"I can't - I have rehearsal"
It's March 1, a cloudy, unpleasantly dismal Sunday afternoon in Sarasota. After four weeks of non-stop rehearsing lines and songs in a big, empty room at 500 Tallevast, home of the Players Studios, the actors and backstage crew of "Titanic - The Musical" have now been on stage at the Players Theatre since Friday evening, running scenes and familiarizing themselves with probably the biggest, bulkiest, most voluminous set they have ever worked on: the story of the ill-fated voyage of the RMS Titanic.
Not just any ship, as we all know: this one's going to hit an iceberg, and most of the cast are going to die a horrible death in the freezing waters of the Atlantic. Families torn apart, children losing their parents, wives screaming for their husbands, while the ship's captain, architect and owner have nothing better to do than to bicker about who is responsible. We all know the story, of course, and no doubt thoughts of Leonardo & Kate, Céline Dion and "I'm the King of the World" spring to mind when the title is mentioned, but that was James Cameron's horrendously expensive 1997 movie filmed in a giant tank of water in an aircraft hangar. This is the stage musical, and although the ending may be the same, everything you're going to see here will be live. From March 11 until March 29, audiences will be able to witness a cast of over 50 people performing seamlessly and a backstage crew of around 25 moving silently, accompanied by a 6-piece orchestra playing beautifully.
Why are all these people here? Well, for one thing they all want to work with the show's director, Sarasota's "Mr. Musical", Bob Trisolini. There aren't many directors in Florida who can take on a show of these dimensions; the Players Artistic Director Jeffery Kin, himself an established stage director responsible for the recent success of the musical masterpiece "Spitfire Grill" at the Players, knows that a project of this magnitude is safe in Trisolini's hands. Bob, a New Jerseyite who just celebrated his 69th birthday, moved full-time to Sarasota with his partner Bob Nosal in 1998. He has meanwhile over 500 productions under his belt, and is highly respected as an award-winning director and choreographer in both community as well as corporate theatre.
I've had the pleasure of working with Bob on various shows, and I'm proud to call him my friend. The secret to his success? Preparation. He will sit for hundreds of hours at home and in production meetings before entering a rehearsal hall. Every movement is planned, every line of dialogue analyzed, every note of music choreographed. So that when Bob Trisolini enters the studio to greet his cast on the first day of rehearsal, he is in total control. And as a member of his cast, you trust him blindly.
Back at the Players on this murky Sunday, the cast is in place to start a run-through. The massive wooden gangplank and carcass of the Titanic's "inner below", both bare of any color or decoration, have been manoeuvred on to the stage by the volunteer crew, which is growing daily in numbers as word spreads that the Titanic set is the place to be.
Musical Director Todd Lindamood sits alone in the pit at the piano, the musical score spread out in front of him. A white scrim forms the curtain between him and the cast, who stand pensively in their respective places backstage. Patty Abate and Tony Becich, both experienced stage managers who have worked with Bob many times, call for silence. Joe Oshry, the show's lighting designer, sits in the auditorium making notes, while set designer Michael Newton-Brown runs around backstage with Players Technical Director Matt Nitsch. Costumer Kaylene McCaw sits in her workshop sewing, calling actors to come in for fittings.
They are counting down the days. In 7 days they will be in dress rehearsal, on the 8th they open to an audience. In 10 days' time, Bob Trisolini will give the cast and crew his final notes, then place the show in Patty Abate's hands for opening night. Titanic - The Musical, easily the biggest and most eagerly awaited show of the Players season, will begin its run.
But there is a long way to go until then.
It's Sunday afternoon, March 1. Todd Lindamood plays the opening notes of the overture, and Chris Caswell, who plays the Titanic's constructor Thomas Andrews, walks on to the stage and starts to sing.
The scrim is raised: Titanic - The Rehearsal begins.
This is Part One of a two-part feature on the making of the Players "Titanic - The Musical", which runs from March 11 to March 29 at the Players of Sarasota.
The second part will be published exclusively as "Featured Artist" in the www.AnythingArts.com newsletter on Thursday, March 19.
If you would like to purchase tickets to "Titanic - The Musical" or receive further information, please call the Players Box Office at 941 365-2494 or go online to www.theplayers.org.
Story and photos: Cliff Roles