Watching “Somewhere” Bloom – Part 2

Part 2.

photo by T. Martin

photo by T. Martin

DANCE — I didn’t research to see if Somewhere is unprecedented in its extensive use of dance in a non-musical drama but it is at the very least an extremely fresh approach to integration of dance in a play.  The dance in Somewhere is so much more than incidental.  In addition to its obvious charm and artistry, the dancing in Somewhere is a plot device, it’s a tool, it’s a theme, it’s a tease – dance is almost a character itself in this play – one with many personalities.  Dance is woven in and out of many scenes, with the actors often speaking lines before, after and even during the dancing.

Dance is absolutely necessary to this work.  As was Greg Graham, the choreographer.  Greg had choreographed the San Diego production so some of his advance work was done. (The soft shoe number in the second act was my favorite part of the San Diego production;  I still love it very, very much but I can no longer have a favorite part.)   But – and this is huge – at Theatreworks Somewhere would be mounted on a wide proscenium stage, unshackling the dance and the dancers from the small in-the-round space they’d had to work with before.  Also, the extensive re-writing Matthew had done required revising and extending a  significant and complex solo for Alejandro to dance toward the end of the second act that needed to serve a major story-telling function as well as showcase the skill and talent of the dancer and be moving and beautiful to watch.  That’s all, Greg.

photos by  Matthew Lopez  and Greg Graham; composite by G. Graham

photos by Matthew Lopez
and Greg Graham;
composite by G. Graham

Watching dance rehearsals was very different from watching work on the scenes.  I saw far less of this since the dancer or dancers often worked in a separate room alone with the choreographer while they were learning the dance.  But seeing the dance put into the scene was a lot of fun and it was interesting how much the choreography would change during that process to accommodate the blocking, various characters’ entrances and exits, and other business.  Greg would physically jump in and out of the scene himself, assuming various roles, to see what worked and what didn’t, then back up as far as the space allowed and watch, then jump back in and dance some more.  (The stage manager, with a rather frantic smile, had to quickly move the waste basket out of his way a few times to avoid collisions.)  Totally fun.

I particularly enjoyed them trying to dumb down Eddie’s dancing.  Eddie’s character is supposed to be the rather clumsy dancer in the family and yet Eddie the actor toured as “Paul” in A Chorus Line so he knows how to dance.  (And yes, as everyone reminded him, someone else in the cast danced in Chorus Line too!) It seemed like Leo was always dancing around, even on break, and I could watch him all day. I purposefully avoided watching Michael’s big second act dance until it was fairly mature so I could feel the impact and of course now I wish I’d seen every single step along the way.

TECH — I stopped going as often once rehearsals moved from the rehearsal space to the actual theatre for tech rehearsals. This was partly due to my own work schedule and partly because all of a sudden a lot more people were involved in a lot more aspects of the work and it was hard to tell what and when would be particularly interesting and how I could stay out of the way.  The costume designer and wardrobe crew were there, the set designer,  sound designer, lighting designer, all the stage hands and supporting technical people. 45891_10151265193707655_820853599_n It would have been very easy to get in the way.  (I did a little I think but they were very nice about it.)  Once in the actual theatre space, the director had to do some last minute re-blocking to accommodate the very wide house and she and the assistant director were literally running back and forth to test sight lines from the seats in the most extreme sides and corners of the house to protect the interests of those ticket buyers.  That was pretty impressive to me.

The final tech rehearsal day was a Sunday and there would be a full invited audience dress rehearsal the following Tuesday,  followed by three paid preview nights and then Saturday Opening Night. The afternoon part of the final tech rehearsal I saw was enough to make my head hurt and my stomach ache.     Everyone was very tense and many things went wrong.  Actors called for lines I knew they knew cold.  The curtain got caught up on the couch and was thereupon banned from use forever.  A wall literally crashed down onto another wall during a scene change.  The crew couldn’t figure out how to make the intermission less than 40 minutes long.  All,  I now understand, totally normal, par for the course, nothing to write home about.  Brother.  And poor Michael up there dancing his beautiful heart out.  And Michelle still smiling her thousand watt smile.  I kind of slunk away that Sunday afternoon.  I actually wasn’t really worried.  Not really.  I had seen too much amazing magic already to be fundamentally concerned but I was a tiny bit afraid that maybe we didn’t have enough days in the actual theatre space to work out the kinks in time.  OK maybe I was a tiny bit worried.

WHEW.  Well, of course, I needn’t have worried.  The invited dress went beautifully (except for the 40 minute intermission — which was down to 15 minutes by Opening Night!) and the audience seemed to be universally swept up in its spell.  Previews continued to go well as I heard from an old colleague by email when he saw my name in the Producer credits when he went Friday night and sent me an email saying it was “incredible” and “one of the best  TheatreWorks had ever done” !

SOMEWHERE OPENS  —  Opening Night was probably my favorite night of theatre, ever.  (And that includes the Opening of Memphis on Broadway — which was pretty fun!)

Leo, Michelle, Giovanna, Matthew, Priscilla, Michael, Eddie photo by D. Allen

Leo, Michelle, Giovanna, Matthew, Priscilla, Michael, Eddie
photo by D. Allen

Granted that Opening Night audiences may be heavily salted with friends and family, this audience loved this play!   It’s not the kind of play with a final moment that has audiences primed to leap to their feet.  It ends on a quiet moment and takes a beat or two to recover from,  so the standing ovation was all the more heartfelt and rewarding.  Afterwards, there was the typical champagne reception and photo session but people just stayed and stayed.  People were happy.

I almost never post photos of myself but I couldn’t resist stealing this one from Matthew Lopez’s facebook page and posting it on my own with the comment:  “Here’s a photo of me at Opening Night of Somewhere.  Oh, and the playwright and star are in the photo too”:

 

photo by D. Allen

photo by D. Allen

 

I don’t know what’s next for Somewhere.  I do know that I want to see it again and I want everyone who loves great theatre to see it.

I don’t have the experience to know how much was extraordinary about the process I witnessed with Somewhere,  but if even a small part of it is typical, I understand even more than when I started why so many people make such huge sacrifices to live their lives working in theatre.

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5 Comments

  1. Dawn Pollard
    Mar 1, 2013

    You made the process come alive for me. I did not expect to find myself so eager for Part 2. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience and insightful view. You did an incredible job of conveying the magic of the page to stage process.

  2. darlene markovich
    Mar 4, 2013

    I saw Somewhere and loved it! The back story of Lincoln Center and West Side Story; the music and dance; theatrical splendor and terrific talent — so seeing it again through your eyes in preparation for the opening was exciting and even tense! Hats off to the Producers and break a leg with your blog – I’m now a devotee!

  3. Anne Hambly
    Mar 11, 2013

    Clever of you to be in the background of that photo!

  4. ZitoLallula
    Mar 29, 2013

    Great Post. thanks

  5. David Schoenbach
    Mar 30, 2013

    Thanks, you’ve captured in these 2 posts so much of the magic of the process of doing theatre, which I love as a distant memory. Somewhere sounds truly special and magical, and I hope to catch it, if not this coming season in Hartford, somewhere.

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