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Theater Diary: Basking in the creative glow of ‘sunshine’ - La Jolla Playhouse Blog

Theater Diary: Basking in the creative glow of ‘sunshine’

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By Andrew Samonsky

Originally Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Andrew Samonsky, who plays Joshua and other roles in the La Jolla Playhouse’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” recounted his experiences for six weeks in Arts. This is his final entry. The show opens Friday night.

After five weeks in the rehearsal studio, we moved into the theater. We stepped onto our gorgeous new set, and over the course of 10 long days we added the lights, sound, costumes, wigs and orchestra.

Our show was slowly coming alive. Almost done … wait a minute! Weren’t we forgetting something? An audience? What’s that? Are we doing this show in front of an audience?! As focused as we were, we hadn’t done that yet. It was time to remind ourselves exactly whom we’d been creating this show for: you.

Sure, we ran it plenty of times for each other, entertaining ourselves over and over with the funny jokes, glorious songs and moving story. But like any movie you watch too many times, you forget that initial response you had to it, and you start to wonder how someone new might react. Maybe it could inform us how to improve the show even more. Wouldn’t it be nice to test it out and see what people think of it? Yeah, that would be helpful.

We are so in luck. This is what “previews” are all about. We let audiences take “Little Miss Sunshine” on a test drive (in our yellow VW bus, of course) before we officially open the show. And once a show opens, traditionally it is “frozen,” meaning no more changes can be made. So previews can be a critical period to find out what’s working and what isn’t (cue “Spiderman” music), especially in the case of a world premiere musical like this one.

There are no suggestion boxes or comment cards in the lobby, but the audience’s response informs us greatly how to bring more Sunshine to La Jolla. After all, the audience is the reason we’re going to all this trouble, and we want to maximize their enjoyment.

“Are you really making changes to the show during previews?” my parents ask. I tell them yes.

“How can you possibly change the show when you’re performing it every night?” Well, that’s what the daytime is for.

From noon to 5 p.m., we actors mimic sponges as best we can and soak up all the changes our creative team would like to try, which will then be performed in that night’s show. And the changes are often considerable: new lines, cut lines, new lyrics, new choreography, or even new costumes and subsequent costume changes. It’s enough to make yourself ask, “Which Little Miss Sunshine am I performing tonight?” A sponge can only soak up so much before it reaches its capacity, but this cast is better than a ShamWow.

Previews are grueling, confusing days. But don’t think for a minute that I am complaining. To be smack in the middle of creating an entirely new piece of theater is thrilling. To be surrounded by artists at the top of their field is an honor. To have seen the musical world of “Little Miss Sunshine” materialize from mere words and notes on a page has been an experience I do not want to forget.

Thank goodness I’ve kept this diary.

* * *

Andrew Samonsky played Lt. Joseph Cable in the Broadway revival of “South Pacific.” He created the role of Nick on the national tour of “On the Record.”