By Amalia P. Spagnolo
Think “Noah,” and you immediately think of a lot of water. This first night rehearsing on the Reif Center stage, Grand Rapids Players’ director Jim Cagle thinks only of how he has a lot more space in which to tell the biblical patriarch’s tale of end-of-the-world preparations and family shenanigans. The fresh challenge this evening is adjusting the blocking for the actors and the positioning of set pieces for a stage twice the size of the Players’ home space.
The Grand Rapids Players will stage their 2014 spring musical, “Two By Two” at the Myles Reif Performing Arts Center in Grand Rapids. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m., on Friday, April 25 and Saturday, April 26, as well as on Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3. Doors open at 7 p.m. There will be a matinee at 2 p.m., Sunday, April 27, with doors opening at 1:30 p.m.
The original Broadway musical—book by Peter Stone, lyrics by Martin Charnin and music by Richard Rodgers—debuted in November 1970. Veteran comic actor Danny Kaye starred as Noah. Based on Clifford Odets’ play “The Flowering Peach,” “Two By Two” is a humorous, song-filled rendition of novice boat-builder Noah’s preparations for the Great Flood and its aftermath.
Cagle tells the newspaper as he scans the vast performance space, “This is where we do our shows, but this is the first night with this show on the Reif Stage.”
He and the Players previously rehearsed on the smaller stage at their Playhouse, located behind the Itasca County Fairgrounds.
“This space is almost twice as big as what we’re used to,” Cagle noted. “We’re just realizing we have so much more room. There, we had to move the well to do the next scene, and we didn’t want to have to move it every time. It’s a nice challenge to use this much space—we’re seeing that everything fits.”
Painted black and appointed with sections of Noah’s ark, a stone well, a wood stump and a rustic table with serviceable chairs, the Reif stage is set for cast members’ cued entrances and exits. Pianist Stewart Boehr’s digits nimbly fly across the keyboard as he reels off a jaunty tune, rehearsing a piece with one of the male leads. From the other side of the stage, Cagle offers director’s notes to the other jewel-tone costumed cast members and negotiates scene blocking and lighting cues with the technical crew. All the while, performers and technicians good-naturedly tease each other with little visible mercy.
Players President Sam Grigsby observed the jovial goings-on from his vantage point downstage. “The cast is doing a great job,” he says, noting, “Everything always jells together, and this is an excellent cast.”
Grigsby continued, “There’s a lot of stage professionalism. These people have done a lot of productions together. I’m excited for it.”
Cagle also is looking forward to opening night. “It’s a fun show,” he says, “but if you’re looking for the ‘real’ story of Noah, this isn’t it.” He indicates the tagline on the play’s posters and billboards that declare “a slightly irreverent romp through 40 days and 40 nights.” When asked about the coincidence of “competing” with director Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” the motion picture starring Russell Crow, Cagle deadpans, “Well, this version isn’t biblical either.”
Beyond a comic, musical rendering of Noah’s story however, Cagle views “Two By Two” as having a deeper family-oriented theme. “I look at it more as a show about family—the different components of family that we deal with, how we look at our family and how our family looks at us,” he muses.
There is actual real-life family participation in the production and in the Grand Rapids Players as a company: The Cagles (dad Jim, mom Trudy and children Josh, Noah and Mikayla in directing, acting and supporting Tech), the Schroeders (actors Steph and John), the Lepaks (Kathy and Rob in Sound Effects) and the Grigsbys (Sam as Players president and Braydon in Tech). “It’s been a lot of fun,” says Steph (“Goldie” in the show).
“The nice thing about community theater,” observes Cagle, “is that you can get family involved.” He also regards community theater as an opportunity to get area people involved—“whether it’s onstage or backstage”—in something they ordinarily wouldn’t do. “What’s really cool, not just in community theater, but in any of the arts, is that it’s another outlet for people who might not have other outlets (for creativity and fun).”
Cagle points to Two By Two’s live orchestra (lead by musical director Loren Squires) as evidence of extensive community involvement, noting, “There are more members of the orchestra than there are in the cast: High school kids and community members.” As individuals and as a group, orchestra members have been practicing the show’s score for the last month. “They’ve been rehearsing and working individually on their pieces, and now they’re starting to come together as a group”
Inviting community members to be in the audience for “Two By Two” and other plays and to participate in community theater, cast member Nora Pederson (“Rachel”) encourages, “Take the plunge and come to a show. Just try it. You might really like it…and you just might want to be part of it.”
Tickets are available for purchase at the Reif Center Box Office, at Reed Drug in Grand Rapids and online at www.reifcenter.org. This production is presented courtesy of special arrangement with R & H Theatricals.