We have now completed our first week of rehearsal of "Bye Bye Birdie" out at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, though "week" is a misnomer. Our first week consisted of three and a half days of rehearsal.
SSMT has this routine down to a science, as they have been doing this every summer for 24 years. First rehearsal day is Thursday, the day after the previous show opens. (Currently, "Evita"). The morning is spent solely on music. The entire score is taught in a matter of hours, to principles and chorus. It is the only substantial rehearsal period devoted strictly to music in the entire rehearsal period. The ensemble members, a VERY talented group this year, really show their stuff at these rehearsals, as they are handed their music, and they sight-sing it, complete with four part (and sometimes five part) harmony.
The professionals hired from the outside (that would be me and 3 others) almost always come off looking like the amateurs at these rehearsals. Shenandoah University is to be commended for insisting that their students learn to sight read, as it will get them jobs.
But I digress. After lunch on Thursday, the afternoon is spent on the read- and sing-through. The ensemble is then dismissed to prep for their evening performance of "Evita," while the jobbers slink away to hurriedly try to catch up to the students.
Friday, the blocking begins. Director Hal Herman, who has been doing this the entire history of SSMT, methodically and efficiently blocks these big musicals, of which our show is the biggest of the season (in terms of cast members). There are surely 50 or more people in this cast, and negotiating the movement of all these townspeople, teenagers, reporters and Shriners, requires a unique skill, which Hal possesses.
Time can't be wasted, for we don't really get the full two week rehearsal period which traditional Summer Stock uses. Saturdays and Wednesdays are matinee days, so rehearsals cease at 12:30. I'm very impressed with this ensemble, comprised of college students and recent graduates, who rehearse from 9 AM to 12:30, then do two shows of something else, then return to the rehearsal at hand the following morning.
When I was 22, I could have done that, too, and I think I did at some points, but these days, I can only wonder how these kids can keep their creative energy going. SSMT does four large-scale musicals every year, and the ensemble works them all. This season began with "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and the cast handled the intricate tap choreography like the pros they are learning to become. Next, "Little Me" required many of the gang to adopt silly accents and exaggerated personas to tell the tale of a social-climbing manhunter. In the current "Evita," the ensemble works as a unified whole, commenting on the action as goose-stepping soldiers, flamenco-dancing denizens of Buenos Aires, or mourners at the feet of Eva Peron.
I hope these hard-working kids can have some fun with "Birdie", their last show. They are looking pretty pooped at rehearsal so far, but, as noted in "Candide," (a show I hope SSMT might one day attempt), "the natural ebullience of youth will soon restore their equanimity."
In other words, our next week of rehearsal will probably perk everybody up.