A tale of curtain fright, comedy, and onstage antics
Now, I am sure you have heard or had, maybe one time in your life, "stage fright" - but have you ever had "curtain fright" or not-making-it-to-the-theater-in-time fright?
I had never been part of an Operetta, only Operas, and I was amazed at how much dialogue goes into it. It was done at this beautiful theater, Lewis Auditorium, which is in the center of downtown St Augustine.
St Augustine is one of the oldest cities in America and, with that in mind, the sidewalks and streets were not made for the streaming tourist outpour that came into town over the holidays. I had two ways to get there. One was over the drawbridge, which seemed to go up for quite a bit of time for tall boats to pass through, and traffic just backs up. Only two lanes... But it does boast stunning views, unless you're trying to get to rehearsal. The other is coming around the other side. There is only one street to get there, called King (I have memorized its name), one lane with a couple of red lights, plus horses and buggies, and trolleys taking people on romantic and historic rides touring this just fabulous town. Again, fab - unless its showtime. Luckily, my husband, John Byner was the comedic actor in the show, so I had someone to share the anxiety with.
We opened on New Years and we came down three hours before call time for the entire run.
Fledermaus is an opera only done starting on New Years. It's about masquerading as someone else. Now, I portrayed Ivana which, if you look at a breakdown of the cast, there is not an "Ivana". But there is an "Ivan."
Our director, Nelson Sheeley had given me a call way before rehearsal, asking if I minded some kinky stuff onstage. "Fun" I said. I was going to work with this character, Prince Orlofsky, and didn't think a thing about it until First Coast Opera sent out an announcement of the cast and their characters and that, boys and girls, was when I found out that Prince Orlofsky was a "trouser role", which means that the Opera Singer Sarah Nordin was to be my Prince.
But I was game!
And oh! What fun! Nelson gave us so much naughty stuff to do his actual words were: "We could be closed down." So, dear reader, have I provoked your interest? Well, here are a couple of examples: every time she loudly called "Ivana", she would take a whip out of her boot and crack it on the floor. I would go into...well, let's say "ecstasy". I would be wherever I was standing onstage and gasp and quiver and rub my body and look like...well, you get the picture. And, then, when I saw how all the opera singers were going fullout with their characterizations, I developed a slow very slow, sultry walk towards them, each time, while everyone else is moving in a frenzied pace. And Orlofsky was my only dancing partner in all of our dance numbers.
Everything I did was from Orlofsky fetching me, whipping the floor for me, and I was dressed in heavy metal with spiked braces on my wrists in the big ballroom scene. We did everything but kiss which we were originally going to do but Nelson said "We're good with what we were doing." We were doing so much special business and, at the end of Act Two, remember in the beginning how I spoke of "Curtain Fright"? Well, our choreographer, Ellie Potts Barrett had me crawling through Orlofsky's legs right before the curtain comes down. And he (she / them) takes out the whip, turns and stands over me, and whips me. I jump up and do a bunch of chaines, which is a series of short rapid turns in a circle around her, until the curtain comes down.
Well, it all went great at rehearsal. Now (as you can see in the picture) a thin half moon line that is definitely not at the edge of the stage (more like a quarter into it) - that's where the curtain comes down.
Our stage manager told me: "You must make sure when you slide between her legs your head is clear of the curtain or we could have some trouble". He said all this with a smile. "Oh, god!" I thought.
Well, I guess I did alright with the direction because I am sitting at home writing this to you and not in emergency for a crack on the head.
Now a side note: Sarah had played this role in various opera companies and "Ivan", she said, was always a rather large man with a booming voice. No sultry walk...no whip...no dancing.
So hi-ho and hats off to our director for having this original idea.
Oh and both he and our conductor Curtis Tucker wrote a tune that we danced to. "What's it called?" you ask! Well, here are the happy lyrics, done as though Johann Strauss had written it himself. Here's a sample:
You get the idea. It fit so beautifully with the era and style of this operetta.
Also, the role my husband played, "Frosch", is done with a seasoned comedian. Sid Caesar did it at The Met. Dom Deluise had done it. Jack Gilford and, if you don't know who these people are, ask a parent or family member over the age of 40.
Well, John had this great idea of doing it as Groucho Marx.
He came out in the tux and cigar looking just like Groucho from that classic comedy "A Night At The Opera". Again, if you don't know this, ask a mature adult or lover of theater and cinema.
The audience loved it. It's a long opera and he does not come out til the third act. And I am not saying this as his wife but I am telling you: he was great.
The director wrote some fabulous monologue that wasen't in the original, so it was quite the lengthy role.
It was wonderful dancing with a full orchestra below my feet. Hearing the audience react well to my choices, and sitting there at rehearsals and backstage and onstage in awe of the great voices that were brought in for this production.
A good time had by all. Amen brother!!!