PHOTO: Brian Sutton is back being an English prof at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay after adventures in
I first wrote about Brian Sutton of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and his “Searching for Romeo” around its initial production in 2012 in
The ride for the five performances was that of a super rollercoaster. The highs included press interest that included a feature story in The Wall Street Journal and reviews, including a somewhat favorable assessment from The New York Times. The lows included the loss of a lead on the day of the opening – and yet the production survived.
Brian Sutton is back at UWGB concentrating on all that it takes a veteran professor to prepare another academic year as part of his overall duties. “Searching for Romeo” still is around but on a back burner. Here’s a follow-up on what Brian Sutton did on his summer vacation.
Q. The experience in
A. Extremely intense. Overall favorable. It was wonderful, it was awful. A lot of the wonderful would be confirmation that at even at that level – professional production,
Q. A producer problem. You had to a change in the cast.
A. That was not a huge producer problem as such. If you’ve seen the musical “
Q. Dan was familiar with the show through the rehearsal process.
A. Yeah, he wasn’t going on cold. He did go on script in hand. We announced it before the show, and you know, the audience is going to be really disappointed – “Aw, there goes the show. This is the male lead.” His first solo was the fourth song in the show, and the audience literally stopped the show. We had to wait at least a minute before we could go on. The audience would not stop applauding. Part of that is they know that this guy going on in less than two hours. They’re rooting for him. The bar is set low. Then they’re realizing, “Oh, this guy’s okay. We can enjoy the theater tonight.” It was a wonderful moment. We got a complete standing ovation that night, and they clearly timed it to stand when he and the female lead, Justine (Magnusson), came out for their bows – just ZOOM, they all stood when they came out. So, a really neat moment. (Dan Drew was on for the rest of the run). By Sunday, he was off book, about 96 hours after he was told, “You’re doing the run.” And this is a male lead in a play that’s more than two hours long. He was terrific. He more than held his own with professional cast. (Plus he got his three credits). It’s a great story, a Broadway cliché type of thing. The cast was wonderfully supportive and helped him. The first day, our female lead Justine, really the lead in the show – it’s Rosaline’s show – was crying when she realized that Zal couldn’t do it. It’s a lead. It’s a major opportunity for her. She had family in the audience. She was telling Dan, “Look, if you don’t know where to go, just look at me, I’ll just kind of push you on stage so you’ll be in the right place. I’ll take care of you.” She’s like his mother, and she’s 21-22 years old. All the others were like that, just tremendously supportive of him, which is really a tribute to them. On one hand, he saved the show. On the other, these are all professionals who go years trying to get good parts and there’s tons of talented people in
Q. Aside from the reviews, did you get any other responses that were valuable to you – feedback or leads?
A. The first night, a producer came up to me and was very interested in it and liked it a lot, and I was very hopeful about that. He then later in the week saw another show and, as I understand it, it was sort of like Romeo liking Rosaline and then seeing Juliet, kind of forgot about mine. There were certainly a lot of other people that liked it a lot. In terms of producers, there’s no one that said, “Okay, we’re going to do the show,” nor a play publisher. (The most favorable review was from a theater faculty member at a conservatory who is in charge of a new works committee who is “very interested in doing the show.”) There are a couple of people in high schools that seem to be potentially interested in doing it in
Q. Your work now with “Searching for Romeo,” do you set aside time?
A. It varies. Realistically, I am and in my whole life have been a college professor who writes when he can, and I’m certainly back in that identity… I was gone a better part of seven weeks – four weeks of rehearsal, a week of performances and then a week of kind of being a tourist, and travel time. That’s a long time to get behind in your job. So I’m pretty busy catching up. At the same time, there are spurts when I have to do things (put the script in the appropriate format, continue contact with the music director and director)… “We need to do another round of demo recordings because I revised so much. There were 20 songs in the version in 2012 here; seven of them are left. There are still 19 songs in the play, but most of them are new songs, and the seven that are left have been substantially re-arranged… Now I’m going to take people from the professional cast from this past year, rent a recording studio. So there’s time organizing the recordings… I will need to take time studying the market. I just joined the Dramatists Guild… I need to be researching the market of schools and colleges, putting together a packet – do they want the whole script or do they just want a little, do they want demos of all the songs or just a few, do they want full reviews or do they want the pulled quotes? So there’s still a lot to do.
Q. So you came back from
A. I think it still has a life.
Q. What is it that makes you believe?
A. It kept getting partial or full standing ovations, it kept getting good reviews, people kept saying good things about it. The show works. The show simply works. It’s not great literature. I would never claim that. You go out of the theater feeling good when you see the show, much more so in fact than two years ago. Two years ago, it was kind of a raunchy comedy. Now it’s a much more focused show. Two years ago, if I had a song I wanted to work in or some humor I wanted to work in, I’d work it in. Now it’s much more protagonist-antagonist-conflict linear plot and certain kinds of themes that are very clear that weren’t two years ago. But it remains a feel-good show, much more than two years ago. It’s much more a retro-pop score, music that you might associate with Motown or groups like The Chiffons. Not completely. There’s a vaudeville element as well. But it’s happy music. It’s still a funny show. People like it. And the basic idea – it continues to be a way into Shakespeare. On one hand, it’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but I quote 12 different works by Shakespeare in the play. There’s almost as much “Hamlet” as there is “Romeo and Juliet” in there. So it’s a good way to introduce people to Shakespeare or people who know Shakespeare well who get those knowing, in-in jokes – “Oh, he’s referring to that play there,” or, “This phrase comes from this sonnet.” But at the same time, it is a romantic comedy that’s pretty funny. It is bouncy pop music. So I think it has a future because it can make Shakespeare accessible, and that’s why I think its future is not necessarily, frankly, Broadway or Off-Broadway… I pretty firmly believe it has a future. There’s a lot more work, but it’s a satisfying kind of work. It’s not like writing a paper for a class where you write it once, you proofread it and then turn it in. I’ve never re-written as much for anything. There’s satisfaction in that.”
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