Today’s TOP FIVE comes to us from Brian Glick, one of the founders of Revival Theatre Company in Cedar Rapids. Debuting in 2014, Revival quickly established itself as a strong theatre performing classic musicals as well as rare gems. Next up for them is Sunday in the Park with George. I really enjoyed reading Brian’s inspiring descriptions of powerful theatre moments and I know you will, too.
It’s not easy writing about your own projects, but it’s brought me joy thinking back on the people I worked with, who helped create a vision and bring them to life. I haven’t forgotten. I based my Top Five on the experiences that had profound impact on me as a director, and the moments that seared themselves into my soul.
1. Carmen by Georges Bizet. Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, 2014.
The opera world is one that I really admire and have fallen in love with. I’ve become a Wagner fan and spent some time studying the works and staging of the opera world, which has found its way into my own work in the musical theatre. Several years ago I was working as an associate to the director on Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s production of Carmen and I immediately fell in love. There was one moment in particular that stands out and comes up in conversation often. One day during rehearsals, we ran the “La Fleur Que Tu M’avais Jetée” (The Flower Song), which is sung by Don José in the opera’s second act when he is about to return to the army barracks. Alok Kumar beautifully sang this and, honestly, it’s the kind of moment that leaves you breathless. His acting on the song was something I hadn’t witnessed in the opera before and I wasn’t the only one. When he performed that song for the first time in front of the company, it stopped the room. Assistants stopped running around. Management held off on notes and the cast got silent. Move to a couple weeks later and I’m standing back stage left at the Paramount and Don José falls down stage left two feet from where I was standing and would sing this aria, pouring out his soul. He had that audience in the palm of his hand. When he finished singing, nothing happened. It was like he had frozen that moment in time. All you heard next was this wall of sound coming from the house. The audience stood up and applauded for what felt like 20 minutes. I’ve yet to experience a Cedar Rapids audience react the way they did to that moment. The artistry of what transpired between the orchestra and the performers that night was unforgettable. To this day the stage manager of the show and I still talk about it. I’d give anything to recreate that moment.
2. The Music Man, Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey. Theatre Cedar Rapids and Orchestra Iowa, 2013.
I’ve worked on this show twice. The second time around, I was asked to come in and work on it with TCR and Orchestra Iowa along side Cameron Sullenberger. We knew there would be people who would view this as just another production of The Music Man, so we came up with the idea of having multiple Harold Hills and Marians, and it worked beautifully. With no sets or props and few costumes, this concept allowed us to get to the heart of the story, and The Music Man, when told well, is one of the greatest musicals ever told. It beat out West Side Story for the Tony. One of my fondest memories was our dilemma with the finale. There were 2 or 3 ongoing finales that just would not end and we weren’t allowed to cut or make changes to anything, so we added more choreography, we jazzed up the bows, we added a marching band from Coe College that came down the aisles of the Paramount Theater and I still felt we were lacking something. The night before opening, I called Cameron and I said we needed more pop and circumstance. There was a pause, and he asked, “What more do we need, plus we open tomorrow?” So I slept on it and got up early the next morning, I called my friend Kris Siegel who taught baton twirling and I said “Kris, I need a baton twirler for The Music Man.” Kris’s son Joshua played the role of Winthop in the Broadway national tour of The Music Man. “I might have someone,” she commented tentatively. “When do you need them?” Without hesitation I replied, “Tonight.” Silence. She agreed and before she put down the phone, I said “Kris, she needs to bring a red or gold costume and have her meet me at the stage at 5:30.” Five-thirty comes around I meet this girl who shows up in a red and gold dazzling outfit. I put three spike marks on the stage and asked her to go to each of these marks and do a trick, then move your way across the stage. The wrinkle was there were dancers on stage who didn’t know she was going to be there until 30 minutes before the house opened. I told everyone to stick to their track on stage and it would be fine (as I crossed my fingers behind my back). In the finale, we had singers, flags waving, a marching band, dancers, and I push the baton twirler on stage and she tosses that baton up so high everyone including the conductor looked up like the ceiling was coming down and the audiences leaped to their feet. It worked and was so exhilarating and no one was hurt. Sharing that stage with the Orchestra Iowa musicians and so many eager and talented performers was a real treat. Bottom line, you have to pull out all the stops to make the show memorable, even if it is 24 hours before opening.
3. Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Revival Theatre Company, 2016.
During the iconic song “Don’t Cry for Me,” Amy Stoner, who played the leading role of Eva Peron, was having trouble connecting to the lyrics of the song and to those around her. In the show, Eva stands up high on this tall staircase while all the other actors are on the floor around her. I realized there was a physical disconnect, so I needed to try something different to break that barrier. I stopped rehearsal and pulled Amy aside and said, “I want you to do this again, but this time I want you to walk around the room and make eye contact with as many of your fellow cast mates as you can. See them, touch them, and connect with them.” Keep in mind, this is a very vulnerable moment for her and there are about 80 people in the room, plus designers. She took a deep breath and said, “I’ll probably cry.” And I replied back, “Fine, let it all go.” We did the song and magic happened. The room fell apart in the best way. The company that day experienced honest and real storytelling through song. People were vulnerable and emotional, and if you know the show, they put all their hopes and dreams in their new leader. It was real. It was raw and it changed everything. I was beyond humbled by their openness. As a director, you hope you can experience this at least once. Side note: A week later was the 2016 election. It got even more real after that.
4. Ragtime, Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Revival Theatre Company, 2018.
Ragtime is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows of the 20th century and is based on E.L. Doctorow’s book. I was fulfilling a dream with the opportunity to direct this show and it scared the hell out of me. I’m only interested in working on shows I’m terrified to do. One of the biggest hurdles was casting all ethnicities represented in the show and telling so many points of views in the story while thoroughly balancing all storylines. It also was a staging and choreography nightmare at times, pushing all of us to go an extra mile to get things done correctly and rehearsing something over and over until we all felt it was right. Producing Ragtime in an era of such hostile political times and prejudices made rehearsals and the message we were telling all that more raw. Our cast was filled with some of the best talent in our corridor and seeing all 80 some performers in one room was very special and extremely daunting. We knew this was going to be something big. I remember the first time Ezekiel Andrew and Trina Harris sang “Wheels of a Dream,” you could have heard a pin drop in the room. The power of storytelling through song is something special. I also remember the moment in dress rehearsals when I first saw the media projections that appeared upstage of Casey Prince as he sang “Gliding.” I wept, as it was incredibly moving. There was a live action picture book of a girl ice-skating. The story of Ragtime will always be relevant. Currently, it is a reflection on Black Lives Matter, the Syrian Refugee crisis, the poor, and misuse of political power. We all felt something speak to us and I hope to revel in the memory of the heart rending performances given each night.
5. Forever Plaid, Stuart Ross. Starlighters II Theatre, 2009.
As I approach the ten-year anniversary of directing this show, I hold Forever Plaid very close to my heart, for a couple reasons. In 2008, I had taken a year sabbatical from the theatre. I was mentally and physically burned out and needed to step away from the theatre for a while. In my time away, I found this gem of a show called Forever Plaid. I assembled four of the greatest guys to perform in it.
We created a loving and fun environment and most of our time was spent laughing and goofing around. The first time we rehearsed the song “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby” with plungers was the most fun I’ve had staging a number. These four guys, who hadn’t known each other prior to working on the show, created life-long friendships and memories. It was one of the most thrilling and joyous experiences. Every day, I couldn’t wait to get to rehearsal. We traveled that show to two different theatres and then the Plaids were asked multiple times to sing at weddings. Since its closing, in what seemed like a never ending show, one of the guys moved out of town and one has passed on. We created magic and, as Plaids sing in the show, “We will have these moments to remember.”
Brian is the Founder and Artistic Director of Revival Theatre Company. During the past 10 years he has directed more than 30 stage productions, earning him high praise for his dynamic and richly layered productions. The Gazette wrote, “Impeccable director Brian Glick allows fine actors with killer voices to explore the themes with equal parts sass and class.” In recent seasons, Brian has directed the midwest premiere of Dogfight and staged the Iowa premieres of White Christmas, Violet and Grey Gardens. Brian has developed musical pieces in non-traditional spaces, creating intimate and contemporary experiences for the actors and the audience. Upcoming directing project includes a production Sunday in the Park with George in November.
As a freelance director, Brian has worked on operas, musicals, and plays. Brian produced and directed Side Show as a fundraiser for Families Helping Families and Baby for The Young Parents Network. Most recent credits include: Jim McDonough’s Holiday Grande tour, Victor/Victoria, Parade In Concert, Evita, and Funny Girl with RTC, Amy at the Opus, working with Orchestra Iowa on A Sondheim Cabaret, working on La Boehme, Carmen, Don Giovanni and La Traviata with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre.
Brian spent nine seasons with Starlighters Theatre as resident director – Forever Plaid, Oliver, Some Enchanted Evening, Last Five Years, My Way, Scrooge, City of Angels, Anything Goes and Honk. The Music Man with Theatre Cedar Rapids & Orchestra Iowa (Collaboration Award Winner) and multiple concerts and fundraisers. Brian has also worked with the Cedar Rapids Follies as a designer and stage manager.
In 2015, Brian was honored to work with The New York Drama League, where he worked with Tony nominated Director, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Opal with Broadway composer and lyricist Robert Lindsey-Nassif, Academy and First Stage teacher with the Omaha Playhouse. Brian’s strong leadership and vision has caught the attention of industry professionals across the region.
When Brian is not directing, he is working as an adjudicator with the Iowa High School Musical Theatre Awards and regularly speaks to area theatre programs and teaches private lessons.