Friday, May 18, 2018

The Nance - meet music director Christopher Tomasino!

Tell us a little about yourself.  I am the Music Director for The Nance.  I have music directed numerous shows at the theatre, most recently Legally Blonde, and I will be music directing the upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  I have been music directing at LTA since its production of Chicago in 1988 and counting The Nance will have worked on 32 shows here.  In addition to LTA, I am the music director for Bishop Ireton High School’s theater arts program.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?  I mainly work on musicals, though I have provided musical input on some plays that had minor musical elements.  However, this is the first show I have worked on that I would say is primarily a play with music.  Roughly I would say the play to music ratio is 60/40.  Most musicals have songs that provide the exposition, develop characters, propel the story line, and provide the resolution.  With The Nance the music, which is original to the show, provides atmosphere, and along with the vaudeville routines helps comment on what is happening in the story.

What made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA?  I have always loved theatre.  The first show I ever saw live was a community theatre production of Brigadoon.  From that point on I was hooked.  I loved going to see the shows, and eventually started playing in pit orchestras (clarinet).  Once I graduated college, I knew I wanted to get more involved – play more, but also wanted to music direct and conduct.  I replied to a notice for music directors posted by Port City Playhouse, interviewed, and was given the opportunity to be Assistant Music Director for their production of A Chorus Line.  For their next musical, Cinderella, I was given the Music Director title and have gone on from there.  I got involved at LTA because someone saw a Port City production and recommended me to the Producer of Chicago.  I was very interested in that show, so I interviewed, got the gig.  The next show I worked on at LTA was The 1940s Radio Hour which is the show I met Frank Shutts, the Director of The Nance which started a fantastic collaboration and friendship.  That show was in 1990.  Hard to believe we have worked together for over 28 years either at LTA, Bishop Ireton, and other theatres.

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?  Don’t!  Just kidding.  Love what you do.  Learn from your producers, directors, choreographers, design staff, and actors.  Everyone has a valid viewpoint and incorporate their view into your work.  Constantly support the view of the director and interpret their view into the music.  However, you must always be true to the composer and lyricist.  While the vision of the particular production belongs to the director, the show belongs to the composer and lyricist and you must honor their work.  Lastly, have fun.  When this becomes work, then it is time to leave.

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show?  Firstly, enjoy the show – laugh and cry.  Then once you have had a chance, sit back and think about what you have seen.  This show is fiction based on reality.  While Chauncey and Ned are not real people, they are based on real lives of that time.  Then think whether times really have changed since 1937.  Certain rights and freedoms exist now that did not then, but have things really changed?  If not, then work on supporting people to accept themselves so people do not have to hate who they are and can be free to be themselves without being called out.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Nance - meet choreographer Stefan Sittig!

Tell us a little about yourself. I am the choreographer for The Nance and very excited to be working on this production!  This is my 8th show with LTA and my 2nd time working with Frank Shutts, after In The Heights back in 2015 (which was an amazing experience all around!)  I have directed and/or choreographed nearly 80 productions, and while I did have a lot of offers that conflicted with this, I jumped at the chance to work on this piece and with Frank (and producer Mary Beth Smith Toomey) again!  I couldn’t turn this opportunity down! I have worked on shows Off-Broadway, internationally, regionally up and down the East coast, as well as for dozens of colleges/universities and community theatres and I always seem to come back to LTA.  The level of professionalism and collaboration is so high for a community theatre.  It’s very impressive.  

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on? As much as I love musicals, I always find that projects that are less traditional, be they plays with music, or shows that use music/dance in an original way, are always the most challenging for me, and often bring out the best of my work. This show fits perfectly into that category.  The Nance is about so many things, but in terms of style, it is a show about the end of vaudeville and burlesque. I have always found the late 30s to be one of my favorite time periods in terms of dance and theatre. The vaudeville part comes a bit more naturally to me, perhaps because of my lengthy background in “hoofin”/tap dancing and musical theatre, but the burlesque acts I had to research. I watched over 100 hours of footage of vintage burlesque dancers to get a feel of the style the ladies in the show would be using during their numbers. I loved every moment of it—I feel it’s added another skill set to my repertoire.  I mean, “ya gotta get a gimmick” right? (Hope most of the readers get my Gypsy reference!)

What made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA? Next year will mark my 40th year of being involved in theatre in some way or another.   I first stepped onto the stage as a young boy in a production of The Lottery and then, shortly after, my first musical, L’il Abner.   I just loved it all!  Singing, dancing and acting—all at once!  I was hooked from then on.   I first came to LTA in 2006, when Joanna Henry asked me to choreograph Into The Woods. That was such a wonderful experience – and a great cast, several of them ended up on Broadway!  It was truly a magical time.  And since then I’ve worked on The Rocky Horror Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, In The Heights, West Side Story, Anything Goes (also director) and Legally Blonde all at LTA.  It’s been a great ride! 

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre? It’s hard work.   Let me say that again---it’s hard work.  But if you have a passion for it and simply must do it, then go for it.  But be ready to roll up your sleeves.  It’s not a place for slackers.  I find that the folks I most like to work with have a strong ethic and follow a disciplined routine.  That’s what leads to the most fruitful collaborations and the most creative solutions in my opinion.  One of my favorite quotes on this is by Julie Andrews – “Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly.”

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show? The Nance is unlike any other show I’ve ever worked on.  It’s not quite a play, it’s not quite a musical.   It lives somewhere in that in-between world.   It also has a really strong message about being true to yourself, accepting who you are, and surviving during difficult times.   I think it has a lot to say to today’s audiences.   Plus, the cast is absolutely amazing, they are stunning in their portrayals, all of them, in a different way, take my breath away in rehearsals!   It’s a definite must see! 

For more on Stefan and his work, go to

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Nance - meet cast member Danielle Comer!

What do you find appealing about your character and this show? I really love how fun these characters and this show are. Lots of what they do is to make people and each other laugh and there are so many high energy scenes and it’s just FUN. At the same time the show deals with a lot of important issues regarding the gay community especially during this time period as well as a look at love in general. It’s a great balance of entertainment and something deeper.

What have you learned about yourself in playing the role of “Joan”? I’ve learned more about how I can push myself as an actor, not only mentally and emotionally, but physically as well with all the dancing and singing the show requires. I think I definitely surprised myself with how confident I’ve become in my portrayal of someone so different from myself in real life. It’s really satisfying to look at a challenging role and think “Hey! I think I’ve done a pretty good job!”

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show? First and foremost, I went the audience to have fun. This show is very much a comedy and has so much fun in it- I want the audience to have fun and laugh with us. Second, I’d love for them to take away more of the history of gay culture in this time period and overall a respect for the people and performers that were a part of the unique burlesque culture, both the men and the women.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on? Well, I’ve never really had to take lots of my clothes off before or be exposed onstage that much so that’s definitely different from roles I’ve played in the past. That and the dancing. Not a huge dancer so that was different as well. Mostly, I think Joan is one of the most confident in herself characters I’ve played so that has been fun and challenging to work on.

How long have you been acting and what made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA? I’ve been acting since I was 6. I started in summer camps at Mount Vernon Children’s Theatre and just kind of went from there. I studied in high school and got my degree in Theatre in college and I’m currently working towards a Master’s In Arts Management. Mostly I’ve been exposed to LTA through my director and theatre teacher in high school. Both direct shows at LTA and have been very involved so it’s always been something I’ve been interested in. I was in my first show at LTA about two years ago and so now I’m back to do it again! Fun fact, my director in high school who introduced me to LTA is none other than Frank Shutts, the director of The Nance! This is the first show he’s directed me in since high school which has been so much fun and rewarding to continue to grow my craft with him.

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre? Resilience and perseverance. So much about working in theatre is staying true to yourself and your talent. Work hard, be confident and true to yourself and don’t let anyone get you down. If you love it and it’s a part of you, never let it go.

The Nance - meet cast member John Paul Odle!

What do you find appealing about your character and this show? For one, it’s a role that is extremely foreign to me. My background couldn’t be farther than that of Ned’s, and the world he lives in is quite different from today, though in many cases unfortunately, not all too dissimilar. For the show, it has been a real eye-opener to see all the vaudeville sketches, as I’ve been too indoctrinated by the fanfare of modern cinema. The wonderment that is vaudeville and burlesque never leaves your mind, as it should.

What have you learned about yourself in playing the role of “Ned”? Though our backgrounds and circumstances are very different, I do like the parallel of our “entrance” into theatre. While I had a passing interest all my life in acting and the stage, I was very much pushed onto the stage in high school, and sort of rocketed off from there. With our theatre trajectories so similarly plotted, I’ve found that I encountered many of the same bumps in the road. Being overwhelmed and underprepared in my first role, no matter how small. It’s never something you really do get used to honestly. There is always an “awe”-someness that you can’t escape when on the stage. To go on stage without some kind of trepidation, I feel saps the energy from the scene and from the show as a whole.

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show? There are many themes that run throughout this play, but the one that strikes closest to home for me is the idea of not only inclusion, but the idea of self-expression. Theatre has for centuries been an outlet for original thought, and to censor it in any way is to do humanity a great disservice. With the current political climate, and with some events of the recent past coming to mind, it is more important than ever to turn to theatre not just as a mental escape, but as a loud and poignant voice for whatever truths need to be told.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on? My previous works have run the gamut of comedies to dramas to musicals and avant-garde productions. This one certainly stands out as the characters I played in those are relatively cookie-cutter, but this? As a straight man playing a gay man, I have a lot riding on my skill not only as an actor, but also as a person. To respect the community of today, but also to give the community of the past its proper due. It’s a balancing act that I hope shines forth in a positive way. I know my cast mates, and especially my director, has been extremely helpful in this regard and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.

How long have you been acting and what made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA?  I started acting in high school, with two plays and a musical. I then graduated from Providence College with a Theatre Degree, working mainly behind the stage as crew and Assistant Stage Manager, I also attended Catholic University for a year following my graduation from Providence, where I honed my skills as an actor and also received a CUA “Gilbie” for Best Supporting Actor in an Independent Play. I started working with LTA only last year, with my role of Spike in “Vanya and Sonia, and Masha and Spike” which was a really fun play to be in. I knew of LTA through my parents, as well as my proximity, only living a few blocks down the street.

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?  Two words quite simply: Do it. From acting, to managing, to all the various jobs behind the curtain and in the front of the house, there is a plethora of options. If you have any skill of any sort, there is a place for you in the theatre. The more people we have under our roof, the greater the experience we can share with each other, and therefore, with the world.