The first weeks of rehearsal sail by in a mix of whole-cast and individual work. As a cast, we sing through the show a couple of times with that cast recording before starting to work with a piano. Wednesdays right now are set aside for those of us with solos to work one-on-one with Dr. T and George.
We now have a pianist. Dr. T filled in for the first couple of rehearsals, but he’s the first to admit that particular instrument is not his forte. Her first night, Lee just introduces herself and sits with Dr. T at the piano while those of the cast that are there sing through most of the big group numbers. I’m still getting used to the idea that not everyone is at every rehearsal; two different people are or will be out for 3-4 weeks each during the next couple of months, and two “brothers” are part of the high school basketball team, so they’re juggling rehearsals with practice.
The cast is still in flux, too: The person originally given the part of “Gad” (one of the brothers) has had to back out, and we still don’t have a Mrs. Potiphar. By the end of the month, Christie, George’s wife, has agreed to take over “Gad”. George’s first choice for Mrs. Potiphar is apparently unavailable, but at least two people already in the cast have offered to do the part. Personally, I care a little bit more about this last piece of news: During her one scene, Mrs. Potiphar attempts to seduce Joseph. I’m already nervous about it, and would like to know who I’m working with sooner rather than later.
By the end of the month, I set a rule for myself: No more listening to the cast recording I own. While some songs only differ in key and/or tempo, others have been changed dramatically, with verses deleted or added or rearranged. I know we won’t have any big dance breaks, and I need to stop listening for music cues that may or may not be there.
George and I start talking after rehearsal one night about costumes. “Have you thought about the prison scene?” he asks.
“What about it?”
“Well, do you want to go the Donny Osmond route?”
I offer a half-smile, but my heart starts beating faster. When Donny Osmond played Joseph, he ended up shirtless in the prison scene. “I mean, I will if you want me to,” which isn’t really a lie, “but how would that work?” I’m stalling, but also curious to hear his answer. (For those of you unfamiliar with the show: Joseph gets sold into slavery. Mrs. Potiphar, the wife of his owner, tries to seduce him. Potiphar finds out, blames Joseph, and has him thrown in jail.) George has already said the Potiphar sequence wouldn’t be as… sexy as is sometimes portrayed, so I doubt there’ll be a reason for my shirt to be removed. On a more personal level, while I have no problem going shirtless, I am a little worried about the fact that my top surgery scars can still be identified. As I haven’t come out to anyone in town yet, it could lead to some potentially awkward questions.
I would almost swear that George blushes at my question; at least, his face gets a little redder. “I don’t know yet. But think about it.”
In my head, I see this conversation as a weird dance, each of us trying to follow the other’s lead. I make a quick decision to leave things up to George, resolving to talk to him if and when there’s a concern. “Like I said, I’ll do what you ask me to.”
While I’m slowly getting used to this version of the show, there are some things that I wish could still be included. Among these is the duet between the Narrator and Joseph during the reprise of “Any Dream Will Do”; I’ve always loved the vocal harmonies in that section. I happen to mention it to Elena, our Narrator, at one point, and she agrees with me. She also already knows the harmonies. We try it out one night with the piano, and Dr. T and George agree that we can add it in.
The next few rehearsals bring several changes. On the bright side, we now have a stage manager, Bea. (We haven’t started blocking yet, but it’s nice to know that job is covered.) George also announces that he’s cast our Mrs. Potiphar: Kira, who currently plays one of the brothers, will take the role. She joins a growing list of people playing more than one part: “Jacob” also plays “Potiphar”, “Zebulon” and “Isaachar” also play the “Butler” and “Baker”, and so on. Sadly, we also lose a member of the team: Lee, our pianist, has to step down for personal reasons. George immediately starts looking for a replacement, but also presents another possibility: There is a company that makes and licenses digital recordings of the music for the show. The best part? Said recordings can be edited. Keys can be changed, tempos can be sped up or slowed down, and whole sections can be cut or repeated if necessary. The only catch is the price tag. If we opt to go this route, our budget for other things, like costumes and props, will be considerably less. After much discussion among the group, we agree that, if the money can be found, we’d like to go with the digital music.
One week later, an anonymous donor sends a check to cover the entire expense of the music.
Over a month in, and we are FINALLY starting blocking (who stands on stage, how they move, entrances and exits). The small stage at George’s church makes this a bit of a challenge (fortunately, the stages we’ll perform on will be larger). For now, we do the best we can, even if some of us can only be “onstage” when standing off to the sides.
From the start of blocking, it’s clear that George’s directing style differs quite a bit from what I’m used to. There’s a lot more discussion between him and the people he works with, and even people not involved in a particular scene are free to chip in suggestions. Sometimes, this works very well. Other times, we end up in “discussions” where people are talking over one another and no real decisions get made. However, it’s also clear that George spent this past month thinking about what he wants to see on stage, so we at least have some sort of guideline during this process.
Rehearsals now work a little differently. We start off with numbers that involve as many people as possible (often everyone, or darn close). Songs with fewer people happen later on, so that those not involved can leave for the night. While we won’t have much in the way of sets and props, we still have to rehearse as if we have said items on hand. I do better when I have something physical to use, especially when it comes to costumes, so I bring in a coat to use for the scenes that require it. Said coat is the source of much amusement, as it’s the duster for my Captain Reynolds costume. But it works!
The next phone call with my parents brings a surprise: They want to come see the show! They’re not the only ones, either: Kelly mentioned back in January that she, Lucas, and Andy were going to see what they could do about coming in from Nunap to catch a performance, and friends in Anchorage and Kenai have also expressed an interest in getting tickets. When tickets finally go on sale early in the month, I let people know. Immediately, I get quite a few orders.
Blocking continues. I have the easiest time with numbers where I interact with other characters. My solos, on the other hand, prove to be a bit of a sticking point. George has me come in early a few times so that we can work on those songs without an audience, something that I appreciate. We use a similar approach for the Potiphar sequence, although that one often gets left until the end of a rehearsal. Elena is the mastermind behind this number, so she and Kira have already worked on it a few times without me or the others involved. The first time we all get together is a bit chaotic, but we figure it out pretty quickly. Thank goodness Joseph is supposed to be uncomfortable during this scene; I don’t have to act very much!
We finally get to rehearse in one of our performance spaces! Stage A, another church, is only a few blocks north of George’s church, but I still drive there tonight because it’s been snowing all day. Compared to our normal rehearsal space, the place is big. The stage has to be at least two-and-a-half times the size of the one at George’s church, and has two levels. A baby grand piano takes up most of the top level. George says we won’t be moving it; I suggest throwing a brown sheet over it and calling it a sand dune. Most of our rehearsal tonight focuses on vocal work, although we do take a little time to try out a couple of things on the larger stage.
Spring break at last. A whole week of no teaching. While I have a to-do list of errands and appointments, for the most part I’m able to rest my voice during the days. I do pick up tickets for all of the various people who want to see the show. Some, like those for D and her family, I drop off in person. Others, like those for the Nunap folks and my dad, I simply keep on my dining room table. In rehearsals, we finally get to use Stage B (yet another church), our other performance space. As soon as I walk in to the space, I mentally dub it “the Barn”. Acoustically, that’s exactly what it is: Concrete floors and prefab walls create a large, open space that swallows the sound and redirects it elsewhere in the building. The stage is a raised plywood platform across the south end of the room; not as big as Stage A, but still larger than our rehearsal space. In exploring the rest of the building, I make a somewhat distressing discovery: In the men’s bathroom, the partition for the stall stops about a foot shy of the wall. Immediately, I plan to only use that facility when absolutely necessary, and never when someone else is in there.
George brings a large box to rehearsal: Props and costume parts have arrived! The former immediately get added in to the appropriate points of the show, but the latter will wait until dress rehearsals begin. While a large portion of our costumes came from the high school, George did order everyone a pair of Thai fisherman pants to use as a “base” for our looks. Some, like me, will never take the things off; others use them only when playing certain characters. After talking over my options with George, I go ahead and order two shirts for my own costume; since the one I want isn’t guaranteed to be here in time for the show, the second will be a backup. But the most important costume doesn’t come in the mail: On the 22nd, our amazing costumer delivers the titular coat. Everyone is anxious to see it, and we are not disappointed: The floor-length garment has been created by piecing together strips of fabric in a variety of patterns and colors, and the hems have been edged in a glittery black and gold star design. I put it on, and I am Joseph.
Our first performance is only a couple of weeks away. Rehearsals move into our performance spaces, particularly the Barn, so we can get comfortable with where and how we can move during the show. Several things have to be re-done to fit both the new layouts and our lights (we don’t have them yet, but mark their eventual locations with tape). We also “woodshed” several segments, doing and re-doing until things click into place. Elena and I start using the microphones we’ll have for the show, and much discussion ensues about who else might need a mic, and if so, what type (headset, lapel, or handheld). In the end, the decision is made that, while Elena and I will be mic’ed at both locations, the other soloists will also have mics at the Barn. The “brothers” will pass a lapel mic around as necessary, and Pharaoh will use a handheld as part of his character. Sets, such as they are, get added in, and the majority of us start wearing our costume shoes or sandals so we can get comfortable performing in them. The last few rehearsals turn into semi-dress rehearsals, so that we can take stock of what we have and what we still need, and start working on transitions for those that need to change costumes. The first night, I feel anxious about dressing in front of the others, and actually take my costume shirt into the bathroom to change before rehearsal starts. By the time we end for the night, I’m too tired to care, and join everyone else in the “greenroom” (one of the Barn’s meeting rooms) to change into our street clothes.