On February 16, Marian Gallaway Theatre will open its doors and introduce The Countess of Storyville — the highly anticipated, University of Alabama Theatre and Dance in unison with the industry’s elite, newest musical production.
As the audience takes a journey back in time to 1910, the story centers around a wealthy and beautiful woman who has just returned home to New Orleans to set up a “Maison De Joie.” Many wonder who she is and why she has come back.
Margot Astrachan, the producer behind Tony Award winning ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ for best musical, sat down in an exclusive interview to talk about the meaning and importance this production has for all those involved.
“The musical has been in it’s pregnant stage for a long time,” Astrachan said, laughing. “It was first thought of by a Tony Award winning producer, Bill Haber. With his idea, the writers started working on it, though essentially the original book writer passed away.”
With the passing of the original writer of The Countess of Storyville, a new team had to come together to finish what ultimately would become a new American Theatre production. No book or movie adaptation, rather a piece created from start to finish with new, innovating, and thought-provoking concepts.
“My take on what is going on [at The University of Alabama] is quite wonderful. We have university faculty, townspeople, we have local musicians, as well as students and the design faculty from the Department of Theatre. As well as an ensemble of Broadway actors, musical director, and choreographer.” Astrachan said.
For her, as the lead producer on the production, the unison of people from all different acting backgrounds and skill level has been a brilliant journey.
“The local people and actors are going to be getting demands from our people that they might not be accustomed to in regards to their performance although I do think their faculty is pretty skilled. Just in the weeks I was there, they were getting it, really getting it. It’s exciting, I think they’re going to be just fine.”
There’s fervor and love when those involved speak about the production. A sense of pridefulness in a production that is bound to make those who attend the showing fall in love. A recollection of historic places and cultural events, a woman of color overcoming the difficulties of being treated as less than, standing up to the political and white culture that was the norm for years in the states.
“It is the world premiere of a musical that is being groomed for Broadway,” James Schor, manager at The University of Alabama’s Theatre and Dance department, said.
For Aurelia Williams, one of the production’s professional actresses who will be playing Julia Jackson, the enjoyment she feels for the piece and music is everything to her.
“I’m not limited to [Julia] being an actual historical character, I can let my imagination go and explore parts of her that I wouldn’t have normally thought to. I think that’s the greatest part of this workshop — we’re here to figure out what this piece really is all about.” she said.
It’s the commitment to these character and storyline that makes the production behind The Countess so successful. There is authenticity and loyalty to bringing these character to life, to creating a world for them that feels real to the time period and culture.
“Mark [Waldrop] has been phenomenal as our director,” Williams said. “We have to learn the music before we are able to learn how to tell the story effectively. Once that’s done, we sit down and begin to talk out scene by scene, sort of to try to figure out what is happening between the lines.”
She continued to add, “It’s funny because when we go to act out what we think we have already figured out, we find it’s not really what’s happening. It’s interesting because it’s because of our interaction as a cast that we are able to bring these characters to life, in an authentic way.”
For both Margot and Aurelia, the most memorable moments for them have been seeing the production come together, little by little.
“There’s definitely a story to tell and points to be made about people’s self-determination and courage. What fate does to people when they’re making plans. It’s exciting to see it all come together and I know people will be moved by it.” Astrachan said.
As opening night quickly approaches, Williams wants everyone to remember that there is joy in Theatre — especially musical — that you cannot get anywhere else.
“Come out, watch the show, step into a different world and experience a different reality,” she said. “I love it when people step into the world of musical theatre because it transports you into another life. Music tells a story in a different kind of way, in a more emotional way. So come and enjoy.”