Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wildcat Opens, Lead Casting Remembered

The Moon’s ongoing production of Wildcat started with a bang last week when the show opened with lead Maureen McVerry wearing a vintage garter that Lucille Ball had worn when she had the role. The packed audience at the Eureka Theatre on Saturday included John Henry, a self-described Lucille buff who brought the garter and invited Maureen to wear it for her opening night performance.

The cast and audience mingled after the performance over appetizers from restaurant sponsor L’Olivier’s (many people don’t know that the opening night shows include catered receptions, let alone wine). The next day, Neil Wilburn, the author of the upcoming book “Lucy Goes to Broadway,” a historical look at Lucille’s time on the small stage that’s set to hit shelves before the show’s 50th anniversary, participated in the post-production cast and crew talk back.

Neil (shown here with Rob Hatzenbeller (Joe Dynamite) and Maureen) said that Lucille had planned to film a movie version of Wildcat in the early 1960s. When it didn't happen, Ann-Margret was announced for the role a few years later but the casting was never fruitful. He also spoke about how Lucille had carefully chosen Wildcat because the role was such a departure from her Lucy Ricardo character, but that Desi had urged her to put more "Lucy" into her characterization, which she reluctantly did. Neil said he feels the show itself is very underrated and hopes his book will get more theaters interested in producing it.

Wildcat can be seen at the Eureka Theatre until May 24. More information and tickets can be found on the 42nd Street Moon website.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wildcat Director Kalon Thibodeaux on Oilbums and Old Souls

When I met Kalon Thibodeaux at the first Wildcat rehearsal, I was impressed by his extensive work with the Moon and his enthusiasm about the upcoming production (not to mention his general friendliness and big welcome to a new fan of the theater). The San Franciscan acted in Flora the Red Menace, Minnie’s Boys (for which he received a Bay Area Critics Circle Award nomination), and other Moon productions before directing Oh, Lady Lady. He told me about his passion for theater, his staging style, and the myriad reasons he finds joy in the work.

EG: What drew you to direct Wildcat?

KT: When I sat down to read through it, what I loved about it instantly was its power. When the show was developed, it featured the work of Lucille Ball (has there ever been a more gutsy comedienne?) and choreographer Michael Kidd. And although Wildcat was his Broadway debut as a composer, Cy Coleman was obviously capable of creating a full, powerful sound that’s evident in songs like "Corduroy Road" and "Hey, Look Me Over." All of this is perfectly fitting for a show about getting your hands dirty to chase your dream, a theme that's manifested through things like hard hitting, big singing "oilbums" and the onstage building of an oil rig. It's a big musical with a big heart and I like that kind of theater.

What types of shows or themes are you most intrigued by?

I've been involved in theater for about 20 years now. I think the main reason I've stuck with it so long is that I like variety. I like being able to research and create in a specific period or environment intensely for a few months and then get to move on to a completely different style of theater. I find it liberating and a wonderful opportunity to learn about things that I probably wouldn't have had the time or energy to look into on my own.

The last Moon show I directed, for example, was set in 1912 (like Wildcat), but it was much more of a New York society farce than the Wild West, rugged feel of Wildcat. Hardly any elements of design have been used in both. I like to let the theater take me on the ride according to the task at hand.

What was your reaction to finding the Moon after moving to San Francisco?

It was wonderful. I, in a way, bumped into it. I was just auditioning wherever I could and the Moon happened to be looking for someone to play Harpo Marx in their production of Minnie's Boys. Stephanie saw me at a general audition and they had me come in and read. I fell in love instantly. I guess you could say I'm sort of an "old soul" and, especially as a performer, I absolutely love the classical musical theater style. It's probably because a lot of it is so heavily influenced by old vaudeville acts. I found myself playing roles at the Moon that were originated by people like Jimmy Durante and Willie Howard. Where else do you get to have that much fun?

Not many places, I’d say. You can read more of Kalon’s joyous takes on musical theater on his personal blog and see it on stage when Wildcat opens on May 7.

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Wildcat" Maureen McVerry on Acting, Directing and Observing

This week I talked to Maureen McVerry, who's playing the title role in the Moon's upcoming show "Wildcat." Her previous Moon productions have included "The Student Gypsy," "Pardon My English" and the recently performed "High Spirits."

Given that "High Spirits'" Ruth is such a different character from the strong and spunky Wildcat Jackson, I was looking forward to hearing how Maureen approaches the theatre and her work in it. It was good to hear the self-described “drama queen of Redwood City” talk about her direction of school musical; she says she’s passionate about passing a love of musical theater onto her teenage children and students. We talked about what she seeks when choosing a theatre, why a Masters of Fine Arts isn’t necessary for quality acting, and seeking inspiration.

EG: What about the namesake role in “Wildcat” appealed to you as an actor?

MM: When Greg [MacKellan] told me that the role was prepared for Lucille Ball in the early ‘60s, I read it and was intrigued by the fact that the show has been completely forgotten even though it was once a staple. The show’s theme song, "Hey, Look Me Over," was very popular at the time, and it’s made it easy to tell people about the upcoming production.

Which of Wildcat Jackson’s characteristics are similar to your own?

I think she’s much more emotional than I am, but I’m also very strong-willed and goofy. What can I say? I’ve never been a shrinking violet!

What drew you back for your fourth Moon production?

The Moon is such a positive company. It has a very refreshing attitude about putting on shows and retains a sense of joy and community that other theater companies don’t have. Come to think of it, I don’t know of other companies that even practice communal vocal warm-ups.

Also, any time I spend a number of weeks working with [musical director] Dave Dobrusky I come out a stronger singer with better technique.

How did you decide to teach musicals to middle school students?

I think that the tradition of great performances will be lost if we don’t expose it to kids and teenagers. We need to do a better job of making sure that this art form is introduced to them and carries on. I bring my students to see Moon performances, and I’ve never had any of them anything less than “Wow”—they’re very captured by it.

What about your own musical education experience do you hope to pass on or change for your students?

I actually hated my high school theater department because it wasn’t very well run. It wasn’t until I took a theater class at Cal in adulthood that I realized I wanted to take part in productions. Since then, I’ve found that watching good acting is a great way to learn. I don’t have an MFA as I don’t think it’s necessarily needed to be a good performer—the best way to become a quality actor is to observe people on the street and watch good acting on stage.

Maureen’s advice is applicable to actors and theatergoers seeking great acting—and as San Franciscans we’re lucky to be exposed to a wide range of theatrics on just about any street. My conversation with Maureen got me thinking about acting and presentation around us that we’ve either tuned out or shaken our heads in wonder about. What have you seen that’s stage-worthy around you lately?

Maureen can be seen in “Wildcat” at the Eureka Theatre from May 7 through 24. More information and tickets can be found on the 42nd Street Moon website.