The home studio of the Sisters FitzandStartz School of Music and Dance is imaginary of course.
These grand, eccentric spinsters were the invention of Rachel Lampert, with the assistance of Joey Steinhagen back in 1997 when Lampert wrote her first “Family Fare” show while Artistic Director of the Kitchen Theatre. In their first incarnation they appeared as fabulous puppets, one who barely cleared the lighting instruments at the old space at the Clinton House.
Now, they are being re-born, but in human form: Philemena embodied by Sylvie Yntema andAshtabula by Kristin Sad. I caught up with the two in rehearsal with Lampert and stage manager Tasha Sinclair and a young baby, Em. I imagine the sisters’ studio with dark wood floors, a thick Turkish rug, sometimes rolled up, tall Victorian windows. Or perhaps, it’s more like the current rehearsal studio at the CRS Barn—adjoining the home of singer Steven Stull and dancer Jeanne Goddard—wide, spacious, full of light, two baby grands, and a spectacular view of Cayuga Lake and the valley.
Since relinquishing the reins after 20 years at the Kitchen, one of Lampert’s chief projects has been Fitz&Startz productions, which “creates new theater works focusing on children under ten, that explore the nature of theater, music, dance and performance.” With a footprint at the Kitchen twice a year, Fitz&Startz provides touring shows and licensing of several past shows.
As their brand-new website (fitzandstartzproductions.org) states: “The company is an outgrowth of the long-time collaboration of Lesley Greene and Rachel Lampert who were colleagues at Kitchen Theatre Company (KTC) where Lampert was artistic director until 2017 and Greene serves as Associate Producing Director. Beginning in 1999 and continuing through 2009, Lampert & Greene developed and produced 10 new musicals for family audiences. As Lampert looked to retire from KTC, she and Greene formed Fitz&Startz Productions to reboot their work together for new audiences.”
This brand-new musical, The Sisters Fitz&Startz: A Case for the Classics, is all Rachel, with her lyrics set to instrumental pieces by Mozart, Schumann, Donizetti, Vivaldi and contemporary composer Benjamin Costello. After 50 years of doing things their way, the sisters’ current crop of students is beginning to rebel, and the fall concert recital is at risk.
Sad and Yntema work through the beginning of the show. Music of Mendelsohn plays as Lampert says “lights down.” In waltz the sisters. Sad as Ashtabula, languorous, immediately lounges to read a magazine while Yntema as Phlemena rushes about the place, straightening up.
Thus is set in motion the difference between the siblings: practical, nervous P and dreamy, grand dame A. When Yntema sets a new record on the Victrola, Mozart plays (“Ah, Mozart!” croons Sad) and soon the sisters are singing their disagreements about each other’s ways to the tune.
Lampert makes some adjustments, partly to clarify lyrics. She nixes the blanket Sad was using as an experiment. They run it again, tighter. A strong thread of nostalgia emerges.
On Monday they will have time in the theatre space, as the Kitchen’s current show, The Piano Teacher takes a day off from previews. Then the rest of the cast will rejoin them: Natasha Bratkovski, Mike Cyr, Travis Knapp, Nicole Bethany Onwuka, and Benno Ressa.
As Sunday’s brief rehearsal concluded, the cast left their temporary home at CRS Barn, a huge Victrola, a footstool and various costumes snuggle their way into Lampert’s car. The Fitz&Startz will next deploy their imaginary music and dance studio under the lights of the Kitchen stage.
Performances Saturday, October 27 at 1pm and Saturday, November 3 at 1pm and 3pm. Tickets are available by phone (607) 272-0570, or online at kitchentheatre.org.