by Sarah Davis
PITTSBURGH- La Cage Aux Folles, the hit Broadway musical, opens tonight (March 13) at the Benedum Center. Starring George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber, La Cage Aux Folles will play from March 13-18. Style & Wisdom had the chance to chat with the stage manager of this production, Karyn Meek, to get the "behind the scenes" scoop of this traveling musical (winner of several Tony Awards) as it comes to Pittsburgh for a few days. There are many, many people behind the scenes who are responsible for bringing these Broadway productions to life, but sometimes we only see the stars of the show. Karyn fills us in on La Cage Aux Folles, her job, and if NBC's Smash is realistic or not.
Style & Wisdom: Tell us a little bit about La Cage Aux Folles, what is the story of the show and what has been the best part about being a part of such a successful traveling Broadway show?
Karyn Meek: It is, essentially, a story of love. The things we do for it, whether for a child or a partner, can have profound affect on those around us. The basic plot is Georges and Albin are a gay couple living in St. Tropez. They run a drag nightclub where Albin performs as the headliner Zaza. Georges has a son that they have raised since birth. That son, Jean Michel, has become engaged to the daughter of a right wing politician who wants to shut all the clubs in St. Tropez down. Obviously, this is in direct conflict with Georges and Albin's lives. I cannot name just one "best thing." I love touring across the country and seeing this beautiful nation! I've been on the road for 5 years now. But, with this show in particular, I love seeing the reaction to Christopher Sieber as Albin/Zaza. He is truly a powerhouse performer and the audience really comes to feel very strongly for the character by the end of the show. I think he may be changing a few minds out there, in addition to giving a knockout performance.
S&W: How long have you been working with the show? What has been a highlight of your career?
KM: I started pre-production on the show in August of last year. We started rehearsals shortly thereafter. The show began performances in October in Des Moines. I would have to say the highlight of my career was my first Opening Night on Broadway. It was for the most recent revival of Fiddler on the Roof. It had always been my dream to make it to Broadway and there I was! I truly felt like the world couldn't get any better. I've had several more openings since then, but the first time was really special.
S&W: Let's talk a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes of one of these popular musicals. Is it complete chaos? Or very well orchestrated?
KM: Well given that my job is to organize things, I would say its very well orchestrated!
When you get to the level of a Broadway production, there are several months of pre planning that go into the show. That is long before the actors even begin rehearsals. The set is designed for the needs of a touring production (the ability to go quickly together and come apart faster!). The costumes are built to each actors specification and the props are constructed or bought as well. All this planning goes into making sure that the production is seamless and no different from what you would see on Broadway.
S&W: You've worked in Pittsburgh before during the Summer. How does Pittsburgh compare to other cities, like NYC, when it comes to Broadway musicals?
KM: I have spent three years at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and will be returning as the Production Stage Manager again this summer. The CLO is truly a unique experience in the theatre world. First of all, they get top Broadway performers to come and perform. Secondly, the rehearsals are only one week and the tech process, where the technical elements are added, is only four hours! To compare, La Cage had four weeks of rehearsal and two weeks of tech! But, I am happy to say, the shows have all been uniformly been fantastic. I am very proud to be a part of them.
S&W: Who has been the most talented artist you've worked with?
KM: Oh gosh, that is a hard one! I have worked with many famous people, Alfred Molina, Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, Rosie O'Donnell, Harvey Fierstein, Joey Fatone, among many many others. Each player has different talents that they bring to a show. I really sometimes think the greatest performers are the unsung Ensemble. They have to be ready to go on for a Principal actor when they are sick at any given time. They often are the characters that given background life to a scene, so that the audience really believes we on a seashore in St. Tropez. Or perhaps they are part of a forty person kickline. You as an audience member, do not know who they are, but without them the show wouldbe definitely lacking.
S&W: Tell us a little bit about your role. What is a typical day in your life like?
KM: I usually get up mid morning and have a late breakfast. Then I go to rehearsal at 12:30 or so. Rehearsals are generally till 5pm. We use this time to make sure the understudies are up to speed or new players put into the show. Then I have a dinner break until 6pm, when I go back to the theatre to start prepping the evening show. This involves telling everyone if somebody is sick in the show, checking that all the props are in place, and checking in with each department to make sure they have what they need to do the show every night. 7:30 is curtain time! During the show I could be "calling the show." that is, telling the crew members when to move the set and when to make lighting changes and watching for safetly isssues. Truly, we are the hub of the wheel! After the show, I type up and send out a report on that nights show. That gets sent to all our Producers and General Managers. I usually leave the theatre around 11:15pm or so. Then, I head back to the hotel and Skype with my boyfriend for an hour. Its really hard to maintain relationships when your away for months at a time, so that hour each night is crucial! Then I generally go to bed at 1am or so and get up and do it all over again.
S&W: How much time each day does it take for one magical show to occur, which might be an estimate of two hours tops? What is the process like to get the show to happen from the initial idea to the final product?
KM: Some of that I answered above, but a touring show involves quite a bit. We generally load out the show in Sunday night after the last show. That takes 5hours or so, finishing at 3 or 4 in the morning. We then get in a flight to the next city at 8am or so. Then we have a few hours off. The crew comes in to work at 6am on Tuesday morning. The set will have been trucked to the next city on Monday. So on Tuesday, they begin to reconstruct the set onstage, hang the lights, iron the costumes, and style the wigs. I come in laterin the morning and focus the lights. Which basically means make sure they are all pointing in the right spot. There is a great deal of difference between different theatres, so the lights can vary a great deal in each city. Our job is to make sure it looks the same! The cast arrives at 5:15 or so for a sound check, to make sure the show sounds good in the new theatre. We do not run the show, most people seem to think thats true, but alas not. Then we finsh up and start the show at 7:30. On opening. Nights we teach the local crew during the show what to do to make the show run. We hire some local crew members in every city so they are brand new to the show on Tuesdays!
S&W: Are you a fan of NBC's Smash? Any truth to it?
KM: I watched a couple episodes. I wanted to be a fan of it, since it employs so many friends of mine from the Broadway community. Sadly, I did not enjoy it. It isnt very realistic. But, as another friend said, "who would watch the real story of Broadway? Actor auditions, doesn't get job, actor auditions doesn't get job, actor gets job! Show runs. Show closes. Actor auditions, doesn't get job..."
S&W: What is your favorite part of Pittsburgh? Any favorite restaurants?
KM: Oh, I like Nine on Nine and the Sharp Bistro, which has a great beer selection!
I look forward to the Three Rivers Arts Festival every year, I must say!
Photo Credits: La Cage Aux Folles