BWW Interview: An Evening of 'Short Stories' and a Song Book To Die For: THE ALL NIGHT STRUT

BWW Interview: An Evening of 'Short Stories' and a Song Book To Die For: THE ALL NIGHT STRUT

"The All Night Strut has a songbook to die for! It may not be as riotously funny as The Irish and How They Got Way was," says Maine State Music Theatre's Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark, but I know from experience that the audience will leave the theatre exhilarated!" Clark, who will co-produce the show with Anita Stewart, Artistic Director of Portland Stage, describes the musical revue as "a collection of vignettes, each of which plays out before the next one begins. It is sort of like an evening of short stories that paints a colorful and poignant picture of 20th century America in the years of the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war."

Stewart concurs, calling the piece "hopping, lively, entertaining, filled with music and tales from a time when Americans were going through major shifts and turmoil in their history."

The production which will run at Portland Stage from August 15 - September 10, 2017, marks the second time these two leading Maine Equity companies have joined forces to mount a musical play. Their first collaboration in 2016 of Frank McCourt's The Irish became the highest grossing show in Portland Stage's history and left audiences - in Clark's words - "insanely happy night after night. To this day, people still stop me - [Clark was also one of the four principals] - and tell me that they thought it was an amazing show!"

Stewart seconds that thought: "We could see the impact The Irish had on our community, how much both our audiences appreciated the work and how much the collaboration augmented the work both companies were already doing in such a positive way. Mainers like to see the institutions they love and support come together and work together."

"When not-for-profits get together, work together, and are successful, everybody wins. The donors and patrons who support both theatres feel that we are doing our best to be as fiscally responsible and artistically creative as we can," Clark adds. "And the best part about these co-productions in August and September is that they expand our programming and help us continue our relationship with our incredibly loyal patron base. Last year was the first time in many, many years that our audiences could see an MSMT production after August," Clark notes, referring to the fact that MSMT's season is currently constrained by its twelve-week lease of the Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus.

And while Portland Stage owns and inhabits its building year-round, its producing season has traditionally run from September to May and it rarely does musical theatre, so the addition of a show in the late summer slot, Stewart says, "not only expands our programming calendar-wise, but it also opens up our repertoire to a different type of material than we generally do."

BWW Interview: An Evening of 'Short Stories' and a Song Book To Die For: THE ALL NIGHT STRUTThe All Night Strut was conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Fran Charnas and it features musical arrangements by Tom Fitt, Gil Lieb, and Dick Schermesser of American songs of the 1930s and 1940s. The MSMT-Portland Stage co-production will be based on Marc Robin's productions at the Drury Lane Evergreen Park in Chicago - (which won an After Dark Award for Best Ensemble) -and the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA, and will be directed/choreographed by Buddy Reeder who will be making his Portland debut. The four-character ensemble will be anchored by Curt Dale Clark, reprising the tenor role he has performed twice before in the Robin productions. The remaining three performers - two women and another man - are "pretty close to being cast, but until contracts are signed we cannot comment," observes Stewart. The musical direction will be handled by an on-stage quartet led by Ed Reichert, who also handled the musical honors for The Irish. Stewart, herself, will create the set, Greg Carville the lighting, and Kathleen Brown the costumes.

Both Stewart and Clark comment enthusiastically on the fact that like last year's The Irish, The All Night Strut will be performed essentially unmiked in Portland Stage's 269 seat house with excellent acoustics and sight lines. "Our space is very conducive to this kind of close harmony work," Stewart says. "And we are working to get singers who can manage that challenge."

"There will be some standing mikes, however," Clark adds, "for both visual and some audible reasons. There are some songs, especially the upbeat group numbers like "Chattanooga Choo Choo" that just feel wrong if they are not done in front of those big period SHURE microphones." But Clark agrees that for him as a performer there is a thrill to performing without a body mike. "It's such a freeing feeling not to have to worry about your microphone. When an actor tells you he never thinks about it - he forgets that it's there - I don't believe him. The huge behemoths of theatres today have made the microphone a necessity, but in the generation of performers I come from, projecting was the number one element to becoming a successful musical theatre actor. Some of the best performers today would not have survived in musical theatre back then when there were no microphones. Microphones have helped more people come to the party."

Both Stewart and Clark, who gets to sing some of the choice numbers, are huge fans of the music of The All Night Strut. "There's such a variety," Stewart says.

"The score encompasses jazz, musical theatre, gospel, blues, big band," Clark continues. "They are all tunes older folks will remember, and younger people will be struck by the melodies and want to know what they are and where they come from. Though it's not a big dance show, vocally, it's a very difficult piece for all four performers because you are singing the entire evening, and the score runs the gamut from A-Z, up to down, low notes to high notes. It certainly stretches the vocal chords!" says Clark, who was honored last year with a BWW Audience Choice award for Best Vocal performance in The Irish.

Asked about his favorite musical moments for tenor in the show, Clark cites his solos in "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" "As Time Goes By," and the group numbers of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" - "it's the first ensemble song"- and Johnny Mercer's "Dream" "which is one of the hardest in the show because it is slow, soft... Sometimes people shut their eyes to listen, but then they go crazy at the end."

Not only are the two theatres immersed in their planning for this new venture, but the buzz is already out in the community. Ticket sales opened on April 26 and have been doing a brisk business, and both Clark and Stewart are looking forward to welcoming MSMT's and Portland Stage's combined audiences to this next collaboration. "There is so much positive energy," Stewart declares. "She feels that The All Night Strut which will also transition nicely into Portland Stage's regular season opener in September, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. "They are two musical plays about the same period, but they couldn't be more different, and so I think this will get people to think about the material in a deeper way."

Clark, meanwhile, looks forward first to what is promising to be another record breaking MSMT summer season (June 7-August 26) and to then having the opportunity to continue delighting patrons for another three weeks. "I want the audiences who come to this collaboration in Portland to have every bit as wonderful a time as they do when they come to the Pickard. And I want everyone who attends to go home happy that they chose to come!"

Photos courtesy of the Fulton Theatre 2011 production

The All Night Strut, a co-production of Maine State Music Theatre and Portland Stage, will run at Portland Stage from August 15- September 10, 2017. Tickets/information at Portland Stage Box Office 207- 774-0465 www.portlandstage.org or information at www.msmt.org

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