Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Summer Stock

I really shouldn't classify my recent gig in The Nerd as "summer stock," since it wasn't. Wayside Theatre operates pretty much year-round, though I imagine at some point in their 50 year history, they may have been classified as a summer stock theatre. But since my 7 weeks there coincided with the hottest, sweatiest summer on record, it surely felt like stock to me. Wayside's theatrical neighbors are true summer stock companies. Both Totem Pole Playhouse and Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre are in the same corner of the Shenandoah Valley as Wayside, and they both operate in true stock fashion: using a core company of actors (and adding jobbers as needed), they rehearse a show, open it, then begin rehearsal for the next show the day after opening night. That routine of rehearsing one show during the day, and performing a different show at night, is repeated all summer long. It's exhausting and exhilarating, and only the heartiest of stage actors can handle it.

Summer stock is not for sissies.

Even the cross-dressing John Kenley knew that. He ran one of the most successful summer stock touring circuits for decades, I wrote a bit about that when he died a couple of years ago.

This week's Dance Party celebrates the summer stock tradition with a clip from the 1950 film of the same name. Everybody knows a little about Summer Stock, the movie, mostly because of Judy Garland's troubles during its production. She was struggling with her habitual pharmaceutical dependency, and was overweight to boot. At least it was thought that she was overweight; she was certainly heavier than the public was used to, but I recently watched Summer Stock, and she looks exactly appropriate for a farm woman. But additional attention was brought to her weight when, after a two month hiatus during which she sought help from a hypnotist, she returned to film the most famous number in the movie, "Get Happy." She had lost over 15 pounds, appearing positively svelte in a tuxedo jacket and bare legs.

Summer Stock was a financial success, and Garland had begun work on her next movie (Royal Wedding) when her personal demons and her health issues once again interfered, and she was sacked. So, the clip below is from her final MGM musical. (BTW, this is not the first Dance Party which has featured a song from this classic. Go here to see a signature solo dance by Gene Kelly.) Nobody really cares about the plot of Summer Stock, but it should be noted that the film is misnamed. The musical-within-the-movie which is being produced in Judy's barn is not a true summer stock production. Like my recent production of The Nerd, it is a stand-alone show; just because it takes place during the summer, does not make it summer stock. But Judy, Gene, and I can be forgiven for considering our shows to be part of the summer stock tradition.

So, as a bit of a tribute to Ray and Thomasin and Rex and Wil and Carl and JJ and Steve and Mike and Rick and Robin and Susie and James and Karen and Tom and Hal and Cat and Warner and all my other cohorts who participated in some summer stock this season, enjoy this week's Dance Party. It begins as a country square dance, then morphs into a Lindy, finally becoming a dance-off and showcase for our two stars. Happy Dog Days of Summer, everybody!

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