Jeff Church, producing artistic director at the Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, is a seasoned professional. But even he admits that the production schedule for Auntie Mame’d will be a whirlwind over the next few weeks to prepare for the play’s debut in May at the Unicorn Theatre.
“It freaks me out. Our first rehearsal is the 16th,” he said in a March 30 interview.
But Church, who will direct the show, finished writing the script months ago.
He said what he thought was so fun about this production is that it takes an entire musical of 40 people and an orchestra down to nine actors and a piano.
He asked himself: “How can I achieve greatness with very little? Every drag queen in the world loves that challenge. What can I do with this crazy set of material and make it look fabulous? It’s that same aesthetic.”
The play bills itself as a parody of the iconic play and movie. Missy Koonce will star in the leading role, and her fellow cast members will be Ron Megee, Jessica Dressler, Chadwick Brooks, Jeff Smith, Kelly Main, Matt Anderson, Martin Buchanan and Andre Du Broc. The production also will use the voices of the Heartland Men’s Chorus. Musical direction will be provided by Anthony Edwards, and Du Broc will be the pianist, in addition to his acting role.
Church said he gave a lot of thought to people’s reactions to what they might know of Mame.
“They loved the movie with Rosalind Russell, which is not a musical,” he said. “There’s some people who loved the musical that had Angela Lansbury, but not a lot of people know that musical. So I kind of hated to lose the musical aspect, while at the same time I wanted to gender-bender it and play around with it. So finally it just hit me that if I call it Mame’d, I give myself permission to make it a parody, to change the gender of the roles whenever I see fit.
“So I did a draft of the script and secretly had Missy and Ron come to my dining room table and read it aloud. I just laughed and laughed and laughed, and they were so perfect for it. We read the whole script aloud, and it gave me exactly what I needed. And I refined the script further and had another read-through with the entire cast.”
Church said he thinks we need more irreverence in society.
“In today’s world, we need an Auntie Mame more than ever,” he said. That sort of spirit, he said, is what is so fun about the AIDS Walk family.
Not only is this production a family affair with actors well-known in the AIDS Walk community, but even the carpentry and work in creating the stage is being done by longtime volunteer and commercial contractor Rick Frye, whose high school son, Andy Frye, will dance in the production, along with fellow AIDS Walk volunteer Eric Thomas. Well-known AIDS Walk volunteer Terry Newell is handling promotions, as well as production for a large screen that will show scenes from the original Auntie Mame era. Church is working with the UMKC theatre department on set design, using the talents of Jeff Ridenour, who is working on his master’s degree in fine arts at the university.
Church is confident that this production will do as well as, if not better than, their previous AIDS Walk theatre ensemble show in April 2010 called Pride and Joy and Other Plays. He said that even at this early stage, they are selling tickets at a rapid pace.
“It’s always crazy about theatre that you’re selling tickets to something that has not passed a gleam in Momma’s eye yet,” Church said.
Michael Lintecum and the AIDS Service Foundation of Kansas City are the producers, and Church and the Kansas City Artists Against AIDS are co-producers. Josh Strodtman, Ryan Gove, Missy Koonce and Ron Megee are the associate producers.
“This is the 25th anniversary show, and we needed to find something that was a symbolic way that people could come together and celebrate 25 years of AIDS Walk,” Church said, “which, by the way, is both somber for the reason why we have to come together but celebratory in the fact that this is an AIDS Walk that has lasted 25 years when others around the country have completely fallen apart.”