R-E-S-P-E-C-T in Island theater: It's all about billing

March 27th, 2009
By

In the midst of "Gypsy," the fabled Broadway musical about the ambitions of an indefatigable stage mother loosely based on the life of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, the Mama Rose character yearns for billing for her vaudeville troupers.
You know, name recognition that would validate these struggling performers.
The irony is that Mama's lament rings true. More often than not, local actors don't get the respect and attention they deserve in community productions.
That's not to say they're not appreciated, but when it comes to getting due mentions, most face the dilemma of Mama Rose. Hard work does not beget billing.
And just when I thought the neglect was rampant, one camp has swiftly paid the proper respect to its lead actor ... even before the reviews were out. Don’t know if it was word of mouth, conscience, or demands from a gallery of fans.
But Shari Lynn now gets credit for “Gypsy,” the musical at Diamond Head Theatre. Greg Howell, in the Manoa Valley Theatre dramedy, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” doesn’t. At least at press time.
I highly recommend both. You'll laugh, perhaps tear a little, and applaud like crazy. You'll experience well-defined, wonderfully spirited performances - that wasn’t getting respect, paraphrasing Rodney Dangerfield.
Both DHT and MVT have hits on their hands, and DHT has smartly rethought its campaign to recognize the work of Shari Lynn as Mama Rose. New posters bear her name; a sizeable portrait of her hangs in the theater’s foyer.
But why not? Shari Lynn is at the pinnacle of her career, playing Mama Rose to perfection. She is the right person at the right age with the right pipes and the accompanying star power to inhabit this iconic role Her name was conspicuously absent from the print ads and TV spots. Shari is a local diva, if ever there is one, who happily doesn't behave like one, and merits billing for "Gypsy," because she is the magnet that will fill the seats.
Billing simply means her name is Out There, not just in the formal press release roster of cast members or that listing in the playbill. When she belts out "Rosie's Turn," before the final curtain, you will agree: This is Shari's turn.
There’s no firm policy on why names or photos of actors are used or not used in the promotion. In legit theater - meaning equity productions like Patti LuPone in the just-closed Broadway revival of "Gypsy" - the star is why you go see a show.
LuPone is the essence of a Broadway diva who has earned above-the-title billing because her presence and prowess move tickes. In this scenario, if LuPone is ill and can't perform, you can get a refund.
If names appear below the title in ads, and the actors miss a show you're holding tickets to, you're out of luck.
Some iconic productions - "Mamma Mia," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Les Misérables," "Miss Saigon," "Cats" - use trademark logos in all publicity. No name-dropping. The branding is all about the production.
Locally, there's no policy but performers' names rarely appear in ads. Army Community Theatre frequently promotes a local player in a show; DHT has embraced local actors in shows in the past, but not routinely.
So bravo and a standing ovation to DHT for tweaking its promotion, which still uses the names of show's creators but now also Shari’s. It’s charitable, fitting and proper; till now, there was amere mention of her in a direct-mail promo postcard not widely distributed.
After all, if you're a regular theater-goer, you know Shari, since this is the third time she's inhabited the role, and it's her best ever. She could walk into a touring show tomorrow. Her invisibility in the ads was a puzzler.
Of course, there are others in the DHT cast in secondary roles who warrant acknowledgment, too; think Dennis Proulx as Herbie, Candes Meijide-Gentry as Louise, Cathy Foy as Mazeppa, Lisa Konove as Tessie Tura, and Camille Michel as Electra. They are the rubies and rhinestones around the diamond that is Shari.
In the MVT ad, a photo of actor-makeup-hair specialist Greg Howell is subliminally featured, in a dancing pose as "Coach" Morrie. Since his image is there, why not Howell's name, too? He validates billing with a brilliant performance of the professor battling Lou Gehrig's disease.
The element  of acknowledgment is all about honoring and appreciating the community actors who work diligently for nothing or minimal honorariums, and who bring pride and acclaim for the producing theater group.
Perhaps the Aretha Franklin hit song "Respect" says it best: "All I'm askin' ... is for a little respect."
PLAYDATES:

"Gypsy" at DHT: Two newly added shows at 8 p.m. April 11 and 4 p.m. April 12

Other scheduled performances: 8 p.m. today,  tomorrow; 4 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. April 3, 4; 4 p.m. April 5
Tickets: $12-$42

Charge by phone: 733-0274, www.diamondheadtheatre.com

"Tuesdays With Morrie" at MVT

Remaining performances: 8 p.m. today, tomorrow; 4 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday; 8 p.m. April 3, 4; 4 p.m. April 5

Tickets: $30

Charge by phone: 988-6131, www.manoavalleytheatre.com

3 Responses to “R-E-S-P-E-C-T in Island theater: It's all about billing”

  1. cat:

    I want to see "Tuesdays," but I feel like I should read the book first...


  2. mark:

    Thanks for the review!


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