“Hey Kirk!” followed by a big hug. “Hey kids!” to the students waiting patiently to start rehearsal. No one had any keys to the theatre but no worries; someone would be a long soon to unlock things. “You want a drink? A cookie?” One of the warmest women in all of Cincinnati theatre, Dee Anne Bryll will make her Xavier directing debut when she brings GODSPELL to the stage beginning October 17th.
“Stephen Skiles (Xavier’s Director of Theatre) talked to me last year and said he’d like for me to direct for the new Theatre department. I choreographed Cabaret in 2002 or 2003 at Xavier when he was an adjunct. We worked so well together and I was so happy when he came back to run the program here.”
“If you would have asked me what would have been your least favorite show in the world to direct, I would have said ‘Godspell!’ I have seen lots of productions of it and it always kind of left me kinda confused or thinking “what?” But then when Stephen told me that was the show he’d like me to direct I said ‘OK.’ And I started working on it and started reading and listening and talking to some people who really know the show well it became much more interesting to me. I really started to understand it better.”
Bryll is certainly no stranger to collaboration; she and her husband, Ed Cohen, have directed several of the most critically lauded musicals in recent years like CHICAGO and PARADE. “Every time someone does a show they’re going to bring something unique and the cast and the team . . . it’s going to be kind of their own experience. I keep reminding myself that it’s important that the audience has a connection to the show. People can’t have more fun on stage than people in the crowd.”
She elaborates. “When we go to theatre, it’s a unique experience. It’s the audience’s first time seeing it so no matter how many times you’ve done it, you have to bring it so they don’t feel like you’ve done it before.”
GODSPELL is a classic musical but this particular production has been updated with new arrangements and contemporary references. “I like the new version; I think it’ll reach a newer audience. The arrangements are different, the orchestration is different. It’s the same songs but a different take.”
Bryll’s cast is more than up for the challenge. Both Maya Farhat and Griff Bloodwurth, seen in Xavier’s most recent production of THE LAST FIVE YEARS are part of the ensemble, as well as Katie Bauer, Sean Burlingame, Adam Dill, Tyler Ferrari, Ellen C. Godbey, Megan Hostetler, Aaron Krick, Brandon Langjahr, Taylor Maas, Eric Minion, and Elizabeth Rancourt. But it’s not only the cast who will shine.
“The show is all student designed, which makes it a little unique. We’ve been meeting since last summer almost weekly to talk design. They’re doing some really great stuff, with sound, costumes, lights, the tech… its all students.” She is visibly excited when talking about this. “I love it because especially with the costumes, she (costume designer Katie Rossman) is seeing it from her age’s perspective. I gave her an idea of how I wanted it to change as the cast becomes new characters and her designs were very interesting. The whole look is very interesting.”
GODSPELL is challenging material because it’s so well-known. “You know, I think anyone who’s ever done it or been it or directed it looks like it kind of like . . .there’s this number and then this number but it’s really much more complicated than that. There is an arc and you have to keep working that arc to keep it connected otherwise it feels disjointed. The tones of act one and act two are very different. Trying to bring cohesion to that . . . it does become more serious. They form their community and now something has happened that they had to go through to come to the end. That’s what I’ve been working on – that cohesion between acts one and two.”
Dee Anne works with students often; she teaches at NKU, CCM Prep, and the School of Creative and Performing Arts. And she raves about her experience working with the students at Xavier. “The best part about this whole process? Warmth, everyone is so friendly and nice and hard-working. Everyone is working so hard. Everyone is always here, always prepared, always ready.”
And she should know. After this, she’ll be choreographing Ensemble Theatre’s SLEEPING BEAUTY, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL (she’s done this for many years) and the new Rosemary Clooney musical TENDERLY. She’ll act – directed by her husband, Ed Cohen – IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT at Falcon Theatre February. She’s very involved with ACT, the premier Cincinnati Community Theatre organization. And she’s collaborating with Stephen Skiles again at Xavier this April as the choreographer of SPRING AWAKENING.
How does she do it? “I just love it.”
Her passion shines through; you have to imagine her team can’t help but be passionate, too. We’ll see that passion come alive on stage this weekend.