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How Do You Direct a Revue?

Date: Mar 30, 2012


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What does it take to direct a revue? A typical show follows one group of characters through a single story, but a revue, with its collection of songs and sketches, introduces new people and new situations every few minutes. How does a director make it all feel coherent?

That's a question for Jeremy Dobrish, director of the musical-comedy pastiche Rated P for Parenthood. Running through April 8 at the Westside Theatre, the show gently pokes fun at parenting foibles, with four actors playing various parents and children. As Dobrish says, his challenge became, "How do you keep the audience following not just each protagonist for three minutes, but an overall sense of the journey of the show?"

The answer is largely in the musical's structure, which begins with scenes about birth and preschool and ends with prom and college. Dobrish explains, "For us, parenthood itself sort of becomes the protagonist, and we're watching what happens to parenthood from conception to college drop-off. So even if you're not watching the same parent [in every scene], you're watching what it means to be a parent."

But as simple as that sounds, it's tough to find the perfect chronological order.  If one scene isn't working, for instance, the team can't just cut it and move on.

Dobrish says, "If you cut that scene, well, now you've got two songs in a row that really don't work back to back. Or now you've gotten rid of a certain aspect of childhood that you don't want to lose, so you have to find another place to put in that idea. Or even just balancing the roles among four cast members and saying, 'Well, if you move this, now this one actor has two songs that are too close together.'"

The team took a long time placing "Wild Romance," a frisky number about a father who's ready to be "intimate" with his wife once his kids go to summer camp. Because the song is funny and musically exciting, Dobrish was tempted to make it an eleven o'clock number. But since the show runs chronologically, that would've made the kids in the scene older teenagers. Dobrish notes, "If the kids are sixteen in the song, then haven't they dropped them off at camp eight times? If they have, it's not as fresh for Dad to say, 'Oh my God, summer! Thank God!'"  (Now, "Wild Romance" arrives at the two-thirds mark.)

With all the puzzle pieces in place, Dobrish had to make choices about flow: How would one scene transition into another? With a flurry of set and costume changes? With a few simple light cues? "We decided to do very little in terms of costume changes or wigs or aging the actors," he says. "I feel like part of the fun of the show is the joy of seeing these four actors play so many different kinds of roles."

That also lets the minimal costume pieces have more of an impact. In one scene, a daughter works at a Subway-style sandwich shop, and her parents come in to embarrass her. She's wearing a dopey uniform, which heightens the awfulness of Mom and Dad making a fuss.

At first, the script specifically mentioned her uniform, which is why it was added to the wardrobe, but eventually that line was cut. "At that point, we could've said, 'Well, we only added that because it was referenced in the dialogue,'" Dobrish notes. "But we liked it. It really gave us that sense of something a little embarrassing. It heightened the stakes of her saying, 'Oh my God, turn that camera off.'"

That's another example, then, of how directing a revue---like directing almost anything---means making a million little pieces fit together.


Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor