After a year and a half since their last show, the Charleston Light Opera Guild returns to the Clay Center this week with “Putting it Together”.
The outdoor show offers a small cast, no costume or set changes, few props and music from 13 of the musical catalog of the Broadway titan Stephen Sondheim.
“It’s a revue, but it spells ‘review’,” said Guild Director Nina Pasinetti.
Putting it Together takes songs from this baker’s dozen shows and dramatically mixes them into a new story.
“If you know the other musicals, you might see the songs in a different light,” she said. “With the plot and theme, the songs in ‘Putting it Together’ may have a different meaning.”
Pasinetti was thrilled not only with the guild’s return to performance, but also with “Putting it Together” as the show presented different challenges for both them and the theater company.
“Putting it Together” was aired off-Broadway in 1993 and featured the return of Julie Andrews to the New York stage. It ran again on Broadway with Carol Burnett in 1999, but Pasinetti said she hadn’t seen any of those shows, which was a little unusual.
“I’ve seen so many shows on Broadway,” she explained.
Prior to COVID-19, Pasinetti made regular trips to New York and to the theaters. Not only is she a lifelong theater fan, the director scouts these shows as potential future guild productions. She pays attention to the Broadway style and look.
“We don’t copy,” she said. “But we definitely respect the original intent.”
With “Putting it Together”, Pasinetti was simply not that exposed. Her research was largely limited to a few YouTube videos and a broad knowledge of Sondheim’s work.
“Sondheim changed the way Broadway ran, and it’s not an easy job to learn,” she said.
But the show suited the guild’s needs, even if it wasn’t exactly what the guild preferred – especially in the summer.
Summer shows can focus on larger casts, with the guild resorting to high school actors and students coming home from college for the summer.
In addition, the light opera guild has not done an outdoor show or revue for decades.
“We did them in the 80s and 70s,” said Pasinetti.
Even so, new circumstances call for new solutions, so the guild chose a musical with just a handful of players that eschewed extras, including dialogue.
Cedrick Farmer, one of the five actors in the musical, said, “It was basically an opera.”
A little trust was involved.
Understudies were not filled. If something happened, if someone got sick, the whole show could have derailed, but Pasinetti said their cast was very conscientious. They followed safety protocols, monitored their health, and wore special masks that made it easier for players to sing until health guidelines said it was okay for them to take the masks off.
Rudi Arrowood said the strict protocols were worth it.
Arrowood played in the guild’s only production in 2020 with “Maria” in “The Sound of Music”.
While Arrowood said she usually takes breaks between shows, it hit her hard not to have a show on the horizon.
“I developed a lot of hobbies in my free time,” she laughs.
When the guild announced that it would be resuming a production in June, Arrowood said it doesn’t care what role she gets as long as she gets a role.
She said, “Sign me up. I play a hay bale whatever. I am super happy to be back. “
Arrowood got the role of Woman # 1.
None of the characters in the musical have names. Arrowood is woman # 1. Chris Terpening plays Man # 1. Christa Navy is woman # 2. Bauer is Man # 2 and Jacob Fleck is Man # 3.
Farmer said it was good to be back too. Last year he graduated from West Virginia State University with a degree in singing. Along with worries about getting sick, the pandemic clouded his musical future.
“It scared me,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Pasinetti said the guild didn’t get huge castings, but did attract some of the best talent the area has to offer.
Everyone was careful and took the job seriously.
“Nobody canceled. Nobody got sick. I don’t think anyone was late for rehearsals, ”she said. “It just went very smoothly.”
The entire cast was vaccinated as early as possible, Pasinetti said.
“It wasn’t because of the show,” she added. “Everyone was nervous about COVID. Everyone knew someone who had it. “
To display the show outdoors, the guild has enlisted the Clay Center’s Susan Runyan Maier Sculpture Garden, which the arts and science center developed as an outdoor venue.
The sculpture garden also seemed to serve the aesthetics of the piece.
“The characters wear evening attire,” said Pasinetti. “The men are dressed in tuxedos.”
There were concerns about the rain, she said. June weather in West Virginia is routinely fickle. Rain showers, unusual winds, or scorching heat are all possible and nearly impossible to predict weeks or months.
Pasinetti said they have rainy dates for missed shows and, thanks to changes in health guidelines, the ability to move production in-house if necessary.
As the show neared opening night, she said it finally felt like things were getting easier, as if things were getting better, if not entirely normal, than they had been.
The restrictions relaxed and there was a sense of relief.
“The most important thing is that we get back to what we should,” she said. “We’re here to entertain and provide an outlet for artists.”