A scene from How to do musical theaterSummer Stock Austin’s new musical (Courtesy of Summer Stock Austin)
Say the word “musical” and you’ll automatically think either “Broadway” or “MGM.” Since its founding in 2005, youth theater group Summer Stock Austin has given hundreds of young performers and technicians their moment in some of the Great White Way’s best titles. This weekend, the nonprofit is lighting up the big screen as a throwback to the glory days of On the city and Anchors away with How to do musical theatera tribute film that debuts at a special fundraising screening for Pease Park Conservancy.
Written and produced by Emmy winners Damon Brown and Allen Robertson (known to a generation of kids as Tiny Scarecrow and Buford Biscuit from the beloved PBS series The cookie brothers), he follows Marvin (Wilkes Goodner) to a Technicolor location where the rules of musicals apply. Fortunately, he has Kelly (Morgan Lewis), O’Connor (Noah Wood) and Reynold (Alyssa Hurtado) to help him adjust – and yes, those names are a nod to Gene, Donald and Debbie, the stars of Sing in the rain.
The move to film is part of two years of change at Summer Stock, which has become, alongside the professional development program of the Texas Arts Project and the Heller Awards for Young Artists, part of the new Impact Arts. The organization’s intent is to put young Austinites on the path to a career in musical theatre, and Impact Arts co-founder Donaldven Thigpen (himself a Summer Stock alum) said the movie just opened another door. He said: “So many musicals are made into movies, it’s so cool for kids to be able to see that, ‘Oh, I can still use that skill set.'”
In 2020, like much of the theater world, Summer Stock went live with Cyber Stock: a selection of short films created by the 40 students who were supposed to make Summer Stock that year, topped with musical numbers by J. Quinton Johnson. “It was our first leap to digital,” said Ginger Morris, Founder of Summer Stock, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Impact Arts. The pandemic had eased enough in 2021 for the troupe to resume the show with production by Lin-Manuel Miranda Bring it on: Musical comedy at the McCullough Theater on the UT campus, but they had the movie bug. During the past summer they made Scout, an original musical written by Brown and Robertson. Morris credited Robertson with suggesting movie musicals in 2018 “but I said, ‘When would we do that? We do three live shows every summer, we can’t add a movie musical.’ Then the pandemic hit, and I was like, ‘How about a musical?'”
Morris credited Brown and Robertson with guiding the theater folks through the filmmaking process, and a Bass Concert Hall premiere screening, nine film festivals and five awards later, the Summer Stock team has decided that Scout should not be unique. So this year, rather than three live shows, they would be doing two live shows and another movie. Stage productions – Alice’s Wonderland (a new order from Johnson) and In the heights – just finished successful runs at the McCullough, but with How to do musical theater performers will actually be able to be in their own audience, seeing the routine of song and dance in that magical MGM style of long takes and wide angles that put the performance first. That way, Thigpen said, “you can feel the whole number.”
How to do musical theater world premiere August 14 at 7:30 p.m. (season donor and VIP pre-reception at 6:30 p.m.) at Pease Park, 1100 Kingsbury. Free. RSVP to impactarts.org.