Merry Go Round’s (MGR) artistic director Brett Smock isn’t a new a hire; this will mark his second full season since taking over from Ed Sayles after Mary Poppins closed in 2014. Smock first came to MGR as another auditioning actor; his first shows as an actor and dancer were Mame, Cabaret, and 42nd Street in 1992. Smock continued onstage over the years and in 2012 he joined MGR and Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival as general manager and associate artistic director. He spoke with the Ithaca Times about his background with the theater, and his hopes for the coming season.
IT: What went into picking the current season? You’re looking for the perfect mix.
BS: Yes, specifically. We’re intent on finding the right balance that gives our audiences all the diversity of entertainment that they’re looking for. That is the producer’s most difficult task, because it is true that you can’t please someone all of the time, but when you look at what our audiences are starting to appreciate, the scope of it is opening, and we’re seeing our audience embrace new musicals as well as the classics. What’s really important to me is that we continue to find and strike the right harmony in that diversity. And if we are going to do that, I want them to be distinct; I want them to be different in some way. I want them to be meaningful.
When you look at our 2016 season, it’s an incredible array. We have four new musicals debuting at the Festival this year, and yet the new musicals that we’re debuting are really popular titles. One of the greatest novels and an Academy Award-winning film, From Here to Eternity will come to North America for the first time at the festival, as we launch it on its path to Broadway. Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess, Evita), the legendary lyricist and I have been working on this for two years. We are doing a brand new Treasure Island that is geared towards a new way of experiencing the novel. We have a new Rochester operation that will launch this year, and we’re doing a really cool, funny version of Pride and Prejudice. Our fourth new musical is called Tenderly, and it’s a look at Rosemary Clooney’s autobiography, couched inside all of her memorable hits. We’re the third theatre in the country to be doing that piece. So when I say “new musicals,” some of them are brand new to the country, some of them are just now hitting the marketplace, and some of them have been around, but there’s a whole new take on them.
ichael Barakiva, the interim artistic director for the Hangar Theatre, was Drama League director in 2001 and a director for Hangar School Tours in 2003. Since then he has worked as a freelance director off-Broadway and at numerous regional theaters, including Syracuse Stage, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Primary Stages and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He also worked with the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein on Third, her last produced play, for its 2004 Washington, DC premiere, and in 2005 Off-Broadway.
IT: What in your background would lead you to a position like this in Ithaca?
MB: I was born in Israel in 1976 and my parents moved to the States when I was a kid, and we lived in central New Jersey. I went for my undergrad to Vassar, and went to Julliard after that for their three-year directing program, and when I got out of that, I got a job working with Wendy Wasserstein, and I did that for a few years. I worked on her play Third, which I am directing this summer for the Hangar. I directed the original production in 2003. I developed the full-length version of the play with her, which we developed over the course of a fellowship that she had at Dartmouth.
IT: Can you remember a moment when theater went from your hobby to a real passion?
MB: When I was in high school, I did a Shakespeare program for teenage kids, sort of like a Shakespeare version of the Lab Company that the Hangar offers. I’ve never been a good actor, and there’s something about the formality of the Shakespearean language that felt very comfortable to me, maybe because English is my second language. But mostly, it’s camaraderie. That’s why people get drawn to the theater. There’s something magical that happens inside of a rehearsal room, where you leave exhausted, but more invigorated than when you came in. I’m into sports, and I play soccer twice a week, and it’s similar, but a very different sensation. Theater is the art form of democracy. §