Tonight was the first rehearsal for APPLAUSE! production of “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman”! I’ve done a whole slew of APPLAUSE! shows – more than any sane person should, really – but they’re so much fun I just can’t stop, and happily they keep inviting me back.
This time around, I thought I would report on the experience of performing in one of these one-week wonders. An “insider’s view” if you will, of how a show like this gets put together. It’s such a unique and fun experience – hopefully there will be amusing tales a-plenty to share. So, here goes!
Although there was one rehearsal this past Sunday for just the principals, this was the first full rehearsal with the entire cast present. Even the read-through last month was lacking one cast member who flew in (it’s a bird! it’s a plane! it’s the missing cast member!) to join us this evening. Or so I understand it, I may have to clarify in a future blog!
Rehearsal was held in a very charismatic old building, used during the day by the Vancouver Film School, on East Hastings in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. It’s very Daily Planet-like so highly apropos for our purposes.
Our director is Jonas Vidic. He is quite possibly related to Alan Smithee of the film world, and those Scrabble fans among you may note that his name, by happy coincidence, is an exact anagram of a certain other multitalented local comedian, improviser and theatre director. JV truly is one of the funniest men in a very large geographical area. Not in the sense of firing off a joke a minute, but just a naturally funny person; he doesn’t “say funny things” so much as he “says things funny”. He also brings a very imaginative and fun approach to the show. For example, one of his ‘big ideas’ is to have most of the cast on wheeled office chairs for much of the show, and to have people roll around to create the various scenes and staging. The chairs, and cast members themselves, will also serve as various other props required in the script but which we couldn’t possibly have “for real” – like exploding buildings, death rays and the like.
Tonight, JV welcomed us all and then gave us a bit of a preview of what he has in mind for the show. A big theme of his is to encourage the creativity and resourcefulness of the cast. He’s always open to suggestions or inventive ideas about how to stage things, or to stage them better. So everyone really feels they have a stake in, and a responsibility for, the show’s success. And with such a short timeline, it really helps to have everyone contributing something.
Steven Greenfield, our music director, arrived and soon we were going through the group numbers, a section at a time. It was interesting to hear these songs for the first time – I haven’t had any exposure to the show or the numbers prior to this, so it’s all totally new to me. The songs are by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, who wrote the music for Bye Bye Birdie and Annie, and they definitely have a distinctive sound, catchy in a sort of mid-60’s jazzy yet angular style. There is also much verbal silliness, appropriate to what is indeed a very silly (in the best sense) show. It took us all a little while to get our heads around some of the musical stops and starts. But before long, though, and with the ever-patient Steven running through trouble spots enough times for everyone to get on the same page, things fell more or less into place.
At one point I realized that a little rhythmic chant we were having a little trouble with was in fact on the exact same rhythm as the “George of the Jungle” theme… and then was faced with a blank stare from Steven and most of the cast when I (quite helpfully, I thought) pointed it out! Oh, the unexpected things that pop up to remind you that you’re a generation or more out of date…
We took a break and got to explore the building, heading down to the basement in search of a treasure trove of vending machines. Sure enough, junk food Nirvana awaited. There was even a novel three-part machine that had hot drinks, candy and chips, AND frozen treats! I was less than impressed though, when it refused to part with the ice cream bar I craved. Oh well, I didn’t really need the sugar. I also experimented with the great views down the stairwell, and (sort of) recreated that Beatles photo where they’re looking down with a bunch of balconies behind them…
By evening’s end we had a slightly shaky but serviceable runthrough of the two big group numbers, and a first look at the song performed by the “Lings”. Oh, yes, the Lings. They’re another oh-so-60’s element, in the sense that they’re woefully politically incorrect. In the show as written, they’re a family of Chinese acrobats who are also master criminals. They speak in a sort of Charlie Chan pidgin English. Well, actually only one of them even speaks. One of our director’s challenges has been to take the wind out of these stereotypes while still remaining as true as possible to the show as originally presented. His first step was to cast the Lings across ethnic lines, and to make one of them female (they were only men in the script). I’m sure that as things develop, there will be more touches that undermine the stereotypes while assuring that the audience is “in on the joke”.
Another big number will, I think, become a real highlight of the show: “It’s Super Nice”, the finale of Act 1. It’s a total 60’s go-go hipster thing, with a little of everything thrown in the mix from call-and-response girl-group harmonies to crazy, coo coo slang, baby!
Next: Part 2!
(Oh, and you can see all the photo here.)