BWW Interview: Kimberly Faith Hickman and the Double Leads of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY at Omaha Community Playhouse
Omaha Community Playhouse is trying something that hasn't been done in awhile. They have cast two sets of leads in the upcoming Jason Robert Brown musical, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. This production is not only unique in its double casting, it's based in our neighboring state, Iowa. Here is a story that's near and dear to our hearts. But how will the Playhouse manage two Francescas and two Roberts? I spoke with the director, Kimberly Faith Hickman, and the leads, Angela Jenson Frey and Thomas Gjere, and Mackenzie Dehmer and James Verderamo to get their take on the process.
Is this the first time that the Playhouse has done dual casting?
Kimberly: No. One of the most famous instances, I would say, is when they did Evita. They double cast Camille Metoyer Moten and Sue Perkins as Evita. We've double cast kids, but as far as double casting adults, Evita was probably the most famous instance that I've heard. This was in the 80's, I believe.
How did they do it then? Did they switch off nights?
Kimberly: They did. It was similar to the way our structure is working.
How do you think audiences will respond? Do you think that they will come twice to see both sets of leads?
Kimberly: I hope so! (laughs) Each couple offers very different interpretations. There's definitely similarity in what they all do, but there are little nuances that are very different. And so for us, for me, every night I always find something that resonates a little differently depending on who's on stage at the moment. That's really exciting. Hopefully, people will be curious and want to check out the show twice.
Angie and Mackenzie, do you take ownership of your character to the point where you watch the other person in that role and you think to yourself, "That's not me?"
Angie: (laughs) I feel like I'm watching Mackenzie at this point in the rehearsal process just to make sure my entrances and exits are matching hers. But I try not to take any of what she's done, because that's her as Francesca and it's what she brings to her character. I want to do my own thing.
Mackenzie: Yeah, I would agree. Anytime someone comes to the theater, they're bringing their own emotional baggage to it. So I'm just watching what Angie's bringing to the character based on her life experiences and the way she is connecting with the character. Obviously, my life experiences are different. So when I watch her, it's not to take away from her, but to watch in awe of the way she is crafting the character.
How about the guys? How do you feel about double casting?
James: I love watching Angie and Tom because they are so talented. But I don't want to steal from them and their interpretation of the work. I want us to do our own thing.
What are some of the challenges you've found in double casting?
Kimberly: Mostly logistics: making sure the entrances and exits are the same. The guy playing the husband is going to expect either wife to be at the right door at the right time. Things like that---and props. Making sure everyone puts the prop in about the same place. I think one person puts the laundry basket on the chair, the other puts it on the table. There are little differences that come instinctually to them, but we still need to track some sort of fluid consistency so the rest of the cast is able to know, okay, the laundry basket is always going to be over here... but maybe on the floor or on the table.
Angie: We talked about this the other day. It's a wonderful thing to have somebody that's in it with you and understands the process, understands the frustrations and knows what you're going through; that you can relate to and have a camaraderie with. Moral support. We just say, "I'm frustrated, you're frustrated, but we're going to get through this together." It's nice to have somebody that's got your back.
Mackenzie: Especially with this challenging show. There's so much relationship stuff that you have to make happen in a relatively short amount of time. I think that having someone you can talk to and work together with is really helpful. Another thing we've found is that, even when we're not on stage, James and I can go practice lines. We're always trying to stay busy, even when we're not the ones on stage. So sometimes we leave the room and run lines or go over the blocking.
How does the double casting affect the others in the cast? Does it get confusing for them because what one actor does is not the same as the other?
Tom: For most of the show when we're on stage, it's just the two of us.
Angie: And the times when the others are on stage, they adapt pretty easily. What we do, especially Tom and I, where it affects the family we make sure we stay consistent. They're all very supportive. What we do changes what they do, too, in some ways. It definitely keeps everyone on their toes.
Kimberly: It does. I think what Jason Robert Brown does so beautifully is relationships. He's one of the best composers of relationships. I'm not an actor, so I don't know how frustrating this might be, but he orchestrates every feeling that these characters have. On the page the score is so sweeping. The ranges are so vast. He forces the actors to get the emotions he wanted them to get by writing this impossibly high note where the only way to reach it is to be emotionally out of their minds. I think that's what so brilliant about him. That's why he captures relationships so well. Relationships can be so rewarding and so emotionally exhausting. He's the best composer to capture these elements of two people, and in this case, an entire family that is affected by what happens in the story.
Are Francesca's husband and two children in this production?
Kimberly: They are. And the neighbors and the whole community. We get an idea of what this community is like: what the neighbors are like, who's interested in what family, and what their business is. You know, there' s the lovely quality of small town where everyone knows everyone. Unless it gets too comfortable (laughs), and then maybe people know too much!
Do you think this show is pretty well known around the area, particularly since it is set in rural Iowa?
Kimberly: Certainly, people are familiar with the movie and the novel. The musical does a great job of honoring other adaptations, but the music just adds so much more to it. I think people will be surprised by it. We're the first to do the musical here.
James: It's relatively new. It just came out in 2014. It was on Broadway for only six months.
Kimberly: Right. It's only a few years old.
Angie: I've had several people ask me at work about it. Oh, is that a play? When they find out about it, they didn't realize that it was a musical.
Kimberly: I was living in New York at the time, but I didn't get to see it. The names attached to the Broadway production are very high quality, high caliber people. I wondered how it would do here. Will the tourists come out to see THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY? It seems like such a unique regional type of show, so when it became available, we had two different committees read through the material and everyone really loved it. Everyone felt it was completely appropriate and perfect for us to do, especially considering our proximity to Iowa. The Playhouse did a group tour of all the bridges back in October. That was really well supported. It's fun that we have that extra little bonus of being so close.
Tom, you have been pretty quiet. What would you like to say? You've got that whole Robert Redford look going on. James, you must be still on active duty!
James: I am still active duty, so I can't do the hair. We'll make it work!
Tom: I do want to say about the double casting that it's been really nice having the others there, because even though we try not to watch each other as we've all said, just listening to how James delivers a line or watching how he holds himself in a scene is really helpful. But also, when there's a gap between doing something and when you do it again, you can go, "Okay, when do you put the guitar down? When do you exit? Are you doing anything with the keys?" It's nice to have someone to double-check with.
Do you have someone actually playing the guitar in the show?
Kimberly: No we don't. We have a guitar. It's very specifically included, but...
Tom: Even Robert says he can't play.
Kimberly: That's what's so funny!...There's this really important prop that no one plays.
James: There are a lot of props in the show!
Mackenzie: I feel like the food is almost more important. We're in the kitchen so much in the show. Francesca's always cooking.
I've noticed that costumes are just slightly different between the two couples.
Kimberly: Yeah, they are. Megan Kuehler, is our costume shop supervisor. She's guest designing for this show. We talked a lot about finding a similar silhouette shape, textures, with some differences in color to wonderfully complement these beautiful people and their skin tones.
Are you doing any other special events in connection with the show?
Kimberly: Our opening night celebration is an Iowa State Fair theme in the lobby, which I think will be fun. We're trying to connect with different groups that we can partner with. Dundee Book Company will be here selling copies of the novel.
Thank you to Kimberly and her lead couples for giving us a look at dual casting and what promises to be another fine production for Omaha Community Playhouse. The performances will run on the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from March 1 through the 24th with show times at 7:30 pm Wednesday through Saturday, and 2:00 pm on Sundays.
Photo Credit: Colin Conces