Orleans to Orlando

New Orleans performers spread the holiday cheer in Orlando with 'The Tinseltown Follies' benefit

Thursday December 06, 07
by Vatican Lokey, StageClick.com

The Tinseltown Follies StageClick page

As an Orleanian still living in Orlando, I am always concerned with how I will represent our community to the theatre folk in Central Florida. This past September, I had the great fortune to return home to play Trevor Graydon in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at Rivertown Rep. I had such a great time in that show I made the decision to bring that unique experience of Orleanian theatre to Orlando. I'm proud of our theatre community, and want folks to know what kind of talents we produce. I knew that a number of my fellow expatriates were also in the Orlando area. Exactly which ones and where, I had no clue.

Before I could find some of these other New Orleans talents, I had to have a project and a musical director/accompanist. Fortunately for me, in May I made my debut at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival in "Light My Way", a celestial musical revue in which I played Albert Einstein...a singing, dancing Albert Einstein. The author of this overlooked little jewel is Don Hopkinson, a talented musical director and composer from New York state who now lives in Orlando. Don and I went for coffee and we hit upon the idea of a show that focused on Christmas music from musicals, movies, Christmas specials, and cartoons. We also discovered that Irving Berlin fit into every other medium we named, and since I am pathologically incapable of doing a show without some Irving in it...

For the first few weeks, we really had no idea whom to use. Some very good perfomers here were mentioned, but no one really seemed right for the material or they were too good for the material or they had never heard of the material...you get the idea. I not only needed a female but another male to balance and provide harmonies, and while Don does have a remarkable countertenor it was not, I feared, enough. Then it hit me: the eponymous Randy Juneau lives in Celebration!

Randy Juneau has been everywhere in theatre since the early 90's, creating roles in the New Orleans premieres of "Forever Plaid", "The Secret Garden" (with Yours Truly), "The Class of 70Something," and "Bat Boy, The Musical." For a long time in town if you didn't have Randy Juneau in a show, you didn't have a show. He's been a staple out at Tulane Summer Lyric for years. We played phone tag for about two days before I got a resounding yes. Perfect, now all we need is the girl.

Again, as I said there were some very good performers here that were discussed, primary among them Laura Hodos, who's a brilliant performer but as most brilliant people should be, she was very booked. However, it was New Orleans' own child actress turned lawyer Soline McLain who told me my problem was already solved. Ann Casey and Karl Lengel, I discovered with glee, were living in Winter Garden...20 minutes from my apartment. I believe there were choirs of angels that accompanied that revelation, but I digress. She's been gone a while, and just in case you've forgotten or were not aware...

Ann Casey is one of five born to John & Fanny Casey, the founders of Children's Corner, the legendary children's theatre stage at Le Petit Theatre. With Luis Q. Barroso, Freddie Palmisano, Sydney Wolf, Eddy Vedrine, Judy Latour, and Arthur Tong, Children's Corner created a string of original children's shows and adult cabarets that earned Le Petit national attention and awards and returning Le Petit to prominence on the national theatrical scene. Ann grew up doing those shows with her family, graduated to starring roles at The Beverly, and toured around the country on the first national tour of "Annie.". Most recently, she is best remembered for her performances in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", "George M." and as Dolly Levi in "Hello, Dolly!"

At first rehearsal, the cast was concerned about the musical taskload for this show. We've taken on a very wide spectrum of music. Songs as diverse as "We are Santa's Elves" from the Rankin-Bass library, to the complex "Surabaya Santa" from Songs For A New World, to the harmonic "We Wish You the Merriest" all share a place in this revue. Don has done some incredible work arranging the score and has managed to tap into and shape the sound for the show, musically and vocally. In a very short span of time and with only a handful of rehearsals on the weekends, the show came together. We've had some starts and stops, and a lot of songs we wanted originally were soon discarded, such as the song cycle from "Gifts of the Magi." Others we tried to add for the effect, like the Ukranian "Carol of the Bells". Unfortunately, our rendition sounded like carols sung in hell so we wisely let it go. In one case a shift of gender proved to be the salvation of a song. The simple additon of a doo-wop backup to another made an otherwise weird song engaging. Creating an original show is a liquid process. Sometimes things change from day to day and you need to have the right group of people to allow that to happen. That's the joy of doing shows with old friends. You know what they can do even when they have doubts.

Shortly before rehearsals began, it occured to me that what we should really be doing (besides showing off and cutting up onstage) is raising money to help rebuild our community. We looked at a number of charitable theatre groups in the city, and collected a pool. After a week or so of discussion, we decided on our first recipient. Once the show has closed and the recipient has cashed the check, we'll let folks know just before Christmas who got it on StageClick.com. We are already planning shows for April and September '08 with the same intent; raising money for New Orleans theatre. Granted, we have a great time with one another and any group of New Orleans theatre people onstage is already a night's entertainment; but knowing that we are helping to rebuild the community back home gives these shows a bigger meaning.

With our first three shows of 'The Tinseltown Follies' under our belts, we've learned a lot about the audiences in Orlando. Our houses have been small but very appreciative, and they continue to grow. It's not only a great joy to have my old friends onstage with me, but to be able to present our Orleanian talents to the audiences in Orlando. With people like Ann and Randy, along with Don and our new coterie of Orlandians around us, I think we will give the folks in Central Florida a very positive sense of what it means to be from New Orleans.