Fort Worth — A local arts guru says (anonymously) that he “knows nothing about Prism Theatrics” but wishes them well. And that’s the thing: we don’t, any of us, know much about this spanking-new producing group, a literal pop-up that appeared on the scene in early June to begin rehearsals for their inaugural show, a revival of the hit 2002 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Led by a trio of Fort Worth natives (more on that later), Millie stars singer-actress Anneliese van der Pol, known to twenty-somethings as sidekick “Chelsea Daniels” in the Disney sitcomThat’s So Raven; she also starred as Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in New York. With principals actors and some ensemble members drawn from New York auditions, and an ensemble picked from young talent at both TCU and Texas State in San Marcos, the show begins a 15-performance run on July 3 at the gorgeously Art Deco, historic—and very big—Will Rogers Auditorium.
That’s a lot of seats to fill. 2,856 to be exact.
“Yes, it is,” says Millie’s very young producer, Blake Floyd, trying to sound serious—but he’s smiling all the while.
Prism Theatrics is Floyd’s baby, and he has more skin in the game than anyone: along with a couple of silent partners, he’s the show’s major backer, determined to “bring his love of New York theater” back to where he grew up. After graduating from an Ohio university with a major in musical theater in 2013, Floyd worked briefly in casting for Warner Brothers Television in New York, and then says he got the idea to “come home, and bring all my very talented old and new friends along.”
The good news is, those friends include a strong-voiced and charismatic star; a trio of rising New York-based designers doing sets, costumes and lighting; and a music director with deep performance and family roots in Fort Worth.
Prism’s insistence that Millie will be a game-changer in area musical theater—a “revolution” bringing Broadway-level quality to Fort Worth-Dallas—is a bit off-putting, even condescending. But there’s really no point in dissecting the mission statement. Millie opens this week, and if the show lives up to the hype, what’s not to like? In the world of theater, there’s always room for “another opening, another show”—as long as the show is good.
A few days before that opening, we can say that the show’s set design looks great. Designed by Paul Tate de Poo III, it riffs on the Deco metalwork curves and chevrons of panels in the historic auditorium and perfectly fits the 1920s time period of the show. The auditorium is part of a Texas Centennial complex built in 1936 by architect Wyatt C. Hedrick. The stage surround feels so organic in this vintage theater that it might (are you listening, guys?) just have to stay. Costumes are by Tristan Raines, and lighting by Zach Blane; all three of these young designers have interesting “ones to watch” résumés from productions in New York and elsewhere.
That’s Their Story…
“This cast has gotten really close really fast,” says director-choreographer Brandon Mason, also a Fort Worth native, who began rehearsals with the company in early June at Billy Bob’s Texas in the Stockyards District.
“They really helped us out,” Mason says with a grin. Billy Bob’s let the group turn the big dance floor at their wedding venue into a rehearsal hall. Mason says he’s kept some comedic and dance elements from the original show, which he loves, but most of the choreography is new—and his. It’s an “authentic” take on ’20s dance style, he says, that’s “more true to the era. We’ve kept the ‘Moderns’ for instance, but they’re jazzier, more in your face.”
He also feels there’s a new depth to the character of New York newcomer Millie Dillmount, determined to leave the old-fashioned girl behind and become a “modern” flapper of the 1920s.
“Sutton’s Millie [Sutton Foster starred in the Broadway original] was really bright and comedic, and everything seemed to roll off her shoulders,” says Mason. “Our Millie has more real-life reactions to the things she’s experiencing: she’s learning new ways about New York, being put in a “rich” scenario she doesn’t quite understand.”
Anneliese van der Pol chimes in. “Millie’s a dream role. She starts off so young and bright-eyed, but she’s changing every minute: she hears a jazz singer and imitates that sound; she grows into a ‘Modern’ and a woman.” As Millie changes, van der Pol says, she has to bring that sense of growth to her performance, even to the “sound quality” of her singing.
Producer Floyd met director Mason here at home: Mason directed him in his first show as “a child performer” at Casa Mañana. Mason’s bio mentions that he directed the first regional production of Disney’s Aladdin, and he worked locally on some of Casa’s “Broadway at the Bass” shows, including 2007’s Man of La Mancha. In New York, Mason debuted a contemporary ballet, Bound, in 2011.
Music director Eugene Gwozdz is also familiar to local music theater buffs: he’s been music director for many Casa shows both at “the dome” and in Bass Performance Hall. A well-known music director/arranger/pianist in New York, he has traveled with many national tours of Broadway shows. Most recently, he’s been orchestrating and arranging music for a revival of It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman (his arrangements debuted when the Dallas Theater Center did a “revisal” of the Charles Strouse musical in 2010) and co-writing a new musical, Morgan Street with Anika Noni Rose and Jeremy Alan Richards.
As a teen, Gwozdz sometimes played the organ at hockey games in Will Rogers Coliseum—and he can point out the section where the organ once stood.
“Over there, row 3, seats 7, 8 and 9,” he laughs. “My brothers [Lee and Ricky] played most of the time, and I was the sub. I was there to watch the game—and those seats were great!” Their father, the legendarily multi-talented Dr. Feliks Gwozdz—a popular pianist, choir director and longtime Tarrant County medical examiner—has a street near John Peter Smith Hospital named in his honor.
“Fort Worth and Dallas have incredible musicians,” says Gwozdz, who says the score for Millie "asks for a big sound”—and will get it from the 17-piece orchestra he’s assembled. “It’s gonna be great!” He also has a longtime friend/work connection with Millie’s composer Jeanine Tesori and her husband, music director Michael Rafter.
Freebies—and Future Plans
“We’re coming in with a bang, playing with the big dogs,” laughs producer Floyd. “Anneliese and our other principals fit this era so well. They’re brilliant—and it looks like they’ve had [this show] in their bodies forever.” He’s not backing off a bit from his certainty that Prism’s revival of this spunky story about the 1920s will be—in the period slang of the company’s promo code—“the bee’s knees.”
In fact, he’s willing to talk about future productions, too—saying for the record that Prism Theatrics is “in talks about getting the musical Pure Country up and going in 2015.” (That’s a show the folks at Casa Mañana have talked about since Denton Yockey was here; Eugene Gwozdz was attached to the musical as it developed.) Pure Country would be a world premiere for Prism; this musical version of George Strait’s 1992 film—shot in Fort Worth and surrounding towns—has been workshopped but never fully produced. Public relations director Charlie Hodges adds that there are more investors “ready to go” as Prism moves on to the next projects.
In the meantime, Floyd says, he wants to “say thanks” and give something back to a community he loves—by offering free tickets to teachers, military, and first responders of every kind: law enforcement, fire, ambulance—basically “anyone who’s worn a uniform of any kind,” says Floyd.
“I don’t think that’s done enough,” he adds.
Here are the details of Prism’s free-ticket offer:
- For information, call the box office at 1-866-616-3310 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- Two tickets will be available at the auditorium box office for all teachers, firefighters, law enforcement and military personnel presenting an ID card. Additional tickets may be purchased for a special half-price discount.