How Do You Direct Two Musicals at Once?

Originally published on TDF Stages
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Working on two shows simultaneously has driven Andy Sandberg to drink — large quantities of Pepsi Max. “The actors frequently tease me because I am constantly carrying two-liter bottles in my hand,” says the director, who’s helming the romantic musical comedy Neurosis and the political satire R.R.R.E.D. in repertory at the DR2 Theatre. Sandberg says the highly caffeinated soda is the only way he can get through the “crazy, obscene hours:” at least one of the musicals is performed every single day of the week, and on Saturdays they both go on. “I don’t quite know if anything has been done in this model,” says Sandberg, who’s using the same designers and choreographer but mostly different performers for the shows.

With music by Ben Green, lyrics by Greg Edwards and a book by Allan Rice, Neurosis is a funny but unflinching look at a young couple struggling to juggle the demands of work, family and romance. Throughout, they’re followed around by their neuroses, which are actual onstage characters.

Subtitled “A Secret Musical,” R.R.R.E.D. stands for Real Redheaded Revolutionary Evolutionary Defiance, a movement to combat the threat against the ginger gene. With songs by Katie Thompson, who also stars, and a book by Adam Jackman, Patrick Livingston and Thompson, the campy comedy is set at a meeting where R.R.R.E.D. members create action plans, give testimonials and make fundraising appeals.

A veteran Off-Broadway theatre-maker (StraightApplication PendingThe Last Smoker in America), Sandberg says the profound differences between the musicals have helped to keep him engaged throughout his 12-hour workdays. Just when he’s tiring of one, he’s able to shift gears to the other.

“The shows aren’t related and they’re not written by the same authors,” he says. “That’s what keeps me sane. We’re able to separate them very clearly because they’re so night and day.”

The cast of

The cast of ‘R.R.R.E.D.;’ photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMa

Neurosis has a linear and relatable narrative — who doesn’t struggle with anxiety and work-life balance? But R.R.R.E.D. has a looser structure that often goes off the rails, like a jolly square dance sequence extolling the virtues of procreating with redheaded partners.

But while Neurosis may be easier for audiences to connect with, Sandberg says R.R.R.E.D. is a timely metaphor for the way marginalized groups are treated. “Anyone in the arts knows what it means to fight for what we’re doing and who we are and what we care about,” Sandberg says. “The show was created by Katie and her writing partners as a vehicle for performers like her, who don’t necessarily fit into the stereotypical boxes of what people are supposed to play.”

Of course directing two shows at once has unique issues. Once during previews, Sandberg showed up at the theatre ready to give notes to an actor in one show, only to find the other musical was playing. During R.R.R.E.D.‘s tech rehearsal, the one cast member in both productions (Kevin Zak) began running his lines for Neurosisbackstage while his microphone was on, causing some confusion. Plus R.R.R.E.D. has cameo guest stars to integrate into every performance, which keeps Sandberg on his toes.

But the biggest challenge has been toggling between the musicals’ distinct tones. “The energy of both shows and both sets of writers are very different,” Sandberg says. “Neurosis is a more traditional book musical; R.R.R.E.D. is this sort of wild, fun event theatre. I kind of have to change my brain and my vibe with each rehearsal and each performance. That’s also what keeps me awake!”

 

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