Take Five: Muny's Mike Isaacson on live camels, Caribbean goulash and a directorial debut
As Muny lovers know, anything goes -- and can go wrong -- in live theater. This season, the first for executive producer Mike Isaacson, the presence of live camels increases the risk of the unexpected. But also the prospect of fun.
Season 2012 highlights also include Jennifer Holliday in “Dreamgirls” and Leslie Uggams in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” But there are many more, according to Isaacson, who’s already well known for his many years with the Fox Theatre and Fox Theatricals Broadway productions.
Isaacson talked with the Beacon about the fabulousness and the fright of his new job.
How have you made your mark on this 2012 season?
Mike Isaacson: It does have my stamp on it; I say that both with pride and incredible panic and fear. I think it begins with the fact that I’m really proud of the shows this season. I was very much involved in that. It begins with the creative teams and designers I pick for the shows and the creative conversations about the style.
I hope people see sort of a shift in the experience and the style and energy of the performances. I’m really happy with the cast we’ve got coming; there is some exciting and top-flight talent, really wonderful performers.
Besides Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You,” what are some more don’t-miss moments this season?
Isaacson: I had this lunatic idea and the director Gary Griffin totally went with it: At the beginning of Aladdin -- Aladdin has the three best friends -- and the three best friends are going to come out on stage riding camels. I mean, that’s just hot, isn’t it? Real camels, and the audience is going to smile and laugh and they're going to realize only at The Muny, right?
It’s very special -- I can’t wait for that moment.
Where did you get the camels -- from the Zoo?
Isaacson: They come from 40 miles west of here -- that’s all I know. They’re not from the Zoo. You have to have camels that are trained to deal with people and I don’t think the ones at the zoo are trained to be with people.
Are you nervous?
Isaacson: I am nervous; it’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s all that stuff. You’re always nervous about the thing you haven’t thought of. So even with all of the time and the planning and the thinking and the wondering -- it’s theater -- so you know there’s going to be a moment where you realize, “Oh, I didn’t think about X,” and that’s always out there.
I’m nervous just in the fact I’ve never done this before in this way. It’s an incredibly intense period in the season and you're working 18-hour days just making sure everything happens.
As a producer, you’re not putting the taps on the shoes, but you're making sure you’ve found the right people and they're all talking to each other: the one who’s bought the shoe, the one who knows about the taps, the one who knows which scene we’re tapping in, the one who’s spoken to the sound designer to make sure we have tap mics for that scene.
It’s just that every decision in a production has 10 ramifications to it; and when you haven’t done it before, I’m constantly checking myself and thinking, “OK, who else needs to know this? Who else needs to be plugged into this, who needs to be a part of it?” It’s constantly swirling in my head.
What else is in store for Muny-goers?
Isaacson: “Pirates (or Gilbert & Sullivan Plunder’d)” is going to be this big surprise because people don’t know what it is and it’s going to be really, really funny. It takes the Gilbert and Sullivan classic you think you know but it also brings in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the Johnny Depp film, and mixes them up in this really fun sort of crazy goulash that’s just delightful.
And here’s what great about “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”: They think they’ve seen “Joseph” and yes, they’ve seen “Joseph,” but Lara Teeter, who’s head of the musical department at Webster, who’s been on our stage in amazing performances -- and he’s a Broadway baby -- he’s going to direct and choreograph this whole production, which is really exciting because the Muny is a place where talent has always been grown.
So, it’s a real point of pride for me this season to give him this opportunity.
The 2012 Muny schedule
June 18-24 "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
June 25-July 1 "Chicago"
July 5-13 "Aladdin"
July 16-22 "Dreamgirls"
July 23-29 "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat"
July 30-Aug. 5 "Pirates!" (or "Gilbert & Sullivan Plunder'd")
Aug. 6-12 "The King and I"
For more information: www.muny.org