July 17, 2004
Phone: (504) 865-5714
Creative productions, talented singing and dancing and well-loved offerings have made Tulane's Summer Lyric Theatre a perennial favorite for New Orleans theatergoers.
Now in its 37th season, Summer Lyric's hard work is being recognized with a shower of honors.
"We have had an outstanding year," says Abbe Garfinkel, Summer Lyric Theatre's managing director. "We've received our first-ever National Endowment for the Arts grant. Also, in March we received the 2004 Mayor's Art Award for an Organization, and this April, Michael Howard [an associate professor of music and the theater's producer/ artistic director] was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in Theater by the Big Easy Awards program."
The National Endowment for the Arts creativity grant is a grant to aid artistic preservation and provides funds to a program developed by Garfinkel called Summer Lyric Artists in Residence, helping to defray the cost of hiring musicians and dancers for Summer Lyric's productions.
"In essence," she says, "it's helping us support the orchestra. So few theaters have the full orchestra that we still have, with as many as 30 musicians, that creates the sound a show would have had on its opening night on Broadway."
Most of the musicians who perform with Summer Lyric are members of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition, says Garfinkel, during the past few years the theater has hired young male dancers to round out the dancing chorus.
The grant also is designed to pay for these dancers and choreographers. Howard has been associated with Summer Lyric Theatre from its very first season and has served in a number of capacities, including acting, musical direction, show direction and, for several years, directing the entire program. This year Howard directs The Mikado, the first production of a season-long "grand tour" of exotic times and places.
Starting out with The Mikado, set in shogun-era Japan, Summer Lyric travels to the medieval English court of King Arthur in Camelot and wraps up its tour in ancient Egypt with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Mikado, one of the most popular of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's works, was first performed in London in 1885.
Summer Lyric hadn't produced a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in many years, according to Garfinkel, and last year decided to take the plunge.
"We did The Pirates of Penzance, and we were bowled over by the response," she says. "The audience loved it. It was a beautiful show--an opportunity to show off all the lyrical, musical talents that Summer Lyric has and is known for."
This positive response led to a decision to try another Gilbert and Sullivan play this year. The Mikado introduces to the stage a Tulane College student, Kyle Malone, who, according to Garfinkle, is "a fabulous young tenor." Malone has a double major at Tulane in neuroscience and music. Following The Mikado comes one of Summer Lyric's favorites-- Camelot, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's romantic and witty tale based on the legend of King Arthur.
The show stars Melissa Marshall as Guinevere; Richard Hutton, an adjunct professor of music, as King Arthur; and Christopher E. Carey as Lancelot. In the third show of the season-- Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock epic Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat--the three leads, Lisa Anzelmo, Stuart Metcalf and Patrick Rickerfor, who plays Joseph, are all Tulane graduates.
"They were great friends when they were here," says Garfinkle. "Now they all live within a couple of blocks of each other in New York, where they are making their careers."
Garfinkel has been involved with theater for 25 years. Arriving in New Orleans in 1982, she managed the Saenger Theater, then started her own theater company, the Actor's Warehouse Theater, at the space that is now the True Brew Coffee House. She spent several years managing touring productions, including 10 years as tour manager for Harry Connick Jr.
"What impressed me most and I still am in awe of," says Garfinkel, "is that these shows--these incredibly complex shows--are put together in two and a half weeks from start to finish. From the first paintbrush on a piece of canvas, the first nail in a piece of wood, the first stitch in a costume, the first rehearsal, to opening Night--is only two and one half weeks. The day Mikado closes, we'll go into rehearsals for Camelot, and two and a half weeks later, we'll open Camelot!"
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