by Richard Gatta
Last week, I showed up to the rehearsal studios at Musical Theatre West for their production of the musical Bright Star. It was two days before the cast would fill the space, and I found myself in a room full of miscellaneous set pieces and props. It was a particularly eerie experience because the Broadway set had been purchased by Musical Theatre West for their own production. I spent the next couple hours wandering the room, pointing out props and explaining the functions of each set piece to our new Production Stage Manager. It was like opening up a time capsule and memories began to flood my head with every box and desk drawer that I opened.
As I rummaged through the mountain of props, I was struck with the memory of a small sketchbook.The book was used by an ensemble member in the back of a park scene. It was not a very important piece to the narrative of the story, but it reminded me of the care and thought in which the original creatives gave to the detail of each ensemble member. As I started to block the “sketchbook” park scene at MTW, more of the past memories came to light. I remember the sketches and accounts of company events of importance that were recorded in this book. These entries spanned over multiple productions. There were jokes, birthday wishes and notes which painted a picture of all the friendships forged by this musical. “Richard’s Broadway debut! April 23rd,” which was quickly scratched sideways on one of the pages always affected me deeply. It made me think of all that has happened since that spring day at the Cort Theatre and all that I have learned.
My journey with Bright Star started when I was hired to be a dance partner for potential actresses auditioning for the role of Lucy for the pre-Broadway Kennedy Center production. I was soon after hired as the Dance Captain for the Washington, DC engagement and the Broadway Company. After closing on Broadway, I assisted Walter Bobbie in staging the Town Hall reunion concert which turned into a position as Choreography Supervisor for the 1st National Tour, working beside Josh Rhodes. Josh has been instrumental in helping me find my voice as a creative since Bright Star Broadway. He has a way of translating a story to the stage like no-other and I have had the great opportunity to work beside him developing new works for the past five years. I respect him very much, so I was thrilled and honored when I learned that Josh Rhodes and Walter Bobbie had put my name forward to direct and choreograph Bright Star at Musical Theatre West.
Every production of this show is unique in itsown right. It really stems from our writers Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. They know the importance of making great art. Their passion to tell a great story is shown in their work ethic and that trickles down to every creative who has worked on this show over the years.I believe that is why this show has been ever changing since its first incarnation. The entire team would step into the room with new and better ideas every single day. I still find myself discovering new moments in this show, even years later, which in turn prompt new ideas.
Edie Brickell said it best, “You can take a little acorn of an idea and that idea can expand into an oak tree of possibilities.”
That is the way I feel about leading the cast of truly extraordinary actors at MTW. There is something quite wonderful about watching a new group of artists take material which you know so well and interpret it in their own unique way. Their acting choices are pure and refreshing and this is something that is so unique to the MTW version of Bright Star. The staging and set might be the same, but I’m seeing character performances I’ve never experienced before.
There has always been something special about Bright Star that draws people back. I think it’s because it’s a musical that everyone feels a human connection with. It speaks to the human condition and allows its cast to live in real moments. The material Steve and Edie created gives the ensemble as much weight in the storyline as the leading players and that’s one of things I enjoy most about directing this show. The show opens with Alice declaring, “If you knew my story, you’d have a good story to tell.” But the truth is that every person on that stage has a story to tell and no matter how big or small that story may be, Bright Star embraces them all. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
Bright Star plays at Musical Theatre West in Long Beach, CA from October 19-November 4, 2018.