Aspen Times Weekly: Jayne Gottlieb moves back to ‘42nd Street’
Jayne Gottlieb Productions
- Friday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.
- Saturday, Nov. 9 at 2 and 7 p.m.
- Sunday, Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m.
- PAC3, Carbondale
When Jayne Gottlieb decided to present the musical “42nd Street” this year, she figured she knew exactly how to build the show. Her Jayne Gottlieb Productions, a midvalley children’s theater company, was launched eight years ago with a production of “42nd Street.”
But Gottlieb has found that doing “42nd Street” in 2013 is not exactly the same as it was in 2005.
“At first I thought, ‘Hey, I’m redoing this show, it’ll be no problem,’” said Gottlieb, who will direct the latest version of the musical Friday through Sunday, Nov. 8-10, at PAC3 in Carbondale. “But it’s more like doing this show for the first time, in every aspect.”
It was a younger cast in the earlier production; the kids ranged from 6-13 then, and the latest performance is for actors from 7-17. Due to a shortage of male actors, Gottlieb turned one of the lead roles, of the notorious Broadway director Julian Marsh, into a woman. The kissing scenes were removed.
Over eight years and 35 shows, Jayne Gottlieb Productions and its participants have created an institutional momentum resulting in more knowledgeable performers. “What the kids are capable of, the dance steps, it’s at a whole different level,” Gottlieb said. “There are a lot of kids who have been with me awhile.”
The earlier show, at the Basalt Middle School, was bare-bones. “We had no sets. None. We had a backdrop,” Gottlieb said. “Now we have platforms and scenery that establishes things — you know where you are. Not that this show needs a lot of staging. But on the production level, it’s so far beyond when I started.”
Technology beyond the world of Roaring Fork Valley theater has advanced too, and this has made a difference. Eight years ago, searching for the look of 1930s New York, the setting of “42nd Street,” could be difficult. In YouTube, Gottlieb now has Depression-era Manhattan at her fingertips, and she is confident in going for a specific take on the period. “It will be very 1930s and very stylized. It will stand out as fresh for PAC3,” she said.
Also over the past eight years, the “42nd Street” look has seen a revival. “The ’30s and ’40s are so hip now, fashion-wise,” Gottlieb said. “It’s fun to go with that style.”
Possibly what has changed the most since 2005, though, is Gottlieb herself. When Jayne Gottlieb Productions debuted, its leader was 26 and her ears still rang with the advice from Marilyn Izdebski, the director of a northern California theater group, and Gottlieb’s mentor. Izdebski had a certain approach to running a company — “She had a whistle,” Gottlieb notes — which Gottlieb adopted in part.
“I was a lot stricter, a lot harsher in my approach,” she said of her earlier self. (She points out that she never took to a whistle: “I did think about it.”) “Now I’m not freaking out that it’s not going to happen. It’s their experience, not mine, not my ego and creating the perfect show. It’s become a lot more naturally collaborative.”
The less-demanding tone, however, does not translate into lower standards. From the beginning, Gottlieb’s shows have been impressive for small-town children’s theater productions. Rehearsal schedules are still taxing, and Gottlieb expects the participants to show up more as actors than as kids.
“I still have high expectations. I push the kids to meet me at their best, at the tipping point,” she said. “But I inspire that out of them now, rather than demanding it. And the quality of the dancing and acting has gotten better as I’ve gotten softer.”
The simple experience of staging 35 shows in seven years — including “The Sound of Music” in Basalt’s Arbaney Park; a very grown-up “A Chorus Line” on Fanny Hill in Snowmass; a high-flying “Peter Pan” and a holiday-season “White Christmas” at the Wheeler Opera House — has been a factor in Gottlieb’s transformation. She also credits her yoga training. A year ago she opened her studio, Le Cercle, in downtown Basalt.
“The yoga training has so affected how I teach theater,” she said. “I hope I’ve adopted some of the philosophies in my lifestyle, and I think that influences the kindness and efficiency of the rehearsal process.” She has borrowed some techniques directly from yoga. Rehearsals now typically end with the actors in a circle, chanting one word that summarizes the feeling in the group. Gottlieb also encourages hugging — either a best friend, or someone they’d had negative thoughts about. “It’s a pretty honest environment these days,” she said.
The yoga practice has had the effect of curtailing Jayne Gottlieb Productions’ prolific nature. The schedule of as many as seven shows a year has been cut dramatically; Gottlieb now focuses on one show a year. While she still trains actors with the expectation that some of them will carry on with stage careers, as many past performers have, Gottlieb now believes her original goal of a year-round training company was overly ambitious given the size of the Roaring Fork Valley.
“It’s becoming so much a love of mine, instead of a business,” she said of Jayne Gottlieb Productions. “That’s a big transition.”
Paring down the performance schedule has affected the nature of that annual show. Gottlieb now sees each show as a big, splashy community event, with loads of dancing. (Gottlieb specializes in dance herself, and for “42nd Street,” she has brought in a co-choreographer, Quincy Gray, who is adding a hip-hop flavor to the movement.)
“Less is more. I’m coming around to that,” Gottlieb said.
“42nd Street,” it turns out, is an ideal selection given Gottlieb’s current priorities. With its feel-good story, it works as a community event. And it fits well with her desire to emphasize dance. But “42nd Street” — which tells the iconic Broadway story of a small-town girl, Peggy (played by Beth Fawley), arriving in New York and making her way into a starring role despite the presence of an aged prima donna, Dorothy (Jessie Rathbun) and a tough director, Julian (Raam Weinfield) — seems custom-made for any circumstances.
“It’s the quintessential Broadway musical,” Gottlieb said. “It’s very simple compared with what’s been on Broadway the last few years. It’s not layered; it’s not complicated. If you want to be removed from your life and just be entertained — which is where we all started with theater, to take us out of our own lives — this is the show.”