We opened Cotton Patch Gospel at Totem Pole Playhouse last night to a thunderous standing ovation and now I’m back to just directing one show, Wayside Theatre’s season opening Man of La Mancha. We just got back home, and am taking a brief breather before heading to a long day of rehearsals before we start piecing together the show, which opens next Sunday. By the end of today we should have a good idea where we are and where we need to go. I can’t wait.
I’ve been blessed to be working with two extraordinary casts in both shows, both have understood both my, and Steve (our music director’s) constraints, and have stepped it up to make the time we spend with them very productive. Now that the laser is only focused on one show, we should be prepared to leap ahead in our typical Wayside style.
A word about last night’s opening. My good friend, Ray Ficca, not only stars in Cotton Patch Gospel, but it is the first show in his new role as Artistic Director of Totem Pole Playhouse. Not only was it a bold move to open his first season with a show he stars in, but the boldness doubled (if not trebled) when he picked this particular show. Cotton Patch Gospel is a dangerous show for some. It tells the story of the Gospel of Christ through direct address and song, with one man playing most of the characters in the story. For those who hold their faith too preciously close, they may find it offensive. Indeed in our previous two Wayside Theatre productions of the piece (both starring Ray) we’ve had some folks walk out quite indignant and calling the show sacrilegious. To each his/her own, but I think more folks agree that this is a great re-telling of the greatest story ever told. Indeed at last night’s opening, several patrons left during the first act. But that did not diminish the enthusiasm for the rest of the audience as the show was met with a sustained standing ovation at its conclusion. That response signaled so many victories for one evening of theatre.
First it was a testament to, if I may so myself, and excellent production of a piece of theatre that reaches right into your heart and soul. This play demonstrates the power and the essential roots of theatre, storytelling, at its finest. Second, it was a response to a magnificent ensemble who played and sang and acted brilliantly throughout. Third, it was a thrilling thumbs up for Ray Ficca’s superlative performance. And lastly, it was the Totem Pole audience’s way of letting Ray know that they want much more of the same from the new regime he just rang in with amazing results.
When Ray asked me to direct this show, his first new show of his first new season, I was both humbled and honored. My collaborator and musical director Steve Przybylski and I gave it all we could for Ray, and his team rose to the occasion in magnificent style. He’s not just one in a million, he’s one where they threw away the mold. His efforts at Wayside Theatre have always brought us great success and wowed our audiences and I know the Totem Pole Playhouse fans are in for an equally amazing ride.
What a delight and honor to have been a part of something that is not only heralding a new era for the venerable Totem Pole Playhouse, but to have been able to return the favor to someone who has given Wayside Theatre so much over the years.
Bravo’s all around.
And now back to Man of La Mancha (before R. Scott gets too crazy and feels left out.)