BWW Interviews: Synchronicity Cast and Director Discuss Revival of Family Favorite PETITE ROUGE
Synchronicity Theatre rounds out their 15th Anniversary Season with a revival of last year's critically-acclaimed, "Petite Rouge". Featuring members of the original cast and directed by Justin Anderson, "Petite Rouge" is part fairy tale, part adventure and all fun for all audiences. Based on the book of the same name written by Mike Artell and illustrated by Jim Harris, this musical adaptation is brought to life by playwright and composer Joan Cushing. Synchronicity's co-production with Aurora Theatre, where the show performed for school audiences earlier this spring, opens March 29th and performs through April 21st. For this run, the show moves to a new venue, this time playing the Horizon Theatre.
To purchase tickets call 404-484-8636 or visit Synchronicity's website.
"Petite Rouge" is a Cajun-inspired musical interpretation of the classic "Little Red Riding Hood" fairytale. Instead of Little Red being hunted by the Big Bad Wolf, Petite Rouge, a duck played by Renita James, faces off against nasty Claude the Gator (Brian Harrison). Also featured in this talented young cast are Alex West (TeJean the cat), Michael Stiggers (the Frog), Taryn Bryant (Mother Duck), and Jessica DeMaria (Grandmother).
Recently members of the cast and director Justin Anderson answered some questions about this unique show.
Whether you are new or returning to the cast, what was it about this unique show that initially drew you to it ?
Jessica- Justin Anderson sort of found me on the very kind recommendation of a friend, so I wasn't sure what I was getting into initially! But the prospect of working with Justin and (Musical Director) Renee Clark immediately made me pay attention. I was dying to have the opportunity to do a musical and one that allowed me to have a lot of fun with dialect and character voices was very appealing.
Michael- Well initially, I saw this show as an opportunity to get back home and be closer to my family. Before last year, I had been doing a lot of traveling and out of town work and my family isn't able to see me in shows that often. So with this being a family show, I thought it would be a great way to see them as well as getting more established in the Atlanta theatre community. Having a background in theatre education, I was eager to return to performing and working with young audiences. It makes me appreciate being an artist even more.
Other than the obvious setting change, how does this story differentiate itself from the traditional "Little Red Riding Hood" fairy tale?
Jessica- I think this version of the classic tale is a lot more honest. It doesn't pull any punches. Claude the Gator is manipulative and terrifying and it takes a while for Petite to catch on. The consequences of her actions are very real. Not only do they affect her, but they very clearly affect the people around her, which is how the world works.
Michael- Although it's the same kind of formula of the original fairy tale, I think it tells a different story all together. It gives a new life to a classic, kind of like alot of our favorite Disney movies. And that's why I think audiences can relate to the characters even more. All of a sudden, the stakes become higher, the story becomes larger than life on stage and the audience is invited in to take that journey through the swamp with us.
Renita- For starters you are dealing with animals as opposed to people. So Petite is a Duck, Tejean is a cat, and you also have the gator, a turtle, a crawfish, and a frog. In this version of the tale, Petite is a spunky little duck with a lot of chutzpah. I mean when you think of Little Red you have to remember that the only reason she was saved was because a woodsman was near by. But Petite and Tejean use their wit to outsmart the "tricky gator" and to save their own lives. I love that about this show. I love the strength of these characters.
Generally we think of plays based on fairy tales as being specifically for children, but this play seems to have a unique appeal for adults as well. What about "Petite Rouge" allows it to have that universal appeal?
Justin- "Once upon a time...." is, perhaps, the greatest literary phrase ever created. It gives us permission to explore, to do the things we wouldn't normally do, to ask the questions we wouldn't normally ask because we are in a new and theoretical place. I don't think we ever lose that curiosity as adults. It may be stifled at times by the stuff and nonsense of life, but it seems to turn on the light in our hearts, minds, and souls every once in a while, usually when we have a yearning for something else. The safety and familiarity lies in the fact that no matter how dark or disparate things may become, there is always the promise of a happy ever after.
Jessica- First and foremost, this is a show that does not "talk down" to its audience. This is a giant, full out musical that happens to only be an hour long. Our choreography, the music, the choices we make, are all geared toward creating something enjoyable for everyone, regardless of age. We also want to keep it entertaining for ourselves, so there's some great jokes and humour in there that is just for the big kids. It really follows in the vein of "The Muppet Show", Pixar, and "Sesame Street" in the sense that there is something very specific to be enjoyed by the whole family, together-so that it can be a shared experience.
Renita- I think the thing that makes "Petite" so Universal is that we don't pander to the audience. What I mean by that is that we are living as honestly in this realm as we can. So we're not a bunch of actors attempting to play this or play that, but we are genuinely feeling something and having a blast doing it.
For the returning cast members, when you heard about this new run of the show, what were your feelings about returning to the "bayou?"
Jessica- This is truly a one in a million cast. Everyone has such a great spirit. Warm, talented, kind and giving, these are the kind of artists you wish to work with. So, all I could think of was how much I couldn't wait to be with my "Petite Rouge" family again. Also, I knew how much people loved the show and it felt great to know we were going to get to share it with a new audience.
Michael- I knew it would be a blast getting back with the cast, who I now consider family. We just work so well off each other and the fun doesn't just stop when we leave the theatre. I knew we would discover something new within this run and it's remarkable to see how much we've all grown as artists, as people since this time last year.
Renita- I was very excited! I love the creative team and the cast so much, they are really some of the most amazing people in theatre. But also I was very excited to have the opportunity to revisit this story again. It's so rare to work with a group of people who genuinely love and care for each other. We have that with this show and I wouldn't and couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with these guys again.
Again for those returning cast members, while you were preparing for this second run of the show, was your preparation focused on recreating the work you had done before, or were you looking to approach your characters in a different way this time around?
Jessica- For me, it was about creating a different mindset for myself. This is a high impact show, and we certainly had many challenges the first time around. This time, I knew we could do it, since we had! So I had so much more confidence which gave me the freedom to try new things and the flexibility to have more fun.
Michael- We knew that the new spaces would present a challenge to the process, so while we did keep some things from the original show, there were a couple of moments and things we revisited so that we could make the story more clear, more exciting. And that did allow us to look more in depth at the characters. We were able to focus on having more fun with this show this time around.
Renita- This time around I got the chance to make Petite a more dynamic character. During the first run of the show it was just becoming what it is now and we spent a good chunk of the first run just getting the feel for the piece. But this time we got to find the joy in the piece and have more fun. So I didn't approach it with the idea of recreating, but I wanted to find more joy in the piece, more reality. We have all grown so much over the past year and I think the show is a reflection of that.
For the new cast members, how has the process of acclamenting yourself into this production gone?
Alex- Acclimating myself into this cast was possibly the easiest thing in the world. The entire cast and crew welcomed me with open arms and created a safe environment to get everyone's creative juices flowing. From the first rehearsal, we all established that this is a fresh start and we would create a new show with new character development, harmonies and choreography. This really helped me to feel less like a new guy and more like a member of this show.
Our director, Justin Anderson, has a great way of precisely explaining the dire situation that characters Petite Rouge and TeJean are placed in. With that in mind, it was a smooth transition into becoming the character and finding my place in the world of "Petite Rouge" with this awesome cast. I'm sure it shows onstage as much as it does off!
Not many musicals have songs with a Cajun feel. How would you describe the experience that audience members have at your show?
Jessica- I think our audience just wants to dance! The music is so lively and catchy. The whole show has the feel of a big party, where everyone is welcome.
Justin- There is certainly a sense of the musical theatre that drives the show, but there are plenty of moments where we engage in, what I like to call, front-porch singing. Something that feels familiar, celebratory, inviting, and simple. This score is infectious, trust me. You'll be tapping your feet and wanting to two-step with the cast at several points throughout the show. I don't necessarily discourage that, by the way!
Michael- We try to bring that atmosphere to the performance. The audience is encouraged to clap their hands and dance in the aisles if they want. It's like a party on stage! Our Musical Director, Renee Clarke and our Choreographer, Lori Werner, really did a great job of taking the score to another level by using our individual talents and abilities to add some of that "Cajun flavor" to the mix.
After "Petite Rouge" closes, many of the cast members will be joining director Justin Anderson for the Aurora Theatre's production of "Les Miserables" this summer.