Take a chance on Whidbey Playhouse’s “All Together Now”

— Created November 10, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Live theater is back and to celebrate, Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor is among thousands of theaters and schools across the country and around the world offering an opportunity to enjoy some of Broadway’s best-loved music. “All Together Now” will be live on stage and online this weekend only – Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

This musical revue features some of Whidbey’s best talent in a fun, fast-paced show whose purpose is to shine a spotlight on the importance of local theater and to help community theaters raise money following a devastating 18-plus months of pandemic-driven closures.

Director Sue Riney said the opportunity to stage “All Together Now” was an offer not to be refused.

“Not knowing how quickly audiences would return to attend live theater, we were looking for shows for this first half of the Playhouse season that were low cost and easy to stage,” she explained. “When we heard Music Theatre International (MTI) was making this event available at no charge for royalties and other production materials, we jumped on the chance to be part of the presentation – especially with it being a musical of Broadway songs. Both our performers and our audiences are anxious to have musical theater back, and the opportunity to sing the wonderful songs that are part of this production was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

The show features 15 musical numbers, interspersed with video messages from MTI and well-known performers. More than 2,500 theaters and schools in 40 countries are participating this weekend. Each theater could choose from two or three songs in the 15 “slots,” so while theaters around the world are all doing the show, none of the shows are exactly alike.

“Theaters made their determinations on songs based on those who auditioned, the age groups they were casting from and the ones they thought would work best in their production and would have the rehearsal time available to work on,” Riney said. “We included a few of the big production numbers but passed on others due to having an abbreviated rehearsal period. I think our audiences will be thrilled with our selections, however, as we have songs from some of the older musicals such as ‘Oliver!’ and ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie,’ as well as newer musicals such as Disney’s ‘Frozen,’ ‘Rent’ and Green Day’s ‘American Idiot.'”

The variety of songs in Whidbey Playhouse’s “All Together Now” runs the gamut. The classic “Be Our Guest” from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” sets the tone from the beginning. The show has a lot of fast-paced, lively performances, such as “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and the humorous interpretation of “Take a Chance on Me.” There are powerful performances of ballads such as “Meadowlark,” “Gimme, Gimme,” “Let it Go” and “Tomorrow,” as well as small group performances of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Consider Yourself” and “Life is So Peculiar,” which are just a few of the smile-inducing, toe-tapping numbers included in the revue.

“I had no idea if anyone was going to turn out for auditions for this show, but instead we had some of Oak Harbor’s most talented vocalists show up and agree to be part of the production,” said Riney. “They are experienced performers who take instruction, provide their own input and ideas, and know what is expected of them when they are in a show. Both individually and as a group they sound absolutely marvelous together!”

Rehearsals have required performers to sing while wearing masks, which Riney said was challenging.

“We are planning at this time to have the cast remove their masks for the performances, but they will then need to quickly adjust to not ‘over singing,’ or pushing as hard to be heard as was needed when wearing a mask during rehearsals,” she said.

 Masks aside, every cast member Whidbey Weekly heard from said they most enjoyed being able to be on stage again, singing with other people. All the cast members have participated in live theater before, although some of them are making their first appearance at the Whidbey Playhouse. As happy as everyone is to be back, there are still some nerves involved.

“The fact that it’s only me with no one else for vocal support can be a little nerve wracking at first, but for me personally, once I start the song I typically feel more comfortable,” said Erin Tombaugh.

“Though I do not sing a full-on solo in this show, I do feel a bit more pressure singing the entire beginning of ‘Consider Yourself’ on my own,” admitted Maggie Garrett. “I think I would be more confident all alone on stage, but, in that song, if you know much about ‘Oliver Twist,’ I’ve got to convince Oliver to join the gang!”

“Even though I teach music and performance, it is still daunting,” said Darren McCoy. “It’s less pressure to be part of the chorus and I’m grateful for both opportunities.”

“It’s been a long two years with COVID canceling many shows, so I’m thankful to be performing and singing again with others,” said Anna Davis, who is making her first appearance at the playhouse.

According to Nathan McCartney, sometimes it’s easier to be a solo performer, but he enjoys all aspects.

“Performing in a cast is more complicated,” he said. “Having to coordinate with other dancers, etc., is always a challenge. The chorus members are the hardest-working members in any cast. Singing solo can be nerve wracking, but more often than not, it allows the performer the chance to interpret the song as they so desire.”

Andrew Huggins, who has been in several Playhouse productions, also has experience as both a solo performer and as part of an ensemble.

“There’s a difference between solo and group singing,” he shared. “Singing a solo, you can emote and react as you feel it and as you pick up the emotion of the audience. When singing with others, there’s layers of emotion you build together while listening to each other, making sure no one outshines the others. You’re all ONE voice.”

“During a solo, it’s nice to have time to be alone with that character to really individually interpret and act in the way you want to,” said Heather Good McCoy, who appears in several numbers as both a soloist and part of the ensemble. “I love group numbers too though, because it is nice to be singing with a group of people and it usually involves a lot of fun interactions.” 

“I live for the stage in ANY capacity,” said Dianna Gruenwald, who has appeared in three other musicals at Whidbey Playhouse. “It is a rush to captivate an audience and stand directly in the spotlight, however, to play comedically off of a castmate is thrilling in its own right. In this show, it has been fascinating to watch group musical numbers develop across time. Every time our cast performs a number together, it just gets better and better!” 

As noted, audiences can choose to watch “All Together Now” live at the Playhouse or stream it live online. Those who see the show at the theater must wear masks and provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. Cost to attend is $20 either way. Ticket and health information can be found online at whidbeyplayhouse.com.

“In the end, this is a fundraiser,” said Riney. “The economic survival of the Playhouse and our ability to continue to produce live theater in Oak Harbor depends on us having an audience, and for us to have donors and sponsors who believe in the many benefits theater provides to those who are involved in its creation, as well as those who attend.”

For cast and crew, it’s just plain great to be “All Together Now.”

“This is a perfect way to dip your toes into the world of musical theater,” said Marianne Campos. “There’s a wide variety of songs from different kinds of musicals that might suit your preference.”

“If you love musical theater, then you should definitely come,” encouraged Tina Magnoli. “You’ll hear some of your favorites and leave feeling hopeful and excited for more musical theater to come.”

“If you’ve enjoyed anything put on by the Playhouse in recent years, it is likely that you’ll see some familiar faces and be reinvigorated by the energy this group is using to bring back theater,” said Garrett.

“Theater brings people together from all walks of life, to suspend reality for a short time and tell lovely, sometimes strange, exciting stories,” Davis said. “It’s worth getting together to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, even for just a short time.” 

“The collective exhilaration we are experiencing by being able to present this music after 18 months of not being able to sing together is like ‘coming home,'” said Riney. “For our entire team, and hopefully for our audiences, we have created at least 75 minutes of joy in a time when we all really need it.”