USO THE SHOW - BACKSTAGE TOUR
It is hard to explain the lure of the summer stage to those who are not part of it - while others are at the beach, entertaining guests, communing with friends there are those shut up in a theater for hours day and providing their own costumes, losing sleep, leisure and often incurring some kind if pain in the pursuit of their what shall we call it: a dream? Despite my own addition of two or three hours travel time for each rehearsal, performance from another part of the island it is a privilege and an education to be part of it. The common bind for us all - a love of musical theater!
The brain of the project is its Director John DeMarco, who had the idea, then hand picked the participants, and put together a group that was particularly exciting because of the new faces - destined to join that constellation of Grove stars. Particularly exciting, and the heart of any musical, is the musical director, Chris Vassiliades, imported via Sal Piro How important is this man? Very - he sets the tone that can make or break a performer, instills confidence or fear -our Chris was amiable, unflappable - greeted each performer and number with an encouraging smile - listened (very important) to the concept of the performer and then fixed it up - all good will and patience - how refreshing, especially in a man supremely overqualified for the job (Chris is a concert pianist who has written operas and musicals).
Another angel is makeup genius, Urban Sprawl (Richard Cooley), who taught everyone how to do it, who made those extraordinary '40's wigs complete with snood (for those of us who remember) and managed to transfer two oddly matched dressed I was considering wearing with one gesture, "hmmm, how about a drape on the hip", into one sizzling dress. He loaned me a Rita Heyworth wig and I owe my whole stage persona to him.
Jerry Staggs never met a pair of heels he didn't like - so there he was immaculate in his full dress uniform ..except for the stilettos he proudly strutted in on those rare occasions he wasn't John DeMarco's right hand man, especially useful when John had vocal chord surgery and was not supposed to speak for days just before the show.
It was particularly revelatory for me to get a rare glimpse into the "real" drag divas, watching the intensity with which they prepare their faces (most do it at home) and the wigs and dresses - and watching them rehearse their lipsynching which Bella claimed "is not easy" confiding that it had taken her months to perfect one of her numbers in the show - "you have to breath with the artist and get into their minds plus create movements".
The infamous Ariel graciously honored me with putting her touch on my makeup - I did feel special. The twins kept up hilarious banter checking up on each other, while making sure everyone else knew their part. Lana went from an adorable boy sailor to a red hot blues singing mama. Sherri went from a pristine nurse ratchet to a buxom blues temptress and Martha lived her secret femme dream donning perhaps more outfits than anyone, each with its own wig, hat gloves and of course lashes, liner, assiduously following all the steps Urban had diagrammed for her. Denise, the always competent, quietly droll commentator and Elvis impersonator admirably took on and continues The Violet Letter.
The oddest backstage couple was Bill Perez who specializes in fright night drag queen wigs and costume shockers next to the prima donna of them all, Bella (careful, do NOT leave anything in her space) as she meticulously became even more glam with each number, occasionally dropping a hint our way. I even caught her dropping into a doze to maintain her energy - and Demi Tasse, the only diva whose clothes are so smart and stylish I would kill for her wardrobe, just breezed in one day for rehearsal, with all that positive energy, bringing with the cutest guys she just "picked up" for her Jane Russell number. This led to the funniest comment for me as I said to Dale in the dressing room "Wow! Look at those 2 cupcakes Demi just brought in" - he said" Yes, I think I'll have them for a snack before dinner". Of course that brought the point home that I kept forgetting: where I was - being surrounded by the most good looking guys, (Hello, James Belzer and Jim Speake, James Duus, Dale Lally, et al) in macho military uniforms - that in the other world these handsome hunks were a real turn on for me - well, in this one, too.
Speaking of NOT macho Charity actually rehearsed out of drag which was an eye opener and a treat.
And then there's the Grove guys: gorgeous George McGarvey who was quietly reluctant to assume more than a chorus part and suddenly was almost choreographed to death in every hilarious boys number plus a tender sentimental ballad, and suddenly in drag in a long red wig - while maintaining an under the radar persona. And there's my own personal favorite, Toni Bondi, who never saw a number he couldn't trash into something funny and original, whose hilarity in infectious. He can go from sitting quietly into an over the top mugger as the nefarious Joan Crawford suddenly breaking into a bogus tap dance or a misdirected Hawaiian maiden with her "boys".
Which leads to another important component, choreographer John Nakovich, who, with a well placed gesture, can define a number - whether helping veteran Robin Cradles (whom I never recognized from one number to another - so completely can she change her image- I kept thinking it was someone new) or really instructing Bondi's crazy Hawaiian chorus boys.
Isaac Vaughn assumed a new (to me) dimension as a comic accordion playing sailor and his talented cute sidekick Brandon Cutrell (who also sang "Goody, Goody") in a vaudevillian turn destined to bring the genre back. Despite her determination to be macho Rae diStefano uncharacteristically obsessed about her hair more than any drag queen or R.G. I know - asking everyone's advice - very funny.
A big thanks to the crew above , backstage and below Harold, Arthur. Matt, et al who literally kept us in the light, dressed, neat, whatever.
I am sorry there weren't better opportunities to photograph everyone, specially Jacqui & Dale jitterbugging their hearts out as the show's opening (and at rehearsals over and over) but I was either onstage or struggling with my costume changes so I missed a few.
.It is impossible for me to objectively write about the Cherry Grove's first major musical of the season without qvelling and a huge dose of gratitude to JohnDeMarco for once again letting me into the life I love, "show biz" in Cherry Grove
.....perhaps another show someday (hint)
how did this...
morph into this???
just another night as a star
do you like this dress..
shhhhhhhh, I'm under cover
what're friends for???
the many looks of Martha
I like this one too (does she not look like Charles Busch, he patron saint of Divas?)
WOW!!! Red Hot Mama
How's my hair???
Jacqueline Presti, the nicest Grove's next star
one of us looks good
gotta have more Ginger
I Love this uniform!!!
I'm laughing because my dress is falling down (I guess that's what they mean by dress renearsal)
some day my prince will come..
OK shut up and listen- now its my turn
Gerry Stagg as Admiral Pumps - It's the shoes - love'm
Put The Blame on Me, Boys
delightfully dipsy duo: Isaac Vaughan & Brandon Cutrell
in the VD Polka
Jim Speake tells the guys "I'm Missing Cherry Grove Again"
dapper James Belzer does "The Lady is a Tramp"
Sherri Rase went from prissy nurse to THIS!!
Lana Kelly's "God Bless The Child"
Susan Freedner: "Jews Don't Camp" turned out to be a show stopper!
I'm Rita, livin' my dream
"Goody Goody" for Brandon Cutrell
Geroge McGarvey in touching "I'll See You Again"
that famous trio lives on
James Duus gets the cast to stand uo in "Sit Down You're Rockin the Boat"