Theater Preview: Gallery Players Returns with Streamed Version of Classic Musical ‘I Do! Do!’
Gallery Players – a bright spot in the Columbus theater world for over 70 years – opened a run of She Loves Me on March 8, 2020. After only two performances, director Pamela Hill and the cast fully expected to return the following Thursday. The burgeoning pandemic had other ideas and the show – like everything else – was closed, preserving the sets as they were.
As the pandemic dragged on, music director Allen Finkelstein reached out to Hill with the canny suggestion of mounting I Do! I Do! repurposing the existing set. This ‘60s smash by Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) is a perennial favorite, revived every few years.
As Finkelstein suggested, it also focuses on a married couple, limiting the households they would need to work around for COVID safety guidelines. I spoke to Hill by Zoom about creating this new work from the old and working in these new forms.
“We got the set designer back [from She Loves Me], and I said ‘How do we turn a flower shop in France into an American bedroom with a four-poster bed?'” Hill said.
They shifted the She Loves Me set back and stored it behind the centerpiece bed, dressers, and dressing tables that also kept the many props – all brought in and separately quarantined for days before anyone else touched them.
As Hill told me, the cast and stage crew comprised two pods. Hill enjoyed working with the leads from She Loves Me, a married couple, Chris and Kristen Rusen. As Hill said, “‘ okay, let’s offer it to them first.’ And if they accept… Because a lot of people are even wary of doing something like this.” Happily, they accepted.
I Do! I Do! also found a husband and wife duo for the backstage crew. The crew completed props and sets before bringing in actors to minimize the number of people in the room at any given time. The actors and the costume designer only interacted with each other during fittings, also to reduce exposure.
As part of the precautions, they did as much preparation as possible virtually. For the early read-through, Hill said, even though the actors can sight-read and teaching them the music wasn’t a problem, “It’s weird to do it on Zoom because there’s a delay. So if a pianist is playing, it never matches up. We ended up [recording] the music and sending it to the two actors so they could press a button and hear the music; so that they were doing it in live time.”
The choreography presented additional challenges.
“The choreographer Gabby Stefura teaches at Fort Hayes and [Zoom is] how she’s been teaching her classes,” Hill explained. “I said, ‘Not all kids have a space to dance in.’ And she said, ‘It’s really tricky; Some of them only have between their bed and the walls in their room to do this.’”
The cast members cleared out their living room to create space.
“Gabby has a setup so that just by tilting the screen, she can get either the full-length shot of herself or the footwork involved, or the handwork, or whatever,” Hill said. “[For the] five or six songs that had to be choreographed, she did it until they were hitting the walls, literally. She choreographed everything she could possibly do in their living room before we went into the space.”
Once those songs were choreographed, Hill said, “Then we did basically movement and aging rehearsals because the show takes place over a 50 year time period [spanning the characters] being 20 years old to 70 years old. [Finally, we choreographed] the fight sequence. And so we used whatever props [the Rusens] had in their home to initially do this. So, they’re using like purses for the suitcase, and their own shoes for the shoes.”
Following that Zoom work, the actors met with the accompanist and conductor for one afternoon of live music rehearsal followed by a shortened, in-person rehearsal period focusing on blocking.
“[The cast] agreed at the very beginning of rehearsal period that they would come in, basically with the lines learned and the songs learned, so that way we got to the blocking rehearsals, we would be blocking everything on the set, [all] with masks on,” Hill said.
The filming presented a problem with everyone doing their job too well and spoke to the material’s timeless nature.
“Videographers watching [the dress rehearsal], I mean, they’re seeing it for the first time through the lens, right? And they started laughing,” Hill said. “They were laughing really, really loud. And they were enjoying themselves!”
“I’m thinking, this is a fun, fun show,” Hill continued, “But we had [debated] were we going to do laughter, or weren’t we going to do laughter? Because you don’t want it to sound like four people in the audience laughing. You either want to have a big audience or a kind of big audience or just do it without the audience.
“I had to make the announcement. I asked Chris [Rusen], ‘Are you sure? Do you think we ought to have laughter in this?’ Because I’m like, maybe I’m wrong. And he says, ‘No.’ So he told all the videographers, he goes, ‘Don’t laugh.’ They were all so disappointed.”
I asked Hill her thoughts on the process, looking back.
“It is twice as much work as doing a regular show, and it takes twice as long to do it,” she said. “And I should say, we chose a good show to do this because it’s not big on set and it’s not big on costumes. If you were doing anything that was a large set or large costumes, this would take you forever to do under the current restrictions.”
Catch Gallery Players’ first foray into streaming with this classic marital comedy the weekend of January 23.
I Do! I Do! plays for two streaming performances at 7:30 p.m. January 23 and 2:00 p.m. January 24. For tickets and more info, visit columbusjcc.org/gallery-players.