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Spotlight on the Riverside Dinner Theater (Part 2)

By • Nov 9th, 2010 • Category: Interviews
Riverside Dinner Theater
Interviewed October 20, 2010

Note: Part 1 of this interview

Mike: So are you already looking at next season?

Patrick: We are. We will probably have everything solid this Thursday I think we have another meeting, but we are discussing possibly opening next season with Miss Saigon. We have talked about doing our first play here at the Riverside and we are exploring the idea of doing Lend Me A Tenor because that’s always a good comedy for a theater that has done only musicals. It is a comedy. This is not a summerstock town. A lot of people go away. The traffic in the summertime down here is not great so I think the way to go is to do something popular but more low budget with not a lot of cost. The cuts on royalties of musicals are huge so we are talking about doing that and then the theatre has never done Always, Patsy Cline so we are thinking about doing that.

Mike: That is a two person show.

Patrick: Yes two person, very small. So that is our plan now for the Summer. Of course none of this is concrete yet. We definitely want to do Dream Girls next Fall. We have talked about possibly doing Cabaret because we were supposed do it this season because everyone has responded well to Chicago and that may be back on the bill. This theatre has never done Anything Goes which is charming, a little old fashioned, but it’s got the tap in it so that is being explored. There is a Johnny Cash review called Ring of Fire. One of the top requested shows that everyone asks for is South Pacific.

Mike: Kennedy Center is doing it.

Patrick: I know, that is the new Lincoln Center production. It is a beautiful production. I saw it. So who knows we might regroup and think about doing that. Combination of new current stuff maybe bring some older tried and true. But always with looking to doing things with a new fresh approach. Not necessarily with doing it the way it has always been done. That is my goal I think.

Mike: That is one of our things that we like to see. Since we see mostly community theatre with a smattering of professional in the DC area. Rent is one we kind of got sick of. So many theaters did it. They all did it the same way it’s been done. Finally in one of our reviews we said why does Mark always wear a scarf? That set off a firestorm. “Have to do a scarf. It’s in the script.” It’s actually not. We were reading the program for your Chicago today and it said choreography is mostly Bob Fosse’s. I do not know the original so I don’t know what was and what wasn’t. So where is that line of creating something new versus what people are expecting to see.

Patrick: Well, with a show like Chicago there is a certain expectation. When I was going to direct it and we were going to do the show I, and I hate to sound territorial, but having been a part of that ’96 revival production, even before I had any intention of auditioning for it and being cast in the show, I saw it on Broadway when they transferred it and I was pretty blown away. Because to me it was simple, but the entrances were dynamic. Everybody had some kind of special. I loved Velma’s entrance coming up on the lift.

Mike: That was totally unexpected.

Patrick: I loved my exit “music please.” This version of Chicago was born from the Encore series that they do. Are you familiar with that? At City Center in New York? They started that 10 years go where they take musicals that didn’t get their just desserts and do them in a concertized version at the City Center on 55th Street. It runs for about two or three weeks. This version of Chicago they were not planning it for Broadway. They were planning to do it at City Center just to get it back on its feet again.

I’ll never forget the day after it had opened at City Center, I think it was front page of the Times. Everyone was saying unbelievable. So immediately everyone was grabbing it to transfer it to Broadway. So when I saw the show, I’ve been in the business a long time and we were going through this period of all spectacle musicals and there wasn’t much substance. It was all about how the pretty picture was going to look. When I got into the theater it was all about how the book had to be strong. The music had to be strong. And then the set was always done quite wonderfully, but you always left something to the imagination with the theater goer. Today with Cats and Les Miz, which I was a part of, everything is so big and grand. Phantom.

So it was nice to see a production of Chicago that was simple yet star quality entrances and the music and everything carried itself. So with that being said, when we were going to do it here I was partial to that version. Not just because I had been in it. Then there were certain definitive things that I saw. Having watched clips of the ’75 production with Gwen Burton and Chita Rivera. Having been a part of this revival that Ann Reinking took a lot of that and of course she had a very close relationship with Bob Fosse and put her own take on it. It’s sexy and it’s sensual. When I hired the choreographer to do this show I had seen some of his own stuff where he had done it in other places. He is a Fosse fanatic, but he was able to take some of the Fosse and make it his own. What we tried to do here and what I would try to continue to do is be respectful of what the intention was, but not be afraid to put a little different spin on it.

One of the things in doing this production I wanted to try to do something slightly different and put my own spin on it was the recreation film at the beginning. Because I thought that it would be kind of cool. We see Roxie shoot Fred Casely. But we only hear about it in the monologue, Velma walking in on her husband and sister in bed. So I thought it would be cool thinking in terms of the people who have seen the movie to give it a little more and do that. So I’m not afraid to take a chance with that. The response to that has been big. I love that because you hear that third gunshot and then you hear the bleed through of the Chicago song. We added those little touches that are not a part of the revival production. You don’t get, other than the Roxie song and the lighting you don’t get a lot of visuals. I’m not afraid to take a chance. Maybe if I ever do Rent I won’t put Mark in a scarf.

Mike: We saw a production where they didn’t and it was fantastic.

Patrick: Oh really?

Mike: They totally started from scratch. There was a part where one of the people gave him a Christmas gift and it was a scarf. He was like,”Nah.” It was great.

Patrick: I’m not partial to Rent. I saw it on Broadway and it’s not my bag. I don’t know if this community would support a show like Rent. But here again in the summer what we are going to do with Lend Me A Tenor and Patsy it may be something that would fit in a four week run. Because you don’t want to limit yourself. It’s good to pull in a younger audience. Always keep an open mind, but I think it’s important to try to take a fresh look at things. I also support the theory that if it’s not broken don’t try to fix it. So does that answer your question? In a very long way.

Mike: Yeah. It’s tough. There was a thing a couple years ago Urinetown was done at some community theater in Ohio. And one of the people who saw the original Urinetown saw it and was like, “hey that’s my set.” And they sued them saying you can’t use my stuff. So that is one of the things in the back of my head.

Patrick: I heard all about that. Even with doing this production you have to be careful on when you get the rights to Chicago it really is the 75 version. The revival script is not out there. Now a lot of us who have done the production know the staging and know a lot of the stuff so we are able to do things. But that is why you would want to do things and shake it up a little bit. Make it a little bit different. Because you don’t want to do it verbatim. I directed Evita here last summer and we did that a little bit different. Again being respectful of how Larry Fuller did the choreography. Being respectful, but not being afraid. For Evita I added “You Must Love Me” which was done for Madonna for the film. I thought maybe there was a way to maybe put it in to the production that played beautifully. I as an artistic person have to do something a little different and will continue to do that.

Mike: So do you get a little more leeway being a regional larger theater in what you can do to the script?

Patrick: I don’t know.

Mike: I mean like adding stuff. I know the shows I’ve worked. I stage manage. The shows I’ve worked it’s always been that you can’t edit anything. It’s a contract. I don’t know if that’s a community theatre thing.

Patrick: Well we asked permission with Evita. And they were fine with it because it was actually done in the revival that they did in London about four or five years go they added it. So I think why not? I think they are bringing it back to Broadway and I think the intention is to put that in there. I certainly would not go way off line without getting permission. One of the things with Chicago people complain about some of the language and such, but then I say to people that’s the script. We can’t all of a sudden tamper with it. Even if people think it comes to a vulgar word or taking the Lord’s name in vain or anything like that. You really have to be careful when you tamper with somebody’s. Put yourself in the author’s shoes. If I wrote something I would not want to do see it and say my gosh what did they do with my show? So I don’t think it gives us being a larger regional facility. I don’t think it gives us any license. I would not do anything unless I asked permission because I have a reputation. Having come from where I come from I certainly would not want anyone down here with “Get’ em!” “Why is he doing this?” So, no I don’t think this gives us any license to do it, but here again you want to take a chance and be creative and you want to make things current, exciting and fresh.

Mike: You mentioned briefly on the phone when we talked on the phone last week that you were hoping to expand your pool of talent for shows. How can we get DC people to be interested in working down here?

Patrick: One of the things I’m exploring down here is a way to have some housing with the theater. Occasionally we do bring in somebody from New York and we have a barter system with one of the hotels down here that has been really good to the theater. But it would be great to have some situation where if we do employ people from DC as far south as Richmond to have a place for them to stay. I also think by trying to do some of these current fresh shows like Hairspray and Dream Girls and Chicago that there is talent out there that goes “Oh I want to do that show.” So I think that opens the door to people wanting to travel a little bit down from DC from Richmond.

Funny story. When I first came to this area my parents had relocated from upstate New York. I was born and raised in central New York. They relocated to Fredericksburg when I was in college in Syracuse. I graduated and came down to visit them and I got a little bored. Fredericksburg was not what it is today back in the late ’70’s. I had only done theater as a hobby at this point. I was reading the Washington Post and saw an audition for the Harlequin Dinner Theater which was over in Rockville, Maryland. It is no longer, but it was there for quite some time. I went over and auditioned for a production of My Fair Lady and I was cast. I used to commute from here to Rockville. And loved every minute of it. I don’t think we were making that much money at the time. It was a situation where you could wait tables, but I did the commute because I loved what I was doing. And it was a stepping stone. It was a starting point. And in so many ways you life kind of goes full circle. If I hadn’t come here and if I hadn’t taken that drive to the Harlequin and somebody saw me in that audition and asked me to audition for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which was done at Ford’s Theater back in 190-81 before it later went to Broadway, and I got caught up in that whole thing and subsequently did the show and the tour and that start really launched my career. I’d have to say a bit of a commute for me ended up being something that tuned out really really good. I’m back here now because in essence I’m kind of giving it back by saying why not come back to this area and kind of taking what you’ve learned in almost 30 years and try to do some great things in the area. My point is I do want to open up the doors to getting people down whatever it takes to get people down from the DC area. Get them up from the Richmond area absolutely.

Mike: Are you involved with the kids’ program that Riverside does?

Patrick: Somewhat. We are looking at revamping that a little bit, too. Bringing in some new directors, trying to do newer works. We are discussing right now doing a premier piece here that a composer has put together. I think that also has to be strong and fresh and current because those are your future performers. I also stress the fact that that is your younger audience as far as your main stage because those are the adults who are bringing their children in the day time. If they see something that really appeals and really makes a difference they are libel to buy a ticket and say hey let’s go see Chicago or let’s go see Hairspray. So I think it’s important to keep the children’s theater very very strong. And involving the children from the community.

Mike: A lot of the theaters we cover struggle for tech help. How is it down in the Fredericksburg area with the technical end of things?

Patrick: What endeared me to this facility when I came down six seven years ago. Mr. Wehman brought me in and I did a Broadway concert thing here. I was pretty amazed by the facility. I worked in dinner theater many years ago and most of the dinner theaters that I know of throughout the country did not exist as theaters. They existed as old grocery stores or warehouses or something else that was converted into a theater. And it’s usually theater in the round or theater in the square. I know there is Toby’s up in Baltimore and that was something else before it became a dinner theater.

This facility was created for theater. There is great fly space, a proscenium stage. For anybody who is looking to do this it’s a wonderful space to train. I think we are able to entice people that really want to learn. The scene shop that we have here is amazing. They are totally doing the drops and the sets right now for It’s A Wonderful Life. We have a wonderful facility to create here. I think sometimes it’s like going to a great university. If your facility is strong. I remember when I went to Syracuse one of the things that attracted me to the university it was like working in a network. The facility that they have.

One of the things I’m trying to do here is bring in some really talented directors and choreographers so that the people who work here get a chance to work with some really great people. I believe in the facility and that’s one of the main reasons why I thought this place needs to be even more on the map than it is. I was willing to shake my life up a little bit to come down here and try being on this side of the table for a while and be creative. I think that lends itself to getting a good technical staff. There are nice toys to play with.

Mike: Do you have a sense of the market size for this area? You ask people in the DC about theater and they will say The Kennedy Center, the National and all these other 200 little theaters they don’t mention. So it seems like a lot of the area is neighborhood or community oriented.

Patrick: There is a built in subscription base here. There is a built in audience that knows the theater now. It’s been in existence 12, going on 13 years now. I think in order for a theater like this to survive you have to pull from your outer regions. I know that 95 is not conducive for travel all the time. But we have found like with Chicago we’ve had repeat business. We had a former conductor of the National Symphony in DC down here a couple Sundays ago and he sought me out. I came out to meet this gentleman and he gave me a big hug and he said,”wow!” He said, “You know there’s this presumption with dinner theater, but this was theater! This was great. I loved the show and we’re going to come back and bring a bunch of people.” They live in DC. Is there a way to get down here, you can take the VRE.

This is what I have tried to convey to the board, if you put on a polished, wonderful production, I know myself I’ll drive. I’ll go an hour or two to see something that’s really really good. I think that’s what you’ve gotta do. You’ve gotta open your market. The Fredericksburg proper area the population is like 25,000. You’ve got to really expand into, technically this is Stafford County. I drove down and we did a television interview performance thing on CBS Channel 6 in Richmond yesterday. It was not even an hour to get down here. I think you have to set your sights on doing some great theater and get the word out and then hopefully people won’t mind doing a bit of a drive to get down to do it.

Getting back to your question that’s why we need to pull talent from those areas. We have a gentleman from the DC area who is doing It’s A Wonderful Life. He’s done a lot of theater up in DC and he’s happy to drive down. He loves the facility and wants to work here. The woman who plays Mama Morton in Chicago, she’s from the DC area and she loves it here. I think the detriment go being in a smaller area with theater is it can tend to get very cliquish and very neighborhoody and the same people. I think with something like theater, music, anything like that, you’ve got to shake it up. You’ve got to give something different to look at, something different to hear. So it’s so important to reach out to those areas and I reached out to you and to reach out to other people to get down to see us from further away than ten miles.

Mike: Well, thank you for talking with us, and introducing us to the Riverside Dinner Theater.

Patrick: Oh, it was a pleasure.

Disclaimer: Riverside Dinner Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for our review of Chicago.

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This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/5832.

started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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