Lake Dillon Theatre Co. is ready to act as your summer tour guide. This season, actors will transport guests to ancient Rome and 16th-century Spain with classic musicals performed in a repertory fashion, meaning the same cast will appear in two different alternating programs.
First is “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which opened Friday, June 17. The comedic musical features songs and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and is inspired by the playwright Plautus’ farcical works. Then, beginning July 1, the same talent will take the stage in “Man of La Mancha.” The 1965 musical is an adaptation of Dale Wasserman’s play “I, Don Quixote,” which features Miguel de Cervantes retelling his classic novel during the Spanish Inquisition.
“Man of La Mancha” was originally planned for 2020, and when bringing it back, the theater company decided to add a contrasting — yet similarly sized — show to the season. Throw in the repertory format, and guests can see two different shows in a single weekend. Associate Artistic Director Melissa Livingston said they may capture more audience members by having options to suit different tastes, or musical theater fans will enjoy the opportunity to see both.
Livingston said Lake Dillon has only done repertory theater once before since moving to the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, and she’s happy that Artist Director Chris Alleman offered her the chance to direct “Forum.” For one, Sondheim died in November, and the company can use the musical to honor a legend in the industry.
Secondly, Livingston played the character of Erronius in college and met her partner doing the show, as he was the stage manager.
“For personal reasons, this show has a very special place in my heart,” Livingston said.
However, it isn’t like some of Sondheim’s more famous pieces such as “West Side Story,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” or “Into the Woods” in that humor is the name of the game. The production team wants to lean into the comedy and pay homage to vaudeville era and the original run with clowning, pratfalls and mistaken identities.
“We have influences from (sketch show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”) and from that earlier time of comedy,” Livingston said. “It’s been really fun to come and look at that again because we don’t necessarily do that style of comedy anymore. It’s been fun to revisit it.”
The crew also got clever with lighting and set design in order to handle both repertory productions happening in the same theater space.
“Our stage designer, Brandon P.T. Davis, had come up with a really smart design in which the three houses for ‘Forum’ are on large casters and they actually turn around and come together and the whole backside is a different set for ‘Man of La Mancha’ so we don’t have to find a way to store another set in the theater and bring another one out when we start going back and forth between the two,” Livingston said.
Livingston said it has also been fun and challenging for actors to stretch themselves to take on different roles in different shows. Some were originally cast in “Man of La Mancha” and learned about the “Forum” addition when they called back this year. Others auditioned this spring.
Chris Seiler, playing the slave Pseudolus, opens the show with the iconic “Comedy Tonight.” Rehearsal has been interesting for Seiler as he first stepped into the role of Pseudolus 29 years ago while studying at Kent State University. Originally from Sandusky, Ohio, Seiler grew up doing choir and then entered the world of drama in high school at the suggestion of his mother. He’s been doing it ever since for 35 years or so.
This is the first time he’s ever reprised the part. Yet, he said acting as Pseudolus has informed lots of his other comedic roles he’s done over the years, and performing in repertory was a natural fit for him.
“Surprisingly, a lot of it has still been in my bones,” Seiler said.
Meanwhile, not only is it the first time Charlie Wehde has performed in “Forum,” but this is his first professional job. Wehde is currently on summer break at Missouri State University after finishing his freshman year studying musical theater.
Wehde was drawn to the idea of weaving in the instruments to “Man of La Mancha,” and Seiler added that nothing will be the same for Wehde’s career afterward due to the repertory nature and having to be an actor-musician.
For now, Wehde is taking his role as Hero one step at a time. The guitarist from the small town of Old Monroe, Missouri, is adjusting to the rehearsal schedule that on one hand is more intensive, but on the other does have him juggling homework.
“I don’t have words for it,” Wehde said. “It’s been a really awesome learning experience in general to view myself in a professional lens and also put my body through a professional schedule.”
Claire-Frances Sullivan, who plays Hero’s love interest Philia, has found herself getting used to a part of her voice she doesn’t often explore. The soprano from New York by way of Michigan usually does contemporary belting roles and doesn’t seek being the ingénue on Broadway.
“I’ve had to do a lot of straight-up vocal stamina training,” Sullivan said. “I do a lot of just singing in my higher range all times to make sure when I’m out there rolling around on stage I can still hit those high notes.”
Similar to Wehde, it was the chance to play instruments that attracted to her because she considers herself a musician first. Sullivan also took the part as her Lake Dillon Theatre Co. debut in order to escape the city and soak in the mountain scenery, yet she admitted singing that high at elevation has been another adjustment for herself and others in the cast.
Despite challenges, all are glad to be performing again in intimate setting in front of a life audience.
“Sometimes I catch myself breaking character because I’m so enthralled by watching these people work,” Wehde said. “You could see (the audience’s) eyes locked on Chris, and they were just enjoying our show. It meant the world to me. It’s a core memory for me now. It’s locked in there.”