Real Live Theater

Posts Tagged ‘musicals’

Paul Gilger: bringing industrial light, magic and Showtune to the world

In Artist Spotlight on January 2, 2009 at 6:36 am

by Ray Sikorski

Submitted photo of Takarazuka Revue cast rehearsing Just Go To The Movies

Submitted photo of Takarazuka Revue cast rehearsing Just Go To The Movies

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – Paul Gilger knows his way around theaters. He’s acted in a few, stage managed in a lot, directed, produced, composed music, written scripts, designed sets, even designed theaters. His experience spans from junior high in a small-city Ohio, to productions in New York, London, and Tokyo. He knows how to walk into a theater to find work – and it’s not likely to happen with a script in your hand.

Everyone wants to try out for the big part. Walk in with a script, Gilger says, and that elicits suspicious questions from the troupe. Who are you? Can we use you?

“But if you walk into a theater and pick up a hammer to build a set, it’s, ‘Welcome! We have a job for you here!’”

That’s the way theater is, says Gilger, 54, and that’s the way it’s always worked for him. Growing up in Mansfield, Ohio, Gilger’s junior high art teacher noticed his talent with drawing, and sent him up to the high school to help design sets. Before long he was stage managing every high school production, and soon found his way into the Mansfield Playhouse, the local community theater troupe.

“I was pretty much an outcast in high school, so when I did go to the community theater, it was the first time in my life I was accepted for who I was,” Gilger says. “What got me into theater and what kept me in theater, I think, originally, was that.”

Gilger majored in architecture at the University of Cincinnati, but his minor in technical theater kept him coming back to Mansfield. Along with garnering rave reviews for his acting in comedies, Gilger designed the sets for the Miss Ohio pageant that came to Mansfield, and that led to similar work with the Miss America pageants in Atlantic City. But the turning point in his theatrical career came in 1979, when the Mansfield cast of the musical revue Rogers and Hart – which Gilger was stage managing – ended up snowbound in his apartment.

A musical theater troupe snowbound in an apartment for a weekend? If nothing else, it was a great excuse for a party. Out came the booze, and Gilger played the piano while everyone sang for hours on end.

‘“I just kind of made a comment, kind of off-hand: ‘I could write a better show than Rogers and Hart,’ and somebody said ‘Well, Why don’t you do it?’ It started really as simple as that.”

What “it” is is a musical revue of songs by composer Jerry Herman, known for such legendary shows as Hello, Dolly, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles. Gilger, a huge Herman fan, found he could juxtapose Herman’s songs in such a way that they could respond to each other, and tell a story.  The result was Tune the Grand Up, which opened to rave reviews at San Francisco’s 1177 Club in 1985. The show changed its name to The Best of Times and then to Showtune, and has since played in dozens of locations around the world – including a Japanese-language production performed by members of the Takarazuka Revue Company in Japan.

But to Gilger, the greatest accolade comes from Jerry Herman himself, who has become a close friend of Gilger’s.

“He feels that Showtune is the show that best represents his life’s work,” Gilger says, adding that Herman is so proud of it that he doesn’t pay heed to pitches for new revues of his work. “He says, ‘A musical revue has been done, and if you want to do a revue of my work, just do Showtune.”

Of course, Gilger’s main line of work is architecture, which he practices professionally in Santa Rosa, California, where he’s lived for over 20 years. He doesn’t let being an architect get in the way of his theatrical work, though – in fact, he designed George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic film studio, and transformed an old cannery into Santa Rosa’s Sixth Street Playhouse. He’s currently working on a similar project in Cloverdale, California.

“It all kind of goes together for me,” he says. “There’s a real connectivity for me as far as art and theater and music and architecture and design and beauty and helping people. Just doing things to help people – it goes around.”

Ray Sikorski wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana.


The Mountain Play’s Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre

In Places and Spaces on January 1, 2009 at 12:13 am

by Kim Taylor

The Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre on opening day of the Mountain Play’s 2004 production of “My Fair Lady.”  Photo by Kim Taylor

The Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre on opening day of the Mountain Play’s production of “My Fair Lady.” Photo by Kim Taylor

MARIN COUNTY, CA – The Bay Area’s highest theatrical experience can be found at the Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre located a top Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley. Home venue for the Mountain Play Association, this beautiful outdoor amphitheater is located approximately 2,500 feet overlooking the Golden Gate and San Francisco skyline.

Since its official opening day on May 4, 1913, thousands have trekked up Mount Tamalpais for an afternoon of theatrical entertainment featuring jaw dropping surprises and special elements and effects including horses, stagecoaches, World War II planes and even the Wicked Witch flying overhead.

The location’s theatrical life began when San Francisco lawyer John C. Catlin, U.C. Berkeley drama professor Garnet Holme and experienced Mt. Tam hiker “Dad” O’Rourke were hiking on Mt. Tam and paused to take in the view.  Holme saw what he said later was “the perfect place for an outdoor theater.”

The three made plans to produce and present a play. Catlin advanced the money, O’Rourke got the support of hiking clubs and Holme recruited a cast from his drama classes for a production of Abraham and Isaac. Twelve hundred people attended the opening performance, some hiking from Mill Valley and others riding the mountain railroad known as the “crookedest railway in the world.”

In 1914, The Mountain Play Association was established and a year later Congressman William Kent deeded the theater to the Mountain Play Association. The Cushing Memorial Theater was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The natural-stone amphitheater seats 3,750 people.

American playwright Dan Totheroh, who performed in Mountain Play productions as early as 1915, wrote Tamalpa which was presented in 1921. Totheroh eventually became director of the Mountain Plays and helped shape the destiny of the organization. Attendance had grown to the point that the 1961 production Robin Hood was presented on two successive Sundays; the first time a show had been performed in the mountain top venue more than once.
The sizable audience attendance was welcome, but it presented parking dilemma. In the 1970s members of the Mountain Play Association decided it was time for major changes for accommodating larger audiences and presenting more professional, profitable productions.

In 1977, Marilyn Smith was named producer. Smith transformed the Mountain Play Association establishing its annual outdoor presentation into a popular tradition by instituting shuttle bus service and presentations of popular and beloved Broadway musicals. In addition, Smith hired James Dunn, head of the College of Marin’s respected Drama Department, as Artistic Director. Production values improved and performances were presented over five week runs in late spring.

As it moves towards its 100th Anniversary, the Mountain Play Association is today an award-winning theater company featuring the Bay Area’s finest talent; dazzling sets, costumes, choreography and dramatic special effects and hosting 10,000 to 20,000 theatergoers each year.

The Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre is a Bay Area landmark where audiences of all ages enjoy memorable outdoor presentations of lavish Broadway shows in a beautiful outdoor setting.

A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.

How many live theater (or theatre) performances do you attend per year as an audience member?

In An Invitation for You, Who's watching? on November 26, 2008 at 5:10 pm

Real Live Theater is on a quest for knowledge and you can enlighten us.

You are invited to participate in our simple poll to help us discover how many live theater performances people attend per year as  audience members. Please click on the answer that best applies to you on the survey form below, then be sure to click the “Vote” button. (Note: all responses will remain anonymous.)


Thank you for your participation!

One Day More: another look at two memorable Les Miserables video clips

In Found Treasures on November 20, 2008 at 7:34 pm

With the presidential election behind us, we’ve looked back through our of collection favorite campaign video clips to find ones worth remembering. This one, put together by Ultimate Improv very cleverly demonstrates a seamless marriage between theater arts and the world of politics that has consumed our lives for much of this year. It’s also a fresh, contemporary take on a musical that has quickly become a classic. Enjoy!

We also took a look back at the same song performed and recorded for the 10th Anniversary celebration of Les Miserables at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Also known as The Dream Cast Concert, this production is breathtaking in its scope, performance and orchestration. Actors for the dream cast were chosen from two London productions, a Broadway production and an Australian production. Bravo!!

Theater (or theatre) as Communication, Entertainment and Social Interaction in the 3-D World

In Editor's Note on November 15, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Editor’s Note

Talking Bubbles photo by Sirin Buse

Talking Bubbles photo by Sirin Buse

“Real, live theater. You know, the kind of theater where actors perform plays and musicals live, on a stage.”

I find myself saying these phrases a lot these days.

Upon meeting someone for the first time, the course of polite conversation always, ultimately seems to turn to, “So, what is it that you do?”

To which I answer, “I’m in theater.”

To which they often reply with uncertainty, “Uh, a movie theater?”.

The “Uh” of their uncertainty seems almost always to stem from the combination of their instant identification with movie trailers, movie advertisements, movies they’ve gone to see, and a vision of the megaopolis movie theater complex in their neighborhood that they regularly drive past during their commutes to work or to school or to both, and some cloud of remembrance of some other type of theater they vaguely recall from their far distant past. It is because of this hazy memory they are are unsure if “movie theater” is the correct guess.

When I correct them with my reply, flint rubs steel and there is a spark. The spark may be of: a play at church or at school in which they played some small part as a child; watching friends or their children or their grandchildren sing and dance across the stage in Guys and Dolls or Grease or more recently in High School Musical in, well, a high school musical production; or of a long buried desire to sing or dance or act on stage that was never fully ignited. Everyone, it seems has some story to recall and sadly, too often the existence of theater in their consciousness is referred to in past tense.

During the present technological times the preferred method of most of the world’s communication, entertainment and social interaction funnels through electronic devises and is delivered at a time of convenience to the sender and is received at a time of convenience to the end user, in the privacy of their own homes, laps, hands or offices usually via a two-dimensional rectangular screen that comes in varying sizes, sometimes with earphones or speakers attached. Fast. Reliable. Generic. Often bad. Sometimes good. Occasionally great. But where in this electronic age is real human interaction? Why is the need for privacy encouraged, pursued and prized to the point of creating a society of socially inept individuals? When does actual, not virtual human contact come into play?

We are distracted from our need for human contact as new services emerge that allow us to send and receive an ever-increasing number of voicemails, emails, text messages and an endless stream of hot, new products enable us to download endless hours, days and years, albeit more than a lifetime’s worth of information and entertainment to enjoy in the luxury of our own self-imposed solitary confinement. We are blinded to the fact that isolation is marketed to us as a most desirable situation and is highly encouraged in order to boost the sales of more and more gadgets.

Don’t get me wrong. I do understand the benefits of electronic communication, on-line entertainment and virtual social interaction — after all I am using an electronic device to write this to you and you are receiving it on your two-dimensional screen, all the while people have been sending me voicemails, emails and text messages for goodness sake! – however, I also understand the power of: attending a convention or conference to listen to and witness a live speaker move an audience; partaking in an engagement or celebration where food and drink is shared; real hands touching briefly in formal acknowledgment or in casual appreciation of each other; watching (or participating in) a live performance; and evidencing first-hand the ability of human effort to warrant a standing ovation.

Real, live theater is communication, entertainment and social interaction in the three-dimensional world. A three-dimensional world that must be reclaimed and nurtured in order to maintain our humanity set against the dimension reductionist marketing movements of our day. (What’s next – devices that reduce us all to a one-dimensional existence? We will all end but as a small dot on a globe somewhere in a far flung corner of the universe, but perhaps that is all we are anyway. It’s almost too much to fathom.)

[Applause] to you for your interest in balancing your two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds.

I hope you take a moment to communicate with a friend and invite them to see a show, be entertained, enjoy the human interaction between the artists and the audience, then applaud yourself for being a part of the three-dimensional world of real, live theater.


Cheryl Itamura is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Real Live Theater.