PLATTSBURGH — Artistry Community Theatre (ACT) finally, for real, raises the curtains on [title of show] starring Cody Gooley (Hunter), James Kelly (Jeff), Megan Land (Susan), Sarah Cohen (Heidi) and Kimberly Weems (Mary / pianist).
Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen’s comedic musical will be performed at Clinton Community College’s Stafford Auditorium for three performances on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
[title of show] is directed by Derrick A. Hopkins, music direction by Kimberly Weems, stage manager is Annie-Laurie Lemieux, Stage Manager, lighting by Michael Rafferty, and assistant stage manager is Monica McColgan.
Originally slated for a March 2020 run …
“Ten days before our opening, COVID hit and shut the world down,” Hopkins said.
“So, I have been trying to get this show back for two years.”
Now at AuSable Valley Central School, Hopkins was on faculty at Willsboro Central School when he was planning this production with then-colleague Jennifer Moore.
“We had a completely different cast,” he said.
“What’s happened is we have two of the cast members are getting married at the end of this month. So, they can’t do the show. Another one of them had to step away for personal reasons. So, we lost three out of the four cast members. Then, Jennifer Moore had to step away because she is now working on her doctorate degree.”
Cohen is the original cast member from the 2020 production of [title of show].
“So we have a musical director and three of the four cast members are brand new, too,” Hopkins said.
“But the cast, crew and I, we recognize that we were 10 days away. We want to honor them. We want to thank them (Michael Bergman, Chad Hebert, Elizabeth Abair and Moore). They have been offered tickets to the show as a thank-you. They did all that work. They were ready to go, and then they just couldn’t perform it. It was devastating.
“So this is two years later, we are finally able to get it off the ground even though it looks and feels a little different from two years ago.”
The show itself is the same. Blocked, same. Choreographed, same.
“Maybe little tweaks here and there that I couldn’t remember from two years ago,” Hopkins said.
“You have a completely different dynamic when you bring in different people. So essentially, we had to start over.”
ART IMITATING LIFE
In [title of show], Jeff and Hunter, two struggling writers, hear about a new musical theatre festival. However, the deadline for submissions is a mere three weeks away. With nothing to lose, the pair decides to try to create something new with the help of their friends Susan, Heidi and Mary on the eighty-eights.
With the cast in place, Jeff and Hunter begin a conversation about what to write about. Eventually, Jeff suggests they write about what to write about. They make a pact to write up until the festival’s deadline and dream about the show changing their lives.
[title of show], taken from the space on the festival’s application form which asks for the “[title of show],” follows Hunter and Jeff and their friends on their journey through the gauntlet of creative self-expression. [title of show] is, above all, a love letter to the musical theatre — a uniquely American art form — and to the joy of collaboration.
ACT has been working on the production since January and had a COVID scare several weeks ago.
“One of the cast members ended up testing positive for COVID, and we kind of had to shut rehearsals down,” Hopkins said.
“We were like ‘Oh, no. Not again.’ It was last week I sent the cast a message, and I said we are exactly 10 days away from opening. And this is the day the other cast found out that they would not be performing. Everybody was very cognizant very like, ‘Oh, boy.’
“The three new ones were like how devastating would this be if I had to say it’s over before we could do it. We’re now three days away. They are ready to go.”
Hopkins saw the show on Broadway.
“It really is for anyone who is a creative soul, it is a show for you,” he said.
“Because it’s all about creating something new and original and writing an original piece. It’s about self-expression and the importance of self-expression.”
[title of show] synopsis: two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.
“So, sometimes it can get a little weird,” Hopkins said.
“Sometimes, it can get a little dirty. Sometimes it can get a little dramatic. Ninety-nine percent of the show is just so funny. But then the pressures of this little show and how emotions runs high, especially when trying to do something.”
Bell and Bowen named the characters after themselves.
“Audiences really enjoyed it, so they kept expanding it,” Hopkins said.
“Then, they ended up getting into an off-Broadway house. They had a quite lengthy off-Broadway run. Then, the really wanted to bring their little show to Broadway, but no one would pick it up.”
‘LITTLE SHOW THAT COULD’
YouTube was in its nascent stage.
“They started making little clips, and ‘Hey, our show is going to Broadway. Stay tuned,’” Hopkins said.
“Then, their little clips started getting 10,000 hits. So producers started noticing, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people who want to see this show on Broadway.”’
Bell and Bowen manifested their little show, which is four chairs and a keyboard onto a Broadway stage.
“And when I saw it on Broadway, it was four chairs and a keyboard,” Hopkins said.
“And that’s all it is, and it made it to Broadway. It was like this little show that could that really used their own internet marketing strategies to get it to Broadway.”
Three of the actors have never been on Broadway. One of the actors had been in two Broadway shows up until that point.
“When you watch it, what’s so great about it is the storytelling and we can relate to these characters because it’s written as conversations happening amongst friends,” Hopkins said.
“It’s not written like a fairy tale. It’s not adapted from a novel from a literary point of view. It’s based in reality. What does it look like when two people are trying to write a musical and the conversations that happen.”
Original cast member, Sarah Cohen, who plays Heidi, said:
“While I feel the hole that is left by my original [title of show] family, I have such love for my new [title of show] family. What a team we all are! I could not be prouder to perform alongside these three fiercely talented humans.”
Cody Gooley, who plays Hunter, said: “Jeff and Hunter’s story of starting out with a dream of having a musical on Broadway and then actually having it get there inspires me as an actor.
“The dream is to one day do theatre for a living and their story shows that dreams really can come true.”
Megan Land, who portrays Susan, said: “If there is one thing, I hope we take away from our new post-COVID world it’s the importance of the arts during difficult times and the value of life outside of the ‘hustle’ that the world has been pushing us to live. As Dolly Parton said, ‘Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.’”
Hopkins said [title of show] is even more meaningful now.
“Because for two years artists really haven’t had an opportunity to create and have their work be seen,” he said.
“And that’s what this show is. This show is about creating and being seen and heard as artists. I think it’s even more relevant now two years later than it was two years ago.”
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