Another Op’nin’, Another Show

You know, Kiss Me, Kate really doesn’t have the most musically-advanced opening number in the world, and the lyrics are pretty simplistic, but it has a power and appropriateness which is hard to match.  As I have been rehearsing the number over the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by this again and again.  Sometimes less really is more, even in musical theatre.

The tune is simple and catchy, though the revised version of the show currently doing the rounds adds some tough harmonies to the number.  It drives  along, expressing the combination of dread and elation that performing a show brings with it.  I sincerely doubt that a musical analysis of the song would provide much insight even if I had the skills to do such a thing, so let’s look at the lyrics…

Another op’nin’, another show
In Philly, Boston or Baltimo’,
A chance for stage folks to say ‘hello’,
Another op’nin’ of another show.

This is a show that has set its sights on Broadway and is starting the out-of-town tryouts period, a common practice back in the so-called Golden Age of musical theatre.  The musical would be tested and shaped in a less expensive city, or several cities, before braving the New York audiences and critics, and would often change drastically along the way.  The phrase ‘lost in Boston’ refers to a whole host of songs, scenes and characters that were dropped on the road because they simply didn’t work.  Sometimes absolutely brilliant material gets shed because it holds the show up, or doesn’t quite fit with the overall concept, or even because the star can’t sing it quite right.  The most famous casualty of this kind is George and Ira Gershwin’s wonderful song ‘The Man I Love’, which suffered this fate a couple of times before finally getting the exposure it deserved.  The new version of Kiss Me, Kate includes a similar refugee – ‘From This Moment On’, which was cut from Cole Porter’s later musical Out of This World.  For the last couple of decades, tryouts seemed to be going out of fashion, but many recent shows have been going back to the old ways of doing things.

The company (cast, crew and others) gathers in the tryout city of choice, meeting up with old acquaintances among the cast and crew, rekindling old friendships and rivalries and causing widespread bouts of reminiscence.  This happens even in amateur circles as the beginnings of rehearsals bring together a unique, disparate group of people for the first time.  You ‘say hello’ to newcomers and old hands alike.

Another job that you hope at last,
Will make your future forget your past,

Every new show is going to be ‘the one’.  It’s not going to close on the road, it’s not going to shudder to a halt on Broadway or be laughed out of town.  This time, this time, you’re in the season’s biggest hit that will run for years and make you the toast of the town.  This one is going to make your name in whatever circles you move in, and possibly propel you on to greater things.  Mistakes and flops of the past will be forgotten in the wake of this glorious show.  Financially and artistically, this is a new start.  If you’re lucky, that is…

Another pain where the ulcers grow,
Another op’nin’ of another show.

Getting involved with a show is a great way to lose weight.  And hair.  Stress, worries, midnight panics, temper tantrums, late nights, missed lunches and much more contribute to those ulcers.  This is presumably less true if this is your normal job, but the unstoppable approach of opening night must be one of the scariest deadlines in the world.

Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse,
Three weeks, and it couldn’t be worse,
One week, will it ever be right?
Then out o’ the hat, it’s that big first night!

It’s really quite disturbing how quickly the opening night catches up on you.  And it never, ever seems as though everything is in place.  Everyone involved will be working like mad right at the last minute to make sure that every line, step and note is right, to make sure the costumes fit, the sets have been painted, the lights illuminate the right people, the programme is proofread and printed and a thousand other things happen that need to happen to make the show run smoothly.  The closer you get, the more things you realise there are that can go wrong.  And then it happens…

The overture is about to start,
You cross your fingers and hold your heart,
It’s curtain time and away we go!
Another op’nin of another show.

Waiting in the wings as the houselights dim and the orchestra strikes up the overture is one of the best and worst feelings in the world.  Ludicrous levels of adrenaline begin to course through your system with each note, and then finally it’s time to step out from the gloom into the bright lights as the curtain comes up.  Away you go!  The next couple of hours are a complete blur, as something has started that’s completely out of your control.  Running like clockwork, whether it’s going well or badly, you can’t go back and do it again.  You experience highs and lows of emotion within seconds and in many ways there’s absolutely nothing you can do about any of it.  You love it and hate it.  You dread it and long for it.  You swear you’ll never do it again, then count the days until the next time. 

There’s nothing quite like opening night, and Cole Porter does a remarkable job of distilling the conflicting feelings of the cast and crew as they approach it.  Joy, despair, anticipation, dread, elation, depression and frustration follow one another in quick succession until that huge, huge ‘hit’ as the curtain rises.  Weeks or months of effort have suddenly come together in a glorious moment that is special no matter how good or bad the show may be.  It doesn’t always go right, but there is much that is thrilling about the moment when your performance, costumes, direction, sets, lighting, technical abilities or whatever else are presented to the world for the first time.  Your heart is in your mouth, but you wouldn’t swap it for anything.  Just over nine weeks to go for me, and already I can feel it.  Bring it on – another op’nin of another show!

  1. Sounds as if your production is ramping up in terms of pace of rehearsals just like ours. A bit scary when you realise how little time is left before the ‘big day’.
    On a different tack, I have been meaning to mention how much I like the look of your blog now. Looks slick.

  2. Another good one. You do a good job of conjuring up the feelings of anticipation, dread, and delight that go with the run up to any kind of performance. I don’t know anything about putting on a show, but I’ve been through similar things with choirs, bands and orchestras – not quite so many things to bring together, but still.

  3. Ooh, you’ve had a re-design!

    *sits back to enjoy more theatrical tales*

  4. I’m glad people like my new look – it rather took my fancy in a ‘new year, new me’ sort of way.

    I shall endeavour to satisfy the craving for more theatrical tales.

    “Nine weeks, you rehearse and rehearse…”

    • Sally
    • May 11th, 2007

    ANother Opnin Another show is a song im singing in choir it is very fun and enjoyable! lol i luv it! it is pretty sweet and we have had ppl helping us with it and everything so im ready for our concert! wish me luck.

  5. Break a leg, Sally! Enjoy the concert. 🙂

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