The pandemic played havoc with theater companies everywhere. Audiences scattered – and now, two years after the worst of the worst of it, they’re only just now coming back in serious numbers.
All of that unanticipated upheaval meant changing everything from season schedules to seating configurations to the number of actors who’d feel comfortable on a stage together at any given time.
Everyone fine-tuned as they saw fit.
At freeFall Theater, artistic director Eric Davis and musical director Michael Raabe came up with a series of cabaret shows, one-off musical productions between runs of mainstage plays. They proved so popular, the administrators added more, with more variety – they call it the “Tandem Series.”
Raabe and vocalists Ann Morrison, Sara DelBeato and Ericka Womack deliver a Halloween-themed song-and-dance show Friday. They’re calling it FreeFall Sings: I Put a Spell on You.
“I love collaborating with people,” Raabe says, “and I’m a big fan of mashups and medleys – so it’s really fun just to get in a sandbox and play with a different group of artists each time we do this.”
He’ll play piano and sing with the others – solos, duos, trios, the full group and every conceivable combination, on Halloween-scented hits … and quite a few others straight out of left field.
Explains Raabe: “We have a Britney Spears/Andrew Lloyd Webber mashup. There’s a Sondheim, Green Day, Van Morrison medley. We’re doing some Broadway stuff, stuff from The Wiz and from Rocky Horror. Some things are straightforward, and some are like ‘ooh, we’re going to put our spin on this.’ It’s all over the place.”
Sometimes, muses the musical director, “cabarets and musical events might bring someone into freeFall who hasn’t been there before. And then they go ‘What else are you guys doing?’ And it’s really fun just to have the variety in programming. And it’s a good way, also, to showcase great local artists.”
Womack, for example, is the daughter of bay area jazz legend Belinda Womack (they’re planning a duo cabaret at freeFall for 2023).
The next full production, running Nov. 25-Dec. 24, is Matthew McGee’s The Night Before, the holiday musical that world-premiered at freeFall in 2021.
The plot: Four Florida friends, trapped inside during a blizzard (hey, it’s theater, just go with it) sing beloved Christmas songs, tell stories and drink egg nog. McGee, freeFall’s marketing director, calls it a combination of an Andy Williams Christmas special and Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
“For some people,” says Raabe, one of the four cast members, “it was their first show back in the theater, out of the pandemic. Our goal was to have it be a holiday party, a way for people to get back together.”
The 2022-23 season will end next June and July with the long-postponed Raabe/Davis collaboration Oz, a musical about Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum.
“We’re excited to finally let it breathe in the community,” Raabe says. “As with any living work of art, some of it has changed since we announced it pre-pandemic. There’s a different way of looking at the world.
“It is, ultimately, a story about this amazing American artist and his relationship to this work he did. I like to say it’s almost like Finding Neverland meets Sunday in the Park with George.”
Info and tickets for I Put a Spell on You are here.