In the final days of the trip to Israel, something of an emergency arose: Theater J Resident Director Nick Olcott, busy directing the Robert Brustein/Isaac Bashevis Singer musical SHLEMIEL THE FIRST, let us know that his partner Tim Westmoreland had suffered a small heart attack late last weekend and was scheduled to undergo a triple by-pass on Wednesday morning. Nick needed to temporarily withdraw from directing Shlemiel.
After the successful surgery, Nick let us know that because of Tim’s intense pain and the tremendous amounts of attention that would be needed in caring for Tim over the next crucial weeks, Nick would be needing to make his withdrawal from directing the project permanent. By Wednesday evening, thanks to the diligent work of our production manager Delia Taylor, we’d found our superb replacement director, Michael Russotto, a longtime Theater J veteran actor with many directing credits at Metro Stage, Actors Theatre of Washington, and a gifted master teacher at The Theatre Lab. Well-respected, humble, and calmly graceful under pressure, Michael is already proving himself to be the perfect person for the job to pick up where Nick left off.
Nick’s provided Michael with a wonderfully organized set of notes as to what’s been accomplished and what finishing touches still need to be addressed. Choreographer Michael Bobbit’s been completing the big dance numbers this week just the same, and he’d have been doing all this same work whether or not Nick were with us or not. Yesterday was Michael’s second day with the cast and all seemed to have been transitioning smoothly; almost brilliantly. The almost being: Well, michael still hasn’t seen the costume drawings nor had a production meeting yet. That’s all to come. We’re still playing plenty of catch up and there’s no taking anything for granted right now — not in life, not on a show, not with respect to one’s own well-being; knock wood, tewey-tewey, and pray for good things every day.
Lots to savor upon returning to Theater J; upon returning home to my loving family; upon seeing my students the very night of my landing, as that very same night turned out to be our last outing of the semester, and the students had unanimously voted to go see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF out at Olney Theatre in a production directed by Theater J’s other resident director, John Vreeke (who’d, interestingly, directed Michael Russotto this past summer at Theater J in the world premiere workshop staging of David Zelnik’s ARIEL SHARON HOVERS BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH AND DREAMS OF THEODOR HERZL — Michael, of course, doing an effacing and brilliant job of throwing himself into the role of Herzl, failed playwright, brilliant visionary and the father of modern Zionism). Fascinating to contemplate the kinship between FIDDLER and SHLEMIEL, and the profound differences as well. There are scads of ’em. I refer dutiful blog readers back to Bob Brustein’s comments on our website and know that I’ll be asking Bob to talk a little more about the distinctive aspect of Shlemiel; how this whimsical klezmer musical is quite distinct from its influential war-horse forbearer.
Shlemiel’s a whole lot sillier, in my mind; an orgy of antic, ethnic revelry that makes the celebration of the (not so) Wise Men of Chelm into a universal, Marx Brothers-like happy tale of mistaken identity. The whole’s thing’s a lot less lugubrious than the tale of the displacement from Anatevka and the drama of Tevye dealing with each of his marrying daughters. But FIDDLER’S a pretty brilliant musical in its own right, and my students had a great time. I slept for half of it, awaking with a smile every 15 minutes. In the end, we met the great Rick Foucheux, who does a great job as Tevye. He told a few tales, shared some preparation anecdotes, and the students then boarded the bus back for DC. I got into my Prius, more than exhausted. And I’ve been recovering from jet-lag all the while.
It’s Saturday now. Sophie and I have been out at the Mac Store buying an big external hard-drive so we can back up our computers and she can play Sims 2 on her formerly overstuffed lap-top. We’ve been happy to be back together these last two days (Sophie was off school yesterday). So all’s returning to normal. And dad’s returning to the theater to watch rehearsal and work on stuff and then it’s tennis with Katie. Which will be a lovely way to end the day.
A thorough update. Home indeed.