BWW Interview: Doing Double-Duty as the Director and Performer, Diane Hill Tells All About FOLLIES IN CONCERT at Theatre NOVA
Ann Arbor's Theatre NOVA is presenting a special concert version of Stephen Sondheim's Follies. With book by James Goldman, Follies best-loved songs include "Broadway Baby," "I'm Still Here," "Could I Leave You?" and "Losing My Mind." The limited-engagement fundraiser will only run Thursday-Sunday for two weeks, closing on Nov. 17. BroadwayWorld Detroit caught up with Theatre NOVA's Co-Artistic Director, Diane Hill, about what theatre audiences can expect:
BroadwayWorld Detroit: You are the Co-Artistic Director of Theatre NOVA. You just wrapped as the lead in Theatre NOVA's sold-out Admissions on October 13. And now, for Follies, you are doing double-duty as the director and performer. How are you juggling all of this?
Diane Hill: Once Admissions opened, I started to work on memorizing my own role and songs. I've done that before--rehearse one show while performing another--so I was confident about that. One of the biggest challenges of this project was casting the show, because it's a huge cast of volunteer performers for this fundraiser. I secured the rights to produce the show in May, and I started casting immediately. During Admissions, we had a read/sing-through of Follies in Concert and then Brian Buckner, our music director, held individual coaching sessions for two weeks in October. As soon as Admissions closed, I put my pedal to the metal and staged the whole thing on paper.
You are the Director of Follies and Brian E. Buckner is the Musical Director. How did you divide up rehearsals?
We had music rehearsals in early October, and then I staged the show at the end of October. Once we were immersed in the staging process, the performers knew they had to come to me with their lines memorized and their music prepared.
What is the plot of Follies?
The story explores the relationships of two unhappy couples that are attending a reunion at a theatre that is about to be demolished and turned into a parking lot. The guests at the reunion used to perform in the Follies produced there in the 1940s. A "million years" later, Sally has married Buddy, but she's still in love with Ben, while self-absorbed Ben has married Phyllis, and their relationship is estranged. Sally, Buddy, Ben and Phyllis relive some of their past--with other actors playing their younger selves--and try to make sense of how they got to where they are right now.
Please explain to our readers the difference between a concert version, like this production, versus a full production?
Well, I think I didn't execute it the way it might be expected. Concert versions are usually performed with limited, or no, staging and no sets or costumes. The singers are usually all seated on the stage and then simply stand up to sing their songs or do their short scenes. In the end, I just couldn't resist. I fully staged the show, with entrances and exits and interesting lighting, and even choreographed some numbers. We have a beautifully painted backdrop for the show, but we use only one stool. There is a LOT of singing--past showgirls come out often to sing their old hits, but there's also a lot of drama interlaced, and the audience comes away feeling like they saw the entire show, despite the fact we don't have showgirl costumes for the Follies numbers-although you'll see some in the lobby.
How many performers are in the cast? And who is a Theatre NOVA first-timer and who are regulars?
The cast is chock full of people who have never performed at Theatre NOVA before. Only Brian Buckner, Carrie Jay Sayer, Eddie Rothermel and I have performed here. The remaining cast of seasoned performers making their debuts here are Sue Booth, Thomas Murphy, Roy Sexton, Connor Thomas Rhoades, Annie Kordas, Kryssy Becker, Harold Jurkiewicz, Olive Hayden-Moore, Edith Lewis, Gayle Martin and Emily Rogers-Driskill.
What can audiences expect to see from this show?
The audience will hear some spectacular singing of wonderful Sondheim songs, and they will see a story of crumbling relationships unfold with biting wit and poignancy.
What will the money raised go towards?
We received an operational grant from the MCACA and NEA and must raise funds to match $15,000. Our rent of the building is high in downtown Ann Arbor, and we would love to make improvements to the space including a long-needed handicap-accessible bathroom.
Follies in Concert, a fundraiser for Theatre NOVA, will be presented at 8 p.m. Nov. 7-9 and 14-16 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 (sold out) and Nov. 17. General admission tickets are $30. To order, go to www.theatrenova.org, call (734) 635-8450, or buy them in person at the box office one hour before showtime. Theatre Nova is located at 410 W. Huron St. in Ann Arbor, MI. Parking is free.
Connect with Theatre Nova at www.theatrenova.org, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/theatrenova, Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theatrenova/ and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/a2theatrenova/