Producing Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland Poster and Logo

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Performance length: about 2 ½ hours, with an intermission

ACTING: Medium

SET DESIGN: Hard

COSTUME DESIGN: Hard

GENRE: Children; Fantasy

CAST POTENTIAL: The Alice in Wonderland trove of iconic, darkly humorous characters, such as the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, and the Hatter (just to name a few) will be irresistibly fun and challenging for your cast to fashion in their own image.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Alice in Wonderland” click here

CROWD REACTION: The seemingly endless adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s famous story for stage and film speak to its timeless success. From generation to generation, children and adults seek the whimsical escape and haunting adventures in Wonderland.

SUMMARY: Spending an afternoon on a riverbank with her sister, Alice catches the strange sight of a talking White Rabbit. Stunned and amused, she follows the Rabbit down the rabbit hole and into a fantastic world filled with strange and funny, yet often cruel, characters.

Veta attempts to commit Elwood to a sanatorium, but Elwood’s flirtatious personality bewitches the hospital’s staff and Veta gets committed instead. Eventually, the staff realizes that Elwood is the one who is insane, but not before the invisible Harvey starts having an influence on the doctors, too.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the script is finding a cast large enough to play all the characters. Double-casting is often an obvious necessity, depending on the script you choose. Eva Le Gallienne’s adaptation, perhaps the most famous stage-script of Carroll’s story, boasts over 50 different characters. Professional company’s often forge their own version of the play with as few as six actors (such as Andre Gregory’s production with The Manhattan Project). The level of your production, be it high school, community, or regional, should determine the text you use and how many actors you want/need to utilize.

Another consideration, regardless of the size of your cast, is the quality of the characters. Whether you have six actors playing 50 roles, or 50 actors performing a single role each, most of these characters are given mere minutes on stage. Carroll’s fantastic characters may make an impression well-enough on their own, but many stage performance’s fail to fill these characters with enough depth in the time they are allotted. Keep this in mind when choosing or cutting a text. There’s no need to recreate the entire book, so find a text that focuses on the characters you find most important/impactful. Quality over quantity is key.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: The spectacle of Alice and Wonderland almost takes center stage in most productions, and no wonder. Perhaps the greatest temptation to adapt Carroll’s book to stage is to recreate the world of Alice on an immediate and tangible space. Fortunately, beyond Carroll’s text itself, there is a bounty of visual inspirations to pull from, like John Tenniel’s immortal line drawings. Many productions fall somewhere between the charm of the classic 1951 Disney animation or the macabre of the recent reimagining by Tim Burton. Joseph Papp produced a highly lauded performance starring Meryl Streep at the New York Shakespeare Festival on a bare stage with actors in modern dress. I suggest choosing a script that matches your aesthetic goals, be they minimalist, abstract, or ornate.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Finding a strong text is the first and most important artistic decision you will make if you decide to tackle Alice in Wonderland. Strong artistic impulses are extremely important with this play: do you want to make a “faithful” recreation of the book? Do you wish to recreate the characters and story for a modern age? Are you looking to include a large cast with an elaborate set, a small cast with no set, or an amalgam of the two? Find these answers first before diving in the rabbit hole, searching for that all important text, or you may never leave.

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Producing “Harvey”

Harvey Poster

Harvey Poster and Logo

The Curious Savage by John Patrick

Performance length: about 2 hours with an intermission

ACTING: Medium

SET DESIGN: Easy

COSTUME DESIGN: Easy

GENRE: Comedy

CAST POTENTIAL: The characters in Harvey are all classics and have been portrayed time and again by the best actors in stage and film. Your cast will relish recreating their undeniable charm and unenviable foibles.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Harvey” click here

CROWD REACTION: For over sixty years, Mary Chase’s Pulitzer winning comedy is a thoroughly unique play. Charming, earnest, and subtly surreal, it promises a unique theatrical experience.

SUMMARY: Elwood P. Dowd, an absolutely kind and engaging socialite with a bit of a drinking problem, believes his best friend is a six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey, who Elwood introduces to everyone. Invisible to all, Harvey’s existence (or lack thereof) troubles Elwood’s family, particularly his older sister Veta, who finds Elwood’s behavior both worrisome and embarrassing.

Veta attempts to commit Elwood to a sanatorium, but Elwood’s flirtatious personality bewitches the hospital’s staff and Veta gets committed instead. Eventually, the staff realizes that Elwood is the one who is insane, but not before the invisible Harvey starts having an influence on the doctors, too.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The play is driven more by the charm and wit of its characters than by the silliness of its plot. And, as in all good drama, the characters’ desires and flaws are put in direct conflict. The cast should focus on the contradictions inherent in the roles they play. Though Elwood is slightly insane (or is he?), and a bit of an alcoholic, his attitude and optimism are infectious. Veta, however, sane and genuinely worried about Elwood, is also self-seeking, worried for her social status and overly troubled by the inconvenience of Harvey. The psychiatrists, Dr. Sanderson and Dr. Chumley, are educated and professional, but are abusive and cruel to their staff. These contradictions are pivotal because it puts the audience’s values in conflict as well. What’s more important, status or kindness?

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: The set should show contrast between the lavishness and comfort of the Dowd residence with the austerity and rigid environment of the sanatorium. Both locations symbolize the pressures of conformity: the former, an ideal existence filled with all the luxuries and fineries of life; the latter, a cruel, rigid environment designed to subdue and restrict abnormality. In either case, freedom of personality and expression are limited with little room for an eccentric friend, such as Harvey. Suit the scenic design to enhance these themes.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Much like The Curious Savage or You Can’t Take it with You, Harvey is a play that exalts the strange and offbeat. It’s a testimony towards the value of kindness over the importance of conventionality. Elwood repeats the words of his mother: “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” And then follows, “Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” He drinks, too much to be sure, and he sees an invisible rabbit, but his attitude and optimism are infectious. If he is crazy, then his insanity is nothing but a footnote to the overall quality of his person. Chase seems to insist that we could all use a little Harvey in our lives.

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Producing “The Curious Savage”

The Curious Savage Logo and Poster

The Curious Savage Logo and Poster

The Curious Savage by John Patrick

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with an intermission

ACTING: Medium

SET DESIGN: Easy

COSTUME DESIGN: Easy

GENRE: Comedy

CAST POTENTIAL: The Curious Savage is the prototypical character-driven play. Each character is wildly unique and dynamic, each given an opportunity to shine.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “The Curious Savage” click here

CROWD REACTION: This play has found huge success in a variety of different markets, both commercial and in the community. It’s a funny and docile One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with an old comedy flair that appeals to a wide audience.

SUMMARY: Because Ethel P. Savage has turned philanthropist after her husband’s death, her greedy step-children throw her into a sanatorium affectionately known as the Cloisters. Angered by her willingness to waste their inheritance on the poor, the Savages demand that Ethel turn over her fortune to them, which she has hidden from them in some undisclosed place.

During her stay at the Cloisters, Ethel acquaints herself and eventually falls in love with the other residents: Florence, who believes the doll she carries is her five-year-old son, Hannibal, a brilliant statistician who wrongly thinks he is a master violinist, Jeff, who hides a massive scar on his face (which isn’t really there), Fairy May, a flighty, homely girl who thinks she is extravagantly beautiful, and Mrs. Paddy, a woman who has taken a vow of silence, only speaking when she lists the things she hates.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The cast size is fairly large (5M, 6W), and while there are “smaller” roles, each character is part of an ensemble that shares the stage equally. Written over 50 years ago, many of the parts appear caricatured on the page, whether it be the overly-greedy, ostentatiously evil Savages or the overly-silly, but downright charming residents at the Cloisters. A cast has the challenge of imbuing these characters with sufficient depth to insure the comedy is neither forced nor false.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: Many references in the play speak to the age in which it was written (early 1950s), therefore it is wise to perform this play as a period piece. The Cloisters is a rather secluded world, perhaps not with the times, and may reflect a period even more remote than the 1950s. Much like the residents inside, it should be lavishly decorated, but have an old, neglected feel.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: In the script, John Patrick notes that these characters should be played with “warmth and dignity.”  That any attempt to exaggerate the roles “would rob them of charm and humor.” The quality of any production of The Curious Savage hinges on this quality. The cast must find the balance between the humor behind the oddball foibles of their characters without resorting to mockery. The audience must believe that these characters are wounded and fragile and that their idiosyncrasies are inspired by the mad, mad world outside of the Cloisters. So while the afflictions may seem overly-gimmicky (Hannibal’s bad violin plainly, for one), acknowledge that these gimmicks are metaphors for real madness. Unlike Cuckoo’s Nest, which takes a vicious and gritty look inside a mental asylum, it’s in the innocuous and humorous tone of Patrick’s play that we are able to confront issues of insanity with grace.

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Producing “The Miracle Worker”

The Miracle Worker Poster & Logo

The Miracle Worker by William Gibson

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with an intermission

ACTING: Hard

SET DESIGN: Hard

COSTUME DESIGN: Easy

GENRE: Drama

CAST POTENTIAL: Never mind the challenge of portraying two visually impaired people, your cast will relish the opportunity of playing the psychological depth of each of these well-crafted characters. The play is rich with internal conflict, established through complex relationships forged by Gibson.

CROWD REACTION: Given the familiarity of the story and main character, and the success of the 1962 film, audiences are indelibly drawn to the mystery and miracle behind Helen Keller’s advent into language.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “The Miracle Worker” click here

SUMMARY: Through severe medical affliction, Helen Keller has been stricken deaf and blind at a young age. Her parents are helplessly at odds with young Helen, who lacks the language and manners to function civilly. Therefore, she is often subject to wild tantrums. Annie Sullivan (who Mark Twain later dubbed “a miracle worker”) is sent to work as Helen’s governess.

After living a life in a derelict asylum and partially blind herself, Annie has no sympathy for Helen. The two have a battle of wills, often violent, as Annie tries to restore structure to Helen’s life. Her main goal, however, is not to teach Helen how to behave, but to teach Helen language, “just one word,” and it is here that Annie must fight for/against the Kellers, Helen, and herself.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The play is an appropriate choice of a cast of high school aged actors for a number of reasons: first, many of the primary characters are younger (i.e. Helen, Annie, James, and Kate); therefore, teenagers have the capacity to play characters in their age-range. Plus, this play requires the intimacy found in most high school drama departments. After all, The Miracle Worker is one of the most physical scripts in the market: actors grab, kiss, spit, and slap each other throughout. A cast that knows each other well could be a huge advantage.

However, the script poses problems, too. The biggest task in Gibson’s biographical drama is for the lead actress who must portray a young Helen Keller. Let alone the difficulty of playing a young, obstinate child; never mind the challenge of playing someone deaf and blind; the actress must also attempt to portray someone without the capacity of language. This leads to massive frustration and anguish, the fuel that flames most of Helen’s wild behavior. It is also very difficult to portray characters with physical disabilities, especially those as severe as Helen’s, realistically. Any performance that verges beyond the audience’s expectations of the disability can be interpreted, at best, as awkward and, at worst, as insulting.

Though, the story and conflict in The Miracle Worker move beyond physical disabilities. It is a human drama, filled with the angst, anger and fear found in dealing with other people. The cast should focus on the conflicts that reside between each of the characters more than an accurate portrayal of a deaf and blind girl. If the audience believes the conflict, they will trust implicitly the performance.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: Gibson takes great pains describing his vision for the set, which consists of two playing spaces: one the Keller’s house and the other everywhere else. Some challenging scene changes exist. At one point, the Keller household must become their neighboring garden cottage. Gibson does well to illustrate how these scene changes should work in his script.

But it’s important to note that the latest Broadway production was criticized for lacking focus, mostly because of poor set and lighting design. Gibson wants to create a picture across the entire stage, even when the play’s action only occurs on one side.  This mise-en-scene is thematically important because Gibson wishes to show how each of the characters are dramatically affected by the action, even when it doesn’t directly involve them. Try to balance focus while painting a vast picture.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: This is an incredibly powerful script for a variety of reasons: first, it is simply good playwriting. The play’s text is unpredictable, funny, engaging, and heartbreaking. Second, it is important. Helen Keller’s life is a miracle, a testament to the power of human will and grace. And finally, it asks a lot of great questions: what is the mind without language? What is the fine line between tough love and tragic abuse (Annie literally hits Helen, after all)? How would we, as individuals, fare in the situation presented on stage? The Miracle Worker allows us to be inspired by these questions by living through them on stage.

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Producing “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Thoroughly Modern Millie<br>Poster & Logo

Thoroughly Modern Millie Poster & Logo

Thoroughly Modern Millie Music by Jeanine Tesori; lyrics by Dick Scanlan; Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission

ACTING: Easy

MUSIC: Medium

SET DESIGN: Medium

COSTUME DESIGN: Medium

GENRE: Musical

CAST POTENTIAL: Principal and chorus roles both offer opportunities to highlight a strong female casting pool (though, there are good parts for men, too).

CROWD REACTION: This comic send-up of the roaring twenties is funny, accessible, and catchy. Thus it’s outstanding success in the regional and community theatre markets.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” click here

SUMMARY: Set during the roaring twenties, Thoroughly Modern Millie is about Millie, a naïve girl from Kansas who moves to New York to become a “thoroughly modern” woman. Donning the style and spunk of a flapper, Millie seeks to make her way by marrying rich. She gets a job at Sincere Trust Insurance Company as a typist and sets her eyes on her pompous employer Mr. Trevor Graydon, but her dreams of becoming thoroughly modern are compromised when she falls for the fun-loving, yet not extravagantly rich, Jimmy. Marry for love or for money? What’s a girl to do!?

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The strengths of this show are irrevocably linked to the energy and charisma of your cast. They should have an impeccable sense of slapdash, tongue-in-cheek humor, always erring on the silly over the subtle. Big voices are a must, especially for the role of Millie, whose “Not for the Life of Me,” and “Gimme Gimme” devour the stage.

Some audience members will be potentially offended by the stereotypical presentation of the two Chinese henchmen, Ching Ho and Bun Foo, who, if their names are any indication, are reminiscent of Mickey Rooney’s flagrantly offensive Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Given that this is pastiche, it may be that these characters are ironic representations of stereotypes found in the original Thoroughly Modern Millie film. Even so, approach with caution. The actors portraying these characters should be sensitive to the thin line they tread. Make sure the audience laughs, not at the characters, but because they love them.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: Again, since this is pastiche, the set and costumes should recreate only the most obvious and stereotypical qualities of the roaring twenties. From Ben Brantley’s review of the Broadway version: “David Gallo’s Deco-flavored set turns the Manhattan skyline into a candy-store window display. Martin Pakledinaz’s flapper costumes seem to be operating on the principle that you should never use pink without combining it with purple. And Donald Holder’s lighting keeps layering on more colors like frosting on a kid’s birthday cake.” Though not every production need to recreate the original Broadway production, Brantley’s description of the scenery exhibits the essential tone of the piece: bright, cartoonish, and addictive.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Thoroughly Modern Millie is a return to the musical comedy format of shows like Guys and Dolls or How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, where style beats substance and form dictates content. The package is what is most important with the musical, especially since the plot is razor thin and wraps up wildly like a Dickens novel.  But it is a vast improvement from the Julie Andrews Oscar-winning film because it emphasizes what musical comedies seem to do best. It provides a high voltage experience for its audience. It gives them big numbers, flashy dances, and flippant humor, which will leave the audience singing “Gimme Gimme” all the way home.

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Producing “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" Poster & Logo

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" Poster & Logo

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown Music, book and lyrics by Clark Gesner

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission

ACTING: Easy

MUSIC: Easy

SET DESIGN: Easy

COSTUME DESIGN: Medium

GENRE: Musical

CAST POTENTIAL: While the cast size is rather small (only 6 characters), your cast will enjoy bringing these childhood favorites to life.

CROWD REACTION: While not a commercial success on Broadway, this play has been very well received in the regional and community theatre market. It’s small, intimate oeuvre make it suitable for smaller houses. Also, given the perennial influence Charles Schulz’s Peanuts have had, children and adults can enjoy this show with a similar sense of wonder.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” click here

SUMMARY: Based on the classic Schulz comic strip, the musical is a compilation of skits and monologues revolving around Charlie Brown and his friends, including Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Sally, and his imaginative dog, Snoopy. We follow Charlie through a day of book reports, baseball, and kite flying as he tries to discover what makes a “good man.”

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: Perhaps the biggest challenge of this piece is recreating Schulz’s classic cartoon characters. Because of their iconic and revered status in American culture, every audience member is both expert and critic. So, while the actors must confront their audience’s expectations, they must also imbue the characters with their own unique personality in order to make the characters fresh and new on stage. It is also important to note that, while these Peanuts are all entirely unique, their personalities are subtle and understated, both in the comic strip and musical. That is part of Schulz’s genius but also why representing Charlie or Snoopy on stage is a monumental task. Keep the performances honest. Honor the naivety that comes with these children, but also the surprising wisdom found in their words.

Cast size is very small: 4M, 2W. Also, the Broadway revival was wise in casting “blind” in regards to race. I thought it made the shows appeal all that much more universal.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: Fortunately, every scenic designer has a blue print established by Schulz’s himself. No need to look further than his drawings for inspiration. Most productions have kept the costumes identical to the themes and colors in the comic strip. Most also keep the set simple: cut-out pieces colored with pastels and primary colors. The production should look a living comic strip. And the simplicity of the design should also belie the profundity of the message on stage.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:This musical seems to have the most success when the production is intimate and simple. Ben Brantley panned the Broadway revival ten years ago for trying to create showstoppers where there are none. This is not Les Miserables or Wicked. The draw and pleasure for this musical come purely from its source material, so there is no need to “jazz” it up for the audience’s concern. Their attention and admiration will be earned if the characters they love are represented truthfully.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: The success of Schulz’s creation is remarkable. The strip endured for over 50 years and therefore has influenced generation after generation. Children today are still drawn to its familiarity, so a musical production based on this comic is an undeniable choice. And this musical honors all the qualities that made Peanuts so irresistible in the first place. Songs like “Happiness,” “Suppertime,” “My New Philosophy,” and “Beethoven Day” are catchy, fun, and capture the essence of the comic strip.

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Producing “Once Upon a Mattress”

Once Upon a Mattress Logo & Poster

Once Upon a Mattress Logo & Poster

Once Upon a Mattress Music by Mary Rogers; Lyrics by Marshall Barer; Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission

ACTING: Easy

MUSIC: Easy

SET DESIGN: Medium

COSTUME DESIGN: Medium

GENRE: Musical

CAST POTENTIAL: This musical boasts a large cast of colorful characters: each provided moments to sing, dance, and make the audience laugh. Given the whimsical and silly tone, this play works well for actors of all ages.

CROWD REACTION: Audiences have adored this musical comedy since it first opened with Carol Burnett on Broadway. It is one of the most highly produced musicals in the regional, community, and high school theatre market.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Once Upon a Mattress” click here

SUMMARY: King Sextimus has been stricken mute by a curse that can only be broken “when the mouse devours the hawk.” Since the King cannot speak, the wicked Queen Aggravaine has ruled with an iron fist and refuses to let anyone in the kingdom marry until her son, the bashful Prince Dauntless, is wed. Unfortunately, in order to marry Dauntless, his wife-to-be must pass an impossible test set up by the queen.

Enter Princess Winnifred, whose outgoing and bold personality charms Dauntless and enrages the queen. Aggravaine decides Winnifred’s test is to sleep on a series of twenty-six mattresses with a pea placed in the very bottom. If Winnifred can feel the pea, she can marry Dauntless. With everyone in the kingdom desperate to marry, all eyes are on the unconventional Winnifred to save the day.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The list of characters should be enough to illustrate what is required here. With names like Sextimus, Dauntless, and Studley littering the page, a director needs to find a cast whose personalities can match the zany characters they are playing. Once Upon a Mattress also requires a very large cast, with 8M, 4W, and a chorus of knights, stewards, maids and servants.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: A quick look at the two Broadway productions demonstrates the latitude a scenic designer has when considering this musical: the Carol Burnett version from the 60s resembles a pop-up storybook, with bright pastels, silly costumes, and a large box set. The 90s revival starring Sarah Jessica Parker was far less exuberant in tone, far more medieval in style. One emphasized the fanciful whimsy of the piece, the other focusing on the courtly setting. A production I was in tried to incorporate contemporary themes, using modern day props and making quick references to popular TV shows. The script allows you to go any and everywhere with the show, so control and focus are key.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Search for subtlety elsewhere. This high-fructose musical comedy is designed to dazzle and delight with absolutely no instructive purpose. It has been a marvelous success in the theatre because of its appeal to the young and old. With a silly story that many are familiar with already, it mocks the archetypes and themes in many fairy tales, while yet perfectly encapsulating the genre. The songs, notably “Shy” and “In a Little While,” are charming and fun for both audience and performer.

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Producing “Little Shop of Horrors”

Little Shop of Horrors Poster and Logo

Little Shop of Horrors Poster and Logo

Little Shop of Horrors Music by Alan Menken and book by Howard Ashman

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission

ACTING: Medium

MUSIC: Medium

SET DESIGN: Hard

COSTUME DESIGN: Easy

GENRE: Musical

CAST POTENTIAL: This musical features unique, off-the-wall characters not to be found in any other show. It’s strange and dark sense of humor also lend the cast an opportunity to create a truly memorable performance.

CROWD REACTION: Part sci-fi, part horror, part parody, and part homage to the American musical, Little Shop of Horrors has been a cult-classic since its inception in the early 80s. It has had countless revivals both regionally and on Broadway and was made into a hit film directed by Frank Oz in 1986.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Little Shop of Horrors” click here

SUMMARY: The hapless orphan Seymour and his dream girl, the beautiful yet emotionally battered Audrey, work at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists. While the two secretly love each other, Audrey is trapped in an abusive relationship with the sadistic Dentist Orin Scrivello, and Seymour believes he’ll never been good enough for her.

Their fortunes change when Seymour finds a mysterious plant during a solar eclipse, who Seymour names Audrey II. After many attempts to feed the plant, Seymour eventually discovers it thirsts for blood. After nursing it with a little of his own blood, the plant begins to grow wildly out of control. Eventually, Mushnik’s flower shop and Seymour become famous because of the growing plant. But the plant begins craving more and more blood and convinces Seymour to murder Audrey’s abusive boyfriend to satisfy its insatiable hunger. Reluctantly, Seymour follows through with Audrey II’s insidious plan (and get’s the girl) but becomes bound by the monster he has created.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: This musical features a small cast; the original Off-Broadway production features a cast of 8 actors (4M, 4W), with one of those actors lending their voice to the monstrous plant, Audrey II, and another performing multiple walk-on roles that could be shared by several actors.

Using Frank Oz’s film adaptation as an example, where he casts some of the leading comedians of the day (such as Rick Moranis, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, and Jim Belushi), this musical benefits from a cast of versatile and comedically savvy actors.  Furthermore, as evident in the film, while some of the music is challenging (requiring a booming voice found in someone like Ellen Greene), a lot of the songs can be carried by actors who may not sing well but can sing in character. Neither Martin nor Moranis have good voices, but their characterization of the songs is enough to execute them.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: The plant is the biggest scenic consideration of this piece. Because it grows steadily throughout the show, your props manager needs to be able to design several puppets (each larger than the previous) that can be somehow manipulated by the actors. Audrey II gets so large that it eventually overwhelms the stage and reaches its fiendish tentacles into the audience (as was done in the critically acclaimed 2006 London revival). Since Audrey II eats several characters whole and entangles Audrey with its tentacles, the puppet needs to be a fully-functioning and mobile creature. Fortunately, MTI sends scenic designs for the puppets with any purchase of rental scripts. Good luck!

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: When Alan Menken and Howard Ashman first wrote the musical, they intended it to be performed in a small, intimate environment. In fact they went so far as to blocking any Broadway revival during the 80s. The recent 2006 London revival was originally performed in a small house, seating approximately 200 people. When it moved to larger venues, the show reportedly lost some of its flare. The sets became too large and engulfed the actors. The music, arranged for five pieces, could not adequately fill the venue. Plus, the mystique of this musical, much like Rocky Horror Picture Show, is that of a cult-classic, meant to be hidden in the fringe for a small, yet excited audience.  Keeping the production small is key.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Menken called the script a modern adaptation of Faust, filled with parody and irony for a postmodern generation. The piece smacks with humor, yet what is happening on stage is dark and nefarious. People are being eaten alive by this greedy plant, and the plant’s greed for blood is only echoed by our hero’s greed for the girl. Like Faust, it ends tragically, but while Faust was a cautionary tale on an individual level, Little Shop of Horrors stretches the tale outward. Audrey II thrives and eventually overtakes the globe. And, unlike the character Faust, Seymour and Audrey are not greedy, well-to-do individuals, but victims of a hard life, inflicted with an even harder punishment. Yet, the audience leaves delighted!  It’s this play’s ability to warp and disguise this disturbing story with humor and dynamic music that make it so compelling.

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Producing “Rumors”

Rumors

Rumors Poster and Logo Pack

Rumors By Neil Simon

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs.

ACTING: Hard

SET DESIGN: Hard

COSTUME DESIGN: Easy

CAST POTENTIAL: Rumors is a high-paced farce characterized by Neil Simon’s iconic wit and talent for characterization. Your cast will love it.

CROWD REACTION: Simon’s script is such that even a poorly executed production of Rumors should elicit riotous laughter. This is a situational comedy tour de force.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Rumors” click here

SUMMARY: We are at the home of Myra and Charley Brock who are hosting a party to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. However, when the play begins, Myra is missing and Charley, the deputy mayor, is passed out with a gunshot to his earlobe. None of the party guests have the slightest clue what has happened and are left scrambling to figure out a way to cover up the incident and avoid a scandal before the police arrive.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: With a total of 10 on stage characters (Myra and Charley are never seen, but yet their presence is still very much felt), split evenly between 4M and 4W and 2 flexibly cast police officers, this play offers a great deal of opportunity.

While this play is frequently produced by high schools (because it is so very, very funny), teachers should approach cautiously. The maturity of your acting pool should be of primary consideration. These characters are middle-aged, opulent, and (most importantly) married. Your cast needs to be able to represent the intimacy and angst that comes from a seasoned marriage because the play’s humor hinges on that dynamic. Fresh-faced teenagers, despite their talent, might find it difficult to portray the kind of weather-worn relationships inherent in the play.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: The set is an essential part of this production. It needs to mimic everything (good and bad) about the characters who inhabit it. It should be large yet hollow, stylishly adorned but lacking of individuality, and feature many entrances and exits (as a means of escape and entrapment). Productions that scrimp on the set fail to understand what this play is really about: appearances and how they affect behavior.

FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS: Like most farces, where characters are put in situations designed to make them lose control, this play features a great deal of profanity. Most high school productions cut the language without a second thought, and the play still works without it, but the language does serve a rhythmic function that I believe is lost when completely censored. However, it is more effective to completely cut the profanity than to replace it with more innocuous vocabulary (such as “fudge” and “darn”).

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Next to Noises Off, this is one of the funniest play’s I have ever been a part of. Any good play should create two types of shows: the one onstage and the other in the audience. This is one of those unique plays where the audience’s reaction is as much a delight as the actors’ performance. And yet, behind the laughter and frivolity, Rumors touches on something very deep about our culture. On one end it illustrates our desire to hide what is private. On another, it shows how desperate we are to discover what others are hiding.

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Producing Suessical the Musical

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Seussical the Musical Poster
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Suessical the Musical By Meredith Wilson

GENRE: Musical

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission.

ACTING: Easy

MUSIC: Medium

SET DESIGN: Medium

COSTUME DESIGN: Medium

CAST POTENTIAL: This play – composed of many famous Dr. Seuss stories, such as The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who – should delight a cast ready to walk in the footsteps of their favorite childhood characters.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Suessical the Musical” click here

CROWD REACTION: This play has been a commercial hit in the high school, community, and regional theatre circuit. Its appeal transgresses age, mystifying children and reuniting adults with classic tales from their past.

SUMMARY: Seussical the Musical is a patchwork of some 17 Dr. Seuss stories, though the predominant story arc is based on Horton Hears a Who. The Cat in the Hat serves as a narrator who takes the audience through two worlds, the jungle where Horton lives, and the small speck of dust which is home to the Whos. These two worlds collide when Horton hears a cry from the tiny speck on the flower. His challenge is to prove to the jungle world that there actually is a whole world of people on that flower, and that a “person is a person, no matter how small.”

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The cast is considerably large, featuring characters such as Gertrude McFuzz, Sour Kangaroo, The Grinch, Yertle the Turtle, the Lorax, the Whos, and Circus performers. Therefore, depending on the size of your cast, there should be plenty of opportunity for many of your actors to play multiple rolls.

These characters live in a world of heightened sensibility, whose energy and color leap off the stage (as they do in the book). But that heightened sensibility can be quickly taken too far. Ben Brantley said, of the original Broadway performance, that the cast looked “as if they had just stuck their fingers in electrical sockets.” Because there are so many characters, too many to relate with, the cast needs to find a fine balance between heightened energy and relatable human qualities.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: Obviously this musical offers an exciting challenge for scenic designers who get to recreate the scenery and wardrobe of all the characters in the book. The biggest question a designer needs to ask is, “How closely should your design resemble that of Seuss’s work?” While an air of familiarity is required (especially with those well known characters, such as Cat in the Hat), Seussical beckons a design team to be creative and playful with their choices.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: Many critics panned the show for having too much “razzle dazzle,” claiming the production tried to do “too much.” Many would have preferred a more simple design scheme, such as that from the highly praised You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I concede to Seuss’s books for inspiration. Each is fanciful but austere in execution. The stories, characters, and language are enough to wow an audience. Adding too much spectacle is a discredit to the quality of the musical’s source.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: While there are glaring flaws with the musical — the story is far too piecemealed together – the show also exhibits many strengths that can be harnessed by a good production. Dr. Seuss’s words are tailored made for a musical, and many songs highlight the rhyming cadence of Seuss’s stories to perfection. I feel that Seussical is best shown as a retrospective of Dr. Seuss’s imaginative collection of stories. The cast and crews challenge is to string these stories together to remind us of all the “thinks we can think” with Seuss in the room.

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