SOPAC’s Midtown Direct Rep raised the roof with their first production. Broadway stars and South Orange/Maplewood locals Charlie Pollock (9 to5) and Christiane Noll (Ragtime, Tony nominee) speak to Baristanet ahead of this week’s staged reading of Girl in the Frame.
When a group of young Broadway talent is introduced to a handsome theater venue right on its doorstep, it’s surely a matter of time before they get something going on.
It was clearly a case of love at first sight when theater stars living in South Orange/Maplewood were invited to a benefit at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) in June. “A lot of us hadn’t been in there before and we thought, are you kidding me? This place is gorgeous; why isn’t there a theater company here?” said actress, singer and Maplewood local Christiane Noll.
The idea took hold and with a bit of gentle prodding from the other actors, writer and actress Sandy Rustin and director Jeremy Dobrish, said, “Ok, I think we should do this,” and organized a meeting with SOPAC, explains Charlie Pollock.
Thus was born SOPAC’s new resident theater company the Midtown Direct Rep, named after the train line connecting the corner of New Jersey its members call home with their Broadway workplaces.
Their first production, Rated P, written by Maplewood resident Rustin, was staged last week and the excitement and enthusiasm generated suggests it could be the start of something beautiful.
The Rep’s next production “Girl in the Frame” will be performed Sep 1 and 2. Written by Jeremy Desmon, it’s a fast-paced musical and a fun and sexy parable of modern love. Like Rated P, it’s a first reading, a pared-down, script-to-hand performance following equity rules that specify no specialist lighting, sets or costumes, no more than 29 hours of rehearsals and the same no reviews rule which barred Baristanet from praising Rated P as it deserved.
Pollock, who stars in both productions, is visibly elated by Rated P’s reception: “We were blown away,” he says. The Girl in the Frame is more finished, “It’s a great little piece. It’s really funny, smart and jazzy,” he says, with the four cast members, Becky Gulsvig (Legally Blond), David Josefsberg (Alter Boyz), Christiane Noll and Charlie Pollock, all perfectly cast.
Midtown Direct Rep’s 32 members are local and undeniably top-flight talent. A recent photo shoot with 13 members included three Tony nominees, a Tony winner and almost everyone had at some point played a lead in a Broadway show, “That’s a big deal,” said Noll.
So why is South Orange/Maplewood, the town where Broadway sleeps — or more accurately perhaps, breeds — such a magnet for thesps? “It’s a community of artists and creative people and there’s a quality of life here that a lot of us didn’t think was possible to have,” said Pollock.
“It’s convenient for the city but also there’s the juxtaposition between Short Hills and Newark, and right in the middle between these extremes are our communities …it’s very important to us because it’s not homogenous and there are a lot of different kinds of people and ideals,” said Noll.
Midtown Direct Rep’s future plans are still a little vague. “We’re still working out what this is going to be,” said Pollock. “Sandy sees it as a hub for new work, a place where people can come and experiment and we can say to people around the country, come to SOPAC, we have this incredible pool of talent that you don’t have to pay to put up because they all live here.”
The company has a two week run scheduled for the spring and full productions of Rated P or Girl in the Frame are possibilities. Other ideas for the future include cabaret and comedy.
The company is adamant that this is one relationship where community involvement is actively encouraged. “It’s a really educated community who see Broadway shows,” says Pollock and a dialogue and feedback, including the audience Q and A at the end of each production is regarded as vital to shaping Midtown Direct’s future direction.
The Girl in the Frame
Wed Sep 1, 8pm
Thurs Sep 2, 8pm
973 313 ARTS (2787)
Story by Gudrun Lake, a Baristanet contributor