Occasionally, I publish some of Mr. Montgomery’s musings edited only for grammatical errors. I’m sharing this one since the Bremerton Community Theatre (BCT) celebration of Mr. Montgomery’s life is this Saturday, September 29th at 1PM, 599 Lebo Blvd., Bremerton, WA.
Bremerton Community Theatre
The MERRY WIDOW, opened April 8, 1993, 20 performances.
Music by: Franz Lehar
Original lyrics by Victor Leon and Leo Stein
Director/Producer; Robert Montgomery
Music Director; Leone Cottrell – Adkins (Kitsap Opera)
By the time I got to the Merry Widow, I think I really learned what a PRODUCER is supposed to do. It wasn’t just a job supervising the building of a stage set; it was trying to manage the variety of people, each of whom considered their contribution to the effort as the most important thing in the world.
In this context, a producer is expected to be the business manager and finance officer of the effort, the designer of the sets, costumes, and all that stuff. I also took on the job as show director. These really are separate jobs. The director is expected to set the artistic standards of the production, while the Producer is expected to take care of the building, and designing of the show, look after the expenses, placate the interlopers, and convince everybody that the Producer is in charge of all this business, and really does know what he is doing.
In addition, this was a MUSICAL, an operetta first produced in 1907, with operatic style music, a tricky musical score, and lots of acting parts for actors that could sing and act both. Plus an attempt to placate a musical director, and keep an orchestra of unpaid musicians happy in their work.
The fact that this show turned out to be an audience pleasing success made us a winner. We played to mostly full houses with The Merry Widow.
Way back in 1991 and 1992 I was talking with the director of Kitsap Opera, Leone Cottrell – Adkins. I came up with the idea of doing a show in cooperation with the Opera Company, and suggested the Merry Widow. The opera company had used excerpts from this show as a fund raiser for their company several years previously. This time I suggested doing the whole show on our stage as a cooperative affair. We had already worked together with their production of the opera “Pagliacci” previously.
Now it was my job to convince the theatre board to accept this idea of working with the opera company to produce a show that was about 90 years old. They went for it. BCT would produce the play, and after all costs of production were paid, any profit would be divided equally (50/50) with the opera company. We actually made a real profit to share with this show.
The MERRY WIDOW had built in problems of its own. The copyrights of the original script had expired many years ago. In addition, the original version was in German (first produced in Vienna, Austria during 1906/07). There were numerous translations of this play, and then multiple versions of these translations. According to an expert on the subject in Tacoma, there were some 72 different versions that he had encountered. I finally found a fairly reasonable version (mostly very British, from 1910), but I also found what was supposed to be an original German/Viennese version. To make sure what I was going to do with this script, I met with Mrs. Roger Bondy (one of our regular, steady season ticket patrons for many years). Mrs. Bondy was a native of Germany, and was something of a student of theatre and Opera. So I spent several hours with her going over this scenario trying to find out what the original idea of the show looked like. In the end, I rewrote almost an entire scene. I was mostly interested in keeping the original Lehar music. We at least had a complete music orchestration of the show, but we still had to purchase more copies of the orchestral parts.
So finally production started. We held auditions in December. Leone and I tried to agree on the cast for the show, although Leone personally auditioned the major singers. This show really required operatic voices. We got some really talented people. Bryan DeSilva was selected for Prince Danilo (the most important man’s part in the show, and Sonia Harsha got the part of the rich widow. We got three people who had played small parts in previous years for Seattle and Tacoma opera. Somehow we got ourselves some very good dancers, and we started rehearsing. Some rehearsals were done wherever we could find a space. At one time we had rehearsals running over in the Bremerton Parks Dept building, and also on stage and in the lobby and green room. We ended up with some 37 characters.
Leone made the arrangements for the orchestra, mostly members of the Bremerton Symphony. This was pretty much classical, operatic music – definitely not modern rock. We really didn’t get the stage to ourselves until the first week of March, aiming for an April 8th opening. Now we were down to some serious business.
The show required one big, fancy looking basic stage set. Supposedly this was the ballroom of the Marsovian embassy in Paris. Marsovia was a mythical country in central Europe that claimed to be modeled on the little kingdom of Montenegro. The Merry Widow was a great international hit, by 1909 there were productions all over the world. It was Lehar’s music that really was the attraction. The show had outstanding melodic music for an entire evening.
We were fortunate in getting an outstanding behind the scenes production staff. Otto Wieck was in charge of set building. He was an experienced carpenter, machinist, and general handyman. Frank Vavounas was Stage Manager and was one of our most conscientious workers. He really kept the show moving in production. William Biegel set up the lighting, and turned out to be a master of lighting design with experience in the professional theatre. Almost everybody backstage was a specialist at the job. Verna Lillie was a professional hair stylist and had her own beauty shop of many years. Edwardine Schroeder was in charge of costume manufacturing, something she had done for several years for other theatre companies.
Franz Lehar was born in the Hungarian part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1870 and received his musical education at the Prague Conservatory. He conducted orchestras, and even a military band and wrote the music for several shows before The Merry Widow. There were 35 more of these operettas to follow, although none ever attained the popularity of “The Merry Widow”. Lehar died in Switzerland in 1948.