by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle™
photo by Elisa Hall, Goodspeed Musicals
When it comes to multitasking, Connecticut-based director Rob Ruggiero is a super-star with his recent directorial debut on Broadway, a gig at TheaterWorks in Hartford starring Kathleen Turner, and directing Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” at Goodspeed Musicals, all in this spring season.
Multi-award winning Rob even found time during a rehearsal break to talk with us on the Goodspeed campus in East Haddam. He greeted us in his well-known, good-natured way. Despite juggling so many shows and projects simultaneously all over the country – and overseas – he’s always upbeat, especially when it comes to talking about the importance of using theater for great story-telling.
When asked how he got the assignment to direct this classic American musical about Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, he was quick on the trigger with, “I have a good relationship with Goodspeed. This will be my fourth Goodspeed Musical – the others are “1776”, “Big River” and “Camelot”. In previous conversations with Goodspeed, “Annie Get Your Gun” was on my list. Coincidentally it was on producer Michael Price’s list, too.”
Rob added, “In previous productions it was a ‘star’ show….Ethel Merman, Reba McEntire. This will be a ‘story’ show…they call me the ‘story guy’…so this will be the story of Annie and Frank. It’s based on the 1999 revival script, it’s different from the Merman version because this is really a show within a show, but it has a different ending. Don’t tell the ending! I want your readers to see our production!
“A musical is only different from a play in that it’s more of a collaborative effort. I work closely with choreographer Noah Racey in this show. It depends upon the song and the scene as to who is having more input in the movement of the cast. We all try to articulate the story with a combination of acting, music and dance seamed together to illustrate the journey of the characters. I also get involved in all other phases of the production – by collaborating with the costume designer, the lighting designer and the carpenters and other craftspeople working on the show.
“I have worked with the stage crew before, so they have gotten to know my style. The crew knows that we are all working for the success of the show and each detail is important. The support staff understands that we are all going to the same place.
“During “Camelot” I wanted all the stone castle walls and arches to look real, not painted. So to the scenic artists and carpenters participating in the project, I kept saying “not too painty, not too painty” to stress the realism I was looking for. When I arrived for the first rehearsal for “Annie Get Your Gun” the crew was wearing t-shirts which read ‘It Won’t Be Too Painty!’ It’s that kind of energy and synergy that makes for a good show.”
As director, Rob has the central vision, and he compares the responsibilities of the director of a musical to that of an orchestra conductor.
“It’s a ‘rags to riches’ story about a simple country girl from Ohio who knows how to shoot and she makes it big in a Wild West Show.” Keeping the design as simple as possible, the show will still have lots of ‘wonderful, beautiful sets and costumes.’ The artistic team of Michael Schweikardt and Alejo Vietti is supported by an incredible team of producing and technical Goodspeed artists that will help to realize Rob’s vision. John Lasiter joins the team and Rob ‘can’t wait to see how he lights it!’
The score is being specifically orchestrated for this production, so that Rob and Noah have the option of reshaping the numbers to fit their collaborative vision. There will also be a big surprise as to how they will pull off “the trick” – one of the musical’s show-stopping scenic effects – it’s a piece of action and reaction that dramatically reveals a deep complexity in characters of both Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. Don’t miss it.
“Annie Get Your Gun” runs April 16 through June 27 at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main Street, East Haddam, CT. The season’s other shows are “Carnival,” July 9 through September 18; and “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying,” September 24 through November 28, 2010. Box office: 860-873-8668 or www.goodspeed.org.
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