BWW Previews: Pandora Brings Sondheim Rarities Out of Box
The creative process often mirrors the journey of life. It becomes about discovery and timing.
For Michael Drury, producing artistic director of locally based Pandora Productions, the timing and discovery of one particular show led to an entirely new way of seeing it.
Pandora will present the final production of its 2013-2014 season, "Marry Me a Little," a musical derived from the works of legendary musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim, June 19-29 at the Henry Clay Theatre downtown.
Theatre artists Craig Lucas and Norman René took selections of Sondheim's that were mostly cut from his classic shows such as "Follies," "Company" and "A Little Night Music" and linked them together in a minimalist story of two would-be lovers.
"Some of them were designed as an '11 o'clock number' that didn't quite work as an '11 o'clock number,'" Drury said. "But they're all really good songs. So they were put together by this team, and they sort of tell the story of this man and woman who are chronically alone, and yet they only live one floor apart, and they don't even know that the other exists. So it's really about how we miss the opportunities in our lives because we don't open our eyes to what they are."
Though the show is designed for a man and woman, companies in recent years have obtained permission to perform the show using same-sex couples. That would be a perfectly normal approach for Pandora, whose mission is to produce theatre that expresses and illuminates the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning members of society.
Drury liked the idea of the show. But for several years, he simply couldn't seem to work it into Pandora's schedule.
"It was presented to me by a subscriber about three or four years ago," he said. "At the time, it didn't really fit into the season I was planning. It continued not to fit, but it's always sort of been on my 'Long Look' list every year. And this year, because we did a season of marriage equality-themed things, I thought 'Oh, now it sort of fits.'"
Drury scheduled it for a season in which the timely subject of marriage equality was the through line of the company's productions. He also received permission to produce it with a same-sex couple. But as he began exploring the material with his cast, timing and discovery led him in an entirely new direction.
"This year, I thought 'I'm gonna see if I can get permission to do it gay and lesbian and do it with four people - two gay men, two lesbians,'" he said. "But as we started rehearsing the show, it made much more sense in the text and the way we've been discovering the text and how it was assigned to different people, that we have it assigned to all four types: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, which is why I'm so lit up about it. I'm really excited about it because I don't think anyone's ever done this, and I'm just really excited about what we've created."
Pandora's version will feature four couples, each of a distinctive alternative sexual persuasion.
"I love a happy accident," Drury said. "I would like to say that I'm brilliant and I conceived of it this way all along. But I didn't. It just kind of happened that way in the rehearsal process. I'll take genius however I can get it."
The evolving nature of Pandora's art reflects the history of a company whose subject matter and audience has seen its place within larger society evolve over its history. The company was founded in 1995, and Drury took over from the founders in 1999. He set out to make topical, socially relevant theater with LGBT themes.
As homosexuality becomes a more integrated part of the broader culture, Drury can foresee Pandora evolving as well.
"When we first started doing it, we wanted to enlighten people about issues related to gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people," he said. "We still are trying to do that, but we are also changing because people can see gay people everywhere now. They don't have to come to us to see them. That's what's shifting to us. I think our success in the future will be how to appeal to a broader community.
"There may come a time when a gay and lesbian theater company doesn't have to exist, which would be a great thing, because then we would have succeeded in our mission. 'Let's move on from here.'"
That may be the next step. If so, the company's growth under Drury to get there will have been no happy accident.
"People give me a lot of credit, but really, I think I've just been really lucky," he said.