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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘Songs for a New World’ show ‘moving’ along in hybrid production

Critic At Large

Vintage Theatre

Early Zoom-like rehearsal of Vintage Theatre for “Songs for a New World.” (Michael J. Laskowski, upper left, screenshot)

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – Rehearsals are being held in Oshkosh for a March production of the Jason Robert Brown musical “Songs for a New World.”

Filling out the rest of the story is complex.

Preparations are taking place in eastern Wisconsin for recording in western Wisconsin… for an Internet audience.

The production is by Vintage Theatre founded by Michael J. Laskowski, a resident of Menasha. The theater has no home base.

Cast members include theater-experienced Fox Valley residents Amanda Petersen, Donna McVey and James Fairchild along with Donnie Williams of Milwaukee. James Fairchild toured in “Kinky Boots” until the coronavirus COVID-19 hit. Laskowski is directing.

Vintage Theatre has presented plays off and on since 2013 in various locations.

Hosting the production of “Songs for a New World” will be Paradise Shores 4, a resort in Holcombe, Wisconsin, south of Eau Claire.

Recording will take place March 14, Laskowski said in a telephone interview. On-demand Internet access will be available March 24-31, he said.

This is among the unusual projects spawned out of the pandemic. It’s like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle.

“It’s been a full year since I’ve done a show,” Laskowski said. “I mean, I’m creatively starved right now, and I’m basically pulling every rabbit out of my hat to try to get a show together just because I need it.”

His most recent action was directing the play “Sylvia” for Oshkosh Community Players in October 2019.

In the works for Vintage Theatre in the first part of 2020 was the play “Two Rooms” with performances in Oshkosh. The pandemic put a sudden hold on the show. Laskowski envisions September 2021 in Oshkosh for that production.

Laskowski selected “Songs for a New World” for its relevance.

“(It’s) a collection of songs about a moment in time where people are facing odds about their lives, about the world around them,” he said. “People either facing relationship woes or new career paths or things that they didn’t even see coming. I figured it was the most perfect show because of our times right now because the pandemic has thrown all of us for a loop. I mean, all of us are living in kind of a new world right now.”

The production will have a combo orchestra with music direction by Brittany Baldwin of Menasha. Songs are solos, duets and group.

“Our first two weeks of rehearsals were spent over Zoom, and then we started in-person rehearsals as a group,” Laskowski said. “I’ve staged the show where we can keep somewhat social distancing, even with the actors on stage. There is absolutely no physical contact between any of the actors.”

Performances will be shot at Paradise Shores “like a movie,” Laskowski said. “We’ll do one song, then we’ll stop. Then we’ll set up the next song, record that, etc. With editing, we’ll piece it all together so when the audience sees it, it will look like a filmed run-through like they have on Broadway HD or PBS.”

Previous productions of Vintage Theatre included “The Cemetery Club,” “Art” and “Bob’s Your Elf.” The production of “Two Rooms” was its return to activity… until the pandemic.

Vintage Theatre is a theater without a theater. It doesn’t have a home base – which has pros and cons. The con is the audience doesn’t know where performances are all the time. The audience isn’t locked into going to a specific place to see Vintage Theatre. On the other hand, the pro for Vintage Theatre is it doesn’t have to carry around any overhead costs, which puts it at an advantage at this time. There are theater companies out there that are in hard straits because they have costs, starting with built-in expenses. And Vintage Theatre doesn’t have that.

“Exactly,” Laskowski said. “We’re basically just a company, and you said it exactly right. It definitely has its cons, but at this particular moment, we’re concentrating on the advantages that we have. And you’re absolutely right, the advantage that we do have is that we don’t have to worry about building costs, we don’t have to worry about insurances or utilities or anything else like that.”

I will check back in with Vintage Theatre as show time looms.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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