The DC area premiere of Kander and Ebb’s last Broadway musical Curtains is about to open in the CenterStage Theatre in Reston, VA, produced by Reston Community Players. Director Andrew Regiec, musical director Mark Deal, and choreographer Andrea Heininge take us through rehearsals, and their visions for the production.
Joel: Your production is the first in the DC area. What a coup! How did RCP secure the rights to Curtains?
Andy: Our Producer, Rick Schneider, keeps abreast of productions that are (or about to be) released. We were supposed to do another big show but couldn’t secure the rights. Rick proposed Curtains which I was unfamiliar with other than seeing it on the Tony Awards. I got the CD and loved the music, loved the songs. Oddly enough, the rights were available so … here we are.
Joel: What is Curtains about?
Andy: It’s a romantic murder mystery musical comedy. During the out of town previews for a Broadway-hoped run, the incredibly awful lead actress drops dead during the curtain call. The detective on the scene dabbles in community theatre, so is in his glory when he sequesters the group until the case is solved, allowing him to help fix the production, and get closer to the sweet ingénue. More bodies drop during the investigation as everyone busies themselves for a re-review by a Boston critic, with the show’s lyricist taking over the lead, putting the detective’s changes in place for some of the key musical numbers. Throw in the producers, the backer, the composer, choreographer, stage manager, various understudies… set to simmer, and watch the plot boil. The production numbers are huge – great classic musical theatre with a real kick. The music is Kander & Ebb – great melodies, zingy lyrics, real rock in your seat orchestrations.
Joel: Tell us about your training.
Andy: I’ve been directing since I can remember – skits at home, in grade school pageants, then with real scripts in high school. I started college at the University of Dayton majoring in education and theatre and graduated from Montclair State in NJ – just across the river from Manhattan – with a BA in Speech/Theatre Education and a BFA in Theatre, concentration in Directing.
I moved to VA in 1990, and worked tech backstage at the Reston Community Center. About a year later I got involved with RCP and have had a home there ever since. I was much more drawn to classic or socially relevant dramas and contemporary comedies, but have been doing a lot of musicals of late.
My resume reflects productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Laramie Project, The Crucible to Beyond Therapy, Museum to Urinetown, Forbidden Broadway, Merrily We Roll Along, Honk, and now Curtains. I really enjoy the creative process – taking a script and imagining that world, and working with others to physicalize it and share it with an audience. It’s so much fun partnering with so many creative folks – the actors, and the designers. It’s an amazing art form!
Joel: What is it about Curtains that made you want to direct it?
Andy: It’s fresh – and hasn’t been seen by many. The music is really great. There are some fun challenges in having the murders/attempted murders take place. It’s been a long time since I did a ‘whodunit’.
Joel: What experience do you bring to directing this production?
Andy: I’ve done a couple of big musicals before, so I knew how to approach it. The cast is large, there are several large production numbers, several technical challenges, several sub plots to keep interesting and supporting the main one. I think that I’m also attune to the spirit of the show and its humor.
Joel: Talk about the challenges of directing this show.
Andy: Where to start?! Cast size – it’s a sizable number of principals and a good size ensemble. I was very fortunate to get great peopleto show up at auditions, and several super-talented folks even took ensemble which just really raised the bar all around. However with so many people there are that many more conflicts, so the rehearsal schedule was challenging. We lost a couple of people, and filling spots to match the existing talent wasn’t quick, but we’ve managed. Technically there are some really tricky things – with the murders and attempts, and quick but big scene changes. So preparing in advance to manage all of that has kept some sanity.
Joel: What were auditions like?
Andy: We had about 60 actors come out. They were great, except the AC was broken in our rehearsal hall, and the dance routine was a bear. People were sopping wet – but with big smiles! Maybe they were gasping for air now that I think back. There’s so much dance in this show. And it’s supposed to believably be going to Broadway in 1959, so there were so many things to consider. I have great respect and empathy for those who put themselves out there, willing to commit to such a huge time consuming project. The talent in our community groups is really amazing.
Joel: Talk about your cast.
Andy: Our detective, Cioffi, is played by Blakeman Brophy. He’s quietly super talented – like Cioffi. He provides a great mix of control and excitability.
His love interest, Niki, is Jolene Vettese. She has a beautiful voice – and great comic timing.
The producer, Carmen, is played by Sue Pinkman. Carmen leads the group in expressing what it’s like to be ‘Show People,’ and Sue’s a natural at the enthusiasm for theatre. She’s a great actress who has a powerful belt – really perfect for Carmen’s numbers and scenes.
The lyricist turned leading lady, Georgia, is Katie McManus. Stunning. That’s all I can say. Incredible voice, kick-ass dancer, and brilliant actress. She’s a real triple threat.
Joel: I know! Katie has made my Scene Stealers column and best musical performance articles many times.
Andy: The composer and on again/off again husband to Georgia, Aaron, is Joshua Redford. Another great actor with a great voice. Josh and Katie had a great chemistry during callbacks. They have known each other for some time, and bring a familiarity that is hard to fake.
Tom Flatt plays the director, Belling, with hysterical flair and panache. Wonderful comic, timing, and instincts. He’s big but believable – a tough mix to pull off.
Sasha Welch plays Bambi, Carmen’s daughter and wanna be dancer. She’s just out of high school, and has been dancing since walking and it shows. Perky, sassy-like Bambi.
Sam Nystrom is Bobby, the choreographer and leading man. Sam has a confident presence and is nicely paired with Katie and Sasha in two great dance numbers.
Jay Tilley plays the show’s financier, Oscar, with aplomb. A great voice and talented actor, Jay keeps bringing new things to each scene.
Joe Richardson is Sidney, the conniving, womanizing co-producer w/ wife Carmen. Joe’s got the perfect stature for Sidney. He’s also memorable in his portrayal.
Brain Farrell plays Grady, the Boston critic willing to sit through another viewing of the show once ‘fixed’. Brian came in late as a replacement, but took no time to get in the swing of things.
Kate Kiefer plays Jessica, the murdered leading lady. Kate has a great voice and is a talented actress, which is what you need when you have a character who is supposed to be really awful. It’s a short – but memorable performance.
Joel: Talk about working in the space of the Reston Community Center.
Andy: It’s a wonderfully appointed facility. And we are taking advantage of it. We are using all but 2 of the fly pipes available. Our challenge is usually around storage of the set. We generally need to strike each night and the amount of space we had was tight. Things have been improving though. We have a great relationship with the RCC Performing Arts staff. We are lucky to be the only group that is allowed full access to the theatre facility without RCC personnel. That’s trust built on decades of shows. They are also a great resource on the production side.
Joel: Did you see the NYC production??
Andy: I’ve never seen a live production. I’ve seen clips on the internet. I hope to match their pacing. Our producer and several cast and staff have seen it.
Joel: Tell us about “the look” of the show.
Andy: There is a show within the show, so we are trying to remember that in set, costume and lighting. Much of the show takes place on the stage of the Colonial Theatre, so it’s pretty much a bare stage. The preparing of the show for a 2nd chance review allows us to visit the show in the show, Robbin’ Hood of the Old West. There are painted drops and flats and some impressive large pieces for the Saloon and the Riverboat. Our set designers were really ingenious in getting an 18’ riverboat to sail onto the stage. Costumes on a show like this are countless. There are 24 cast members. There are between 6-8 different costumes for each person. The show spans 3 days and about 6 production numbers from Robbin’ Hood…Wigs, boots, hats, pajamas – the costume racks are packed – I think there are 6 of them.
Joel: What is your favorite song and scene in the show?
Andy: This changes by the day. The Act 1 closer, “Thataway”, is so much fun, and the choreography is a hoot – real Kander & Ebb with a western version of Fosse mixed in. There’s some nice scenes with the estranged lyricist and composer. And it’s always fun to have people fall in love in front of you, so the scenes with Cioffi and Niki were neat. I also enjoy the irreverently macabre “The Woman’s Dead” that Andrea and I worked on together.
Joel: The original book was written by Peter Stone and he died, and then Fred Ebb died while still writing Curtains, leaving John Kander and Rupert Holmes to write additional lyrics, and Holmes to write the book. Can you tell in the show when the lyrics are not Ebb’s? Do the different styles collide?
Andy: I think it’s very smooth. They all have the Kander & Ebb feel. The book I can’t speak to so much – they went through a couple of major shifts in direction over the years in development. It’s the music that really shines though.
Joel: What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the theatre after seeing Curtains?
Andy: Something they can hum.
Joel: Tell us about your musical training and where you have musical directed.
Mark: I have studied music and conducting at East Carolina University (Undergrad), Bowling Green State University (Grad), and University of South Carolina (Doctoral work). I have done a number of shows in the Washington, DC area for companies like The Arlington Players, Hexagon and, of course, The Reston Community Players. I’ve been honored to be nominated for three WATCH Awards, and even more honored to have won for Pirates of Penzance at The Arlington Players.
Joel: Why did you want to musical direct Curtains?
Mark: Before I say “yes” to any show, I listen to the music. If it’s something that catches my interest over a couple of hearings, I know it’s something I’ll continue to enjoy throughout the entire rehearsal and performance process (which can last about three plus months). If the music doesn’t inspire me in some way, there is no way I could work this hard on it for this long. Having said that, this score captured my attention right away.
Joel: How would you describe John Kander and Fred Ebb’s score for Curtains?
Mark: It’s much like The Producers was for Mel Brooks. I think of this as Kander & Ebb’s “Valentine to Broadway.” There are so many wonderful “inside” jokes that I’m sure many theater and music folks will enjoy it. There are some very Kander and Ebb-like moments in the score, but not nearly as “dark” as say in Cabaret or Chicago. Also, I’m very impressed with the word settings and how clever they were throughout the score. It makes for some delightful moments.
Joel: Tell us about your orchestra.
Mark: Thankfully Rick, our Producer, has given me the chance to stuff the pit at the Reston Community Center with almost the entire complement for this show. We’ll have 14 musicians in the pit, and it should make for a big sound. I’ve been lucky to choral a wonderful group of players who are regulars in the local theater scene and I’m sure they will do a great job. We had our first rehearsal last Saturday, and already it sounds fantastic!
Joel: What are the challenges of musical directing the show?
Mark: The most obvious challenge for this show is that I have lines! The score also asks the conductor to sing. However, we, the Production Team, felt there was a member of the Cast who was being under utilized and we gave that solo to him. Normally, I prefer being pretty anonymous and just keeping the show running smoothly. I’m not an actor.
Joel: Did you see the NYC production, and if you had, what will you bring from that production to the RCP production?
Mark: I did see parts of it via the internet and other sources. What they did was wonderful. Though we can’t exactly recreate those sets and effects, I do think we’ll have a wonderful show. As far as the cast CD goes, I tend to put that away once we start rehearsing. It’s nice for a start but after that, I and the cast need to come up with our own ideas for the songs.
Joel: How would you describe a Kander and Ebb song?
Mark: Wow, to give just a few words would rob from what Kander and Ebb bring to a song. The more you work with their material, the more you realize (like with all great songwriters or song writing teams) that they can say so very much in just one song. The deeper you look, the more you find.
Joel: Why do you think Kander and Ebb’s work will live on forever?
Mark: Their songs ring true I think most of all. Any great songwriter or song writing team has that quality. They seem to know just what that character is going through at that moment in the story. And, they know how to convey the complexities of what is going on as well. It’s a rare gift for those who do that well.
Joel: What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the theatre?
Mark: First and foremost, I hope they have a wonderful evening enjoying a good story. For those who want more, there are multiple opportunities to enjoy some delicious word play. Also, there is a mystery to be solved. Though Cioffi (the leading man and Detective) isn’t Sherlock Holmes, he certainly does himself proud. If I’ve done a good job, I hope they might even be humming a tune on the way out of the theater. I think there are many to choose from.
Joel: Tell us about your dance training.
Andrea: I have a BFA in dance performance from Point Park University. I have danced professionally with Dancin’ Unlimited, Fusion Dance, The Playhouse Dance Company, PushFactor Dance Company and Undertoe Dance Project in Washington DC, Pittsburgh, and New York City. I currently direct the dance program at Fairfax High School’s Academy for Communications and the Arts and work with The Russell School of Ballet and the Fairfax Ballet. Musical credits in the area include ensemble member in Mame, Honk! And The Full Monty at Reston Community Players, and choreography for West Side Story (TJHSST), Grand Night for Singing (Foundry Players), and Singin’ in the Rain (Fairfax Academy/Fairfax HS).
Joel: What will audiences see when they view the choreography of Curtains?
Andrea: The audience will get the opportunity to see a variety of dance styles with lots of partnering work from cowboys to mermaids to a Marge and Gower Champion bit. I tried to infuse some of the traditional Broadway styles of Agnes de Mille and Bob Fosse as well as some modern bits.
Joel: What challenges have you had in developing your choreography?
Andrea: It’s a huge show with lots of big dance numbers. In addition there needs to be a divide between the show Curtains and the show within a show Robbin’ Hood. There are a couple of numbers that involve heavy integration of props and/or sets. It was a challenge, but I am pleased with the result.
Joel: What is the most difficult song and dance to choreograph, and why?
Andrea: Both “Thataway!” and “In the Same Boat” have lots going on with both the actors and the set at once – which creates many challenges with making sure the choreography can be seen, the actors have space, and that the audience can focus on the progression of the story.
Joel: Which song has been the most fun to choreograph, and why?
Andrea: “Thataway!” is by far my favorite number in the show. I had lots of freedom within the music to create many fun moments using chairs and staircases. There is also some great partnering work for the characters of Georgia and Bobby, as well as for the ensemble members. There’s a ton going on, which made it a challenge, but the outcome was a huge success. The actors look fabulous, and enjoy themselves, too!
Joel: Did you see the NYC production?
Andrea: Yes. I am trying to bring some of the class and pizzazz that the Broadway production had in each of the numbers, while still keeping it unique to our cast.
Joel: What is the best advice director Andrew JM Regiec gave you about the choreography?
Andrea: Andy has been amazing to work with. He was able to trust me and let me go “wild” with anything I wanted to try His best “advice” was always being there to encourage me in and out of rehearsals, and even join in on a few occasions. He’s been a second set of eyes when I needed them, and was able to inject more characterization at moments that I needed help with.
Joel: What do you want audiences to take with them ?
Andrea: I want the audience to walk away feeling like they had a chance to let go, have fun and spend some time on an unexpected journey. I hope everyone leaves feeling thoroughly entertained. After all, we all are “Show People” in our own way.
Curtains plays on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM Oct 23 thru Nov 14. Sunday matinees are at 2:30 PM on Nov 1 & 8 at the Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, Virginia 20191 (in the Hunters Woods Village Center). Tickets: $21 for adults , $18 for students and seniors. Make reservations. or purchase online.