Tipton-Rosemark Academy looks to end its 2018-2019 theater season on a step higher than any undertaken before. Get ready to take a trip to Deadrock, Nev. as TRA brings you Gershwin’s “Crazy for You.”
Director Lalania Vaughn first got the idea to put on this particular show through a conversation with her daughter, Logan.
“She said there had been a performance in Mobile, Ala., and told me to just listen to the soundtrack,” Vaughn said. “It was one of those that each song surpassed the previous one and brought the story to life.”
These songs open a connection between the characters, the cast and the audience to transmit a message that rings true today: Music and theatre can unite people for a common cause, bring them to life, and truly inspire them to do great things.
In fact, the show itself poses to be a great thing for the cast. “Crazy for You” will be the most intricately choreographed production in the department’s history. It utilizes ballroom, jazz and tap dances throughout the show, with some moves that pose challenges even to thoroughly trained dancers.
Imagine how daunting such an act might seem when most of the cast took few, if any, formal classes. Three or four cast members took tap lessons. The others learned either during the department’s 2017 production of “White Christmas” or in preparation for this show.
Choreographers Rachel Vernon, a 2012 graduate of TRA, and Shelbi Sellers, a 2015 grad, reworked the dances to best suit the capabilities of their theater.
“That was quite a challenge,” Vernon said, “taking a Broadway show and setting it on our stage, with its particular dimensions and the cast’s skills. Shelbi and I would work on it, rehearse, rework and kept the spirit intact, but made it practical for us.”
Vernon held workshops for the students in the summer of 2018 to help them cover the basics of the form. One tip she found worked best called for her students to consider their feet an instrument. That bit of advice helped ease them into the process.
Rehearsals began not long after the Christmas break ended and marks the end of several student tenures.
Senior Gracie Easley plays Polly Baker, the lone woman in the town of Deadrock and love interest of Bobby Child. This makes her 19th show at TRA and 20th overall.
A performer with the academy since the age of 8, Easley expects it to be quite a change once she graduates, especially with her future college plans at William Carey University where she will major in music therapy and psychology.
“It’s going to be so strange,” Easley said as she looked around at old playbills framed along the walls. “It’ll be different not to be here all the time.”
Senior Josh Waits, a member of the ensemble and a feature dancer, also bids TRA a fond farewell in May - at least as a student. He recently auditioned for the University of Memphis fine arts program; he will start as a freshman performing arts major in the fall.
“Crazy for You” makes his 20th show with the academy, his 22nd overall, and one of his best challenges.
“Some of the moves in the show would be learned over the course of years of training,” Waits said. “We had days.”
Waits will remain in the area post-graduation and feels more than welcome to come back as a volunteer for future productions.
Senior Caitlin Pfeifer, in her 17th show, will end her stage manager career with TRA with this production. Familiar with both on-stage and behind-the-scenes activities, Pfeifer transitioned out of the limelight when the department started to perform more musicals.
She acted as assistant state manager during “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and found her niche. She acts as an assistant director, prop manager and set foreperson, and keeps track of scenes, cues and who moves what, when and where.
These experiences helped in part to influence her decision to enroll in Dyersburg State with a focus on business. She is already 27 credits ahead thanks to her dual enrollment. Pfeifer plans to return for visits throughout the 2019-2020 season, especially with her younger sister still a student at TRA.
“The sets for ‘Crazy for You’ aren’t particularly difficult in terms of movement,” Pfeifer said, “but they are rather large. They require anyone handling them pays attention to his or her surroundings.”
That statement proved prophetic: Due to a soccer conflict with some members of the crew, scene changes during rehearsal required everyone to pitch in to get the job done. Vaughn led her cast in trials runs: Pick up at the end of one scene, transition and end at the start of the next.
Senior Nathan Bradley, Moose in the show, did his best to avoid a low-hanging light with one set - at the suffering of his toes. The suggestion of steel-toed boots made perfect sense to Bradley by the fourth run-through.
Sophomore Hutch Dunavant gets his first lead role in his ninth production with the academy and his first truly dance-oriented show. He started tap lessons with Vernon in December to prepare for the role and packed in as many as his schedule would allow. His dream role at present would be Evan Hansen in “Dear Evan Hansen,” oddly appropriate as Dunavant’s shoulder forced some alterations to dance rehearsals.
“Crazy for You” runs from Thursday, March 28 to Sunday, March 31. Showtimes are 7 p.m. each night with additional 2 p.m. shows Saturday and Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 for students, $14 for FAME supporters and $15 for all other adults.