) and friends like family on an occasion that was absolutely stunning. Jessie’s parents Jill and Roger and her brother Andrew have all performed on our Paramount Stage and were joined by her uber talented siblings Abby and Matt, and let me tell you, together they put on a show that rocked the house! (They could bring back the TV Variety Show format and run for years!)
Next morning, yesterday morning, back on the road this time to Chicago’s West Loop and The Lou Conte Studios/Hubbard Street Dance Center for the West Side Story dance call. I taught for Lou Conte many, many years ago when the studio was on Wabash Street in The Pakula Building. I am blown away at the achievement of this dance company taking over an entire city block with this state of the art school and how graciously Claire Bataille hosted Paramount’s dance auditions. Choreographer William Carlos Angulo felt having the auditions there would make the call more visible to dancers in the city, and indeed we drew some 150 dancers! I hope to keep setting a high standard of dance at Paramount opening last season with Harrison McEldowney choreographing Cats, Rachel Rockwell and Amber Mac choreographing Mary Poppins and Brock Clawson choreographing Tommy. William contributes to this aspiration beyond expectation in work that brought out something wonderful in everyone at the audition. He transformed the space with the dancers in originality, emotion and psychological content…and most of all, with musicality. Every dancer left feeling the substance of the experience, how attending in itself was rewarding. The Bernstein score has been a part of my life since my early teens, and to hear it again and danced like this took me back nostalgically and moved me forward into this present moment magically transfixed by William’s work with his assistant Courtney Cerny, and the promise it brings to the future of this production next year.
Season Five will bring dances by Katie Spelman in Oklahoma!, Rhett Guter in A Christmas Story, Amber Mac in Hairspray and William Carlos Angulo in West Side Story. This roster of choreographers impresses as each of them bring excellence and devotion to artistry and music and character. This 2015-2016 Season of Musical Storytelling is Paramount’s biggest yet: the casts, the orchestras and the sets are bigger than ever. With the scope and scale of work we hope to achieve with production teams like this, I am confident, dear reader, you will thrill and discover theatre going on a whole new level at Paramount!
I am noticing I am long winded this morning and running late! But a couple of announcements here: Paramount’s Broadway Series now has its first Music Supervisor in Tom Vendafreddo, and add to that, Rose Marie Packer leaving her post as Stage Manager and is now the newly appointed Paramount Theatre Production Manager. Congratulations Rose & Tom!
Love & thanks,