Tag Archives: Gina Rattan

Stephen Sondheim Letters: The Sequel

The other day, I posted a story about Stephen Sondheim’s letter to the Westport Country Playhouse.

The man who became one of America’s most celebrated Broadway composers had not yet started his career; in fact, he was still a student at Williams College. He asked for a few days’ delay before beginning a position that helped inspire him to stardom: summer apprentice.

Sondheim’s letters became legendary. After his death, an entire Instagram account was created about them.

More than half a century after his Playhouse note, Sondheim again wrote about Westport.

In 2003, Staples Players staged “Merrily We Roll Along.” An audience member loved it so much, he suggested that Sondheim himself see it.

He replied quickly and graciously:

That would normally be the end of that.

But — Players being so far beyond an ordinary high school troupe — there’s more to the story.

Had Sondheim seen the show, it would have been his first encounter with Justin Paul. The then-senior played composer Franklin Shepard in the production.

Paul and his composing partner Benj Pasek have gone on to great fame, with projects like “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”

Their success is due in part to Sondheim’s mentorship, and support of their work.

Justin Paul in Staples Players’ “Merrily We Roll Along.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

But that’s not all.

If Sondheim had seen Staples’ “Merrily” — and gone backstage — he would have met Gina Rattan. A junior in 2003, she served as assistant director to David Roth and Kerry Long.

Gina is now Marianne Elliott’s associate director of “Company.” That Sondheim show is currently running on Broadway.

Now — in 2021 — Roth and Long say, “Alas, Mr. Sondheim didn’t make it to the production. But we are grateful for this letter, and love the connections with this show. The theater world really is a small one.”

Perhaps an idea for the next Pasek and Paul musical?

ENCORE! Click here for a link to some video clips of Players’ “Merrily We Roll Along” production, courtesy of Jim Honeycutt.


4 Reasons To Watch Tonight’s Telecast Of “Peter Pan,” Besides The Fact That On Live TV, Anything Can Happen

  1. Westporter Kelli O’Hara plays Mrs. Darling.
  2. Weston resident Christopher Walken is Captain Hook.
  3. Staples Class of 2004 graduate Gina Rattan is associate director — as she was for the live broadcast of “Cinderella.”
  4. Staples grad Jeffrey Small is site coordinator.
Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

(“Peter Pan” is live on NBC at 8 pm EST tonight — Thursday, December 4. Of course, you can always tape it…)


TEA Talk Time

You’ve heard of TED Talks. The 18-minute, internet-addictive presentations cover a broad range of topics. Originally, TED stood for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

Get ready for Westport’s version: TEA Talk. This Sunday (October 26, 2 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) the Westport Arts Advisory Committee is sponsoring 3 20-minute conversations. Because this is Westport, the focus is on Thinkers, Educators and Artists.

Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

And because this is Westport, the TEA Talk features a combination of rising young talent, and well-established thinkers, educators and artists.

Gina Rattan — a Staples grad who’s working now on the live broadcast of NBC’s “Peter Pan,” and is the resident director of the Broadway musical “Matilda The Musical” — will discuss the impact of technology on Broadway with Carole Schweid.

She directs the “Play With Your Food” series, and was an original Broadway cast member of “A Chorus Line.” This segment will include video clips of some wizardry behind Broadway shows.

Nick DeBerardino — another Staples grad and Rhodes Scholar pursuing a master’s in music at Yale, and the co-founder of Princeton’s Undergraduate Composers Collective — will explore the integration of recent technology into music composition and performance.

Nick DeBerardino

Nick DeBerardino

He’ll chat with Richard Epstein, professional bassoonist and host for 38 years of WPKN’s “Sometimes Classical.”

The program kicks off with Bill Derry — head of innovation at the Westport Library — discussing and demonstrating 3D printing’s application to the visual arts. Joining him is Thomas Bernstein, a photographer and sculptor best known for his “Dancing Leaves” series.

Both Gina and Nick will be presented with “Horizon Awards,” as up-and-coming artists (and movers and shakers).

The TEA Talk is followed by a reception, across the street at the Westport Historical Society. They’ll serve hors d’oeuvres — and tea.

(Both events are free, and open to the public. For more information, click on www.westportarts.org)


“A Christmas Carol” Comes To (Radio) Life Today

When NBC presented “The Sound of Music” — the 1st live network television musical since 1959 — earlier this month, the ratings gangbuster boasted a Westport connection.

Former Staples Player Gina Rattan served as associate director.

Today (Thursday, December 19, 1 p.m.), an entire cast of Players participates in another live performance: “A Christmas Carol.”

This one’s on radio. And while the audience is a bit smaller — WWPT-FM 90.3 is the Staples radio station, though it is livestreamed worldwide — the challenges are the same as with TV. When you’re live, you get no second chances. The moment you screw up, everyone knows.

Rehearsing "A Christmas Carol," in front of the microphones.

Rehearsing “A Christmas Carol,” in front of the microphones.

The show is a combined project of David Roth’s Theater 3 and Jim Honeycutt’s Audio Production classes.

The instructors have collaborated before. In 2009, “A Christmas Carol” took 1st place at the Drury Awards — the highest honor in high school radio. Two years later, “Dracula” earned 2 Druries.

Roth and Honeycutt are using the original radio script from the 1930s — the one for Orson Welles and Mercury Theatre

Live music will be performed by 2 quartets of Orphenians.

Even the sound effects will be live: footsteps on gravel, doors opening, and wind (there’s a wind machine).

Students work on a wide variety of sound effects.

Students work on a wide variety of sound effects.

Roth likes live radio theater. “The challenge to my actors is to convey everything through voice,” he says. “They can’t rely on their body or face to convey emotions.”

(Later this school year, they’ll have another challenge: masks. That takes away their faces, so they must use only their bodies to show feelings.)

For Honeycutt’s class, the challenge is to understand how sounds are made — and recreate them, in many different ways.

“A Christmas Carol” is a holiday favorite. Today, hear this old chestnut performed a new way — an old new way.

(Click here for the WWPT-FM home page, with livestream links.)

Gina Rattan Makes “Music” History

Gina Rattan is too young to remember the last live musical on national TV.

It was “Cinderella” — back in 1959.

Gina graduated from Staples in 2004. Heck, her parents are probably too young to remember that show.

But the Staples Players alum knows all about the “Cinderella” now running on Broadway. She joined it in September 2012 as associate director.

Now — in a clever plot twist that’s almost too good to be true — she’ll be part of a history-making event. On December 5 (8 p.m.), NBC airs “The Sound of Music” — live.

It’s the first nationally televised performance of a musical since that long-ago “Cinderella.” And Gina is the associate director.

Gina Rattan, heading to work.

Gina Rattan. The hard hat is because the set was under construction.

The challenges are enormous, she says — and Gina knows from challenges. After earning a BFA from the University of Michigan, she served as resident director of “Billy Elliot” on Broadway. Part of her job: wrangling the 4 different pre-teen Billys.

Working with Carrie Underwood (the Julia Andrews role) and director Rob Ashford sounds easier. But staging the 1st live TV musical in over 50 years is far tougher than singing do-re-mi.

“The set for TV is so much bigger than a theater set,” Gina notes. “And we use several sets, on a huge sound stage. But the rehearsal space was so small. We really had a to adapt.”

In addition to stage blocking, she devised blocking for cameras. Auditions and pre-production began in mid-September. Rehearsals started last month.

Sound of MusicThe von Trapp children go to school for 15 hours a day, so finding rehearsal time was difficult. “With ‘Billy Elliot,’ we had a routine,” Gina says. “This changes every day. If I can make this schedule work, I can do anything!”

While all that goes on, another camera crew is filming everything. That’s for a behind-the-scenes “Making of…” documentary, which airs November 27.

Oh, yeah. The cast also found time to record a cast album.

But it’s all coming together, Gina promises.

“This is so unique,” she says. “The dancing is gorgeous, and the kids are fabulous.

“It’s very exciting: a beautiful live show with a full orchestra. Anything can happen. That’s what I love about theater.”

And that’s why an enormous audience is expected on December 5. The hills — and living rooms — will be alive with the sound of music.

Thanks, in large part, to the frenzied, but very professional, work of Westport’s Gina Rattan.



Tony Nominations For 3 Westporters

The Tony Award nominations were announced moments ago — and a trio of former Staples Players standouts work on shows that could win.

Justin Paul

Justin Paul

Justin Paul (Staples Class of 2003) and his writing partner, Benj Pasek, were nominated for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre, for their work on “A Christmas Story, The Musical.” Their competition is “Hands on a Hardbody, “Kinky Boots” and “Matilda the Musical.”

Gina Rattan ’04 is associate director of “Rogers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” It’s up for Best Revival of a Musical, going against “Annie,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and “Pippin.”

Michael Altbaum (Staples ’02) is assistant company manager for “Matilda the Musical.” It vies for “Best Musical,” with “Bring It On: The Musical,” “A Christmas Story, The Musical” and “Kinky Boots.”

Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

The winners will be announced on Sunday, June 9 at Radio City Music Hall (and televised live on CBS).

Justin, Gina and Michael should have a great time — and will greet each other warmly.

All 3 were together for a year at Staples. In addition, Justin and Gina had wonderful theater careers just a year apart at the University of Michigan.

PS: This just in! Kate Bosch (Staples ’05) is a set painter for the Huntington Theatre Company of Boston — which will receive the Regional Theatre Tony at the June 9 awards ceremony.

Gina Rattan’s Sweet Tooth

Staples Players — the award-winning high school theater troupe — teaches teenagers how to act, sing, dance, direct, run lights, and do a thousand other putting-on-a-show-related things.

Including how to raise funds and publicize events.

Once they graduate, many Players alums move on to bigger stages: college, regional theater, even Broadway itself.

But they don’t leave Westport behind. Sometimes they get a chance to return home, show off what they’ve done.

And yes, raise funds for their next project.

Gina Rattan

This Friday (June 29, 8 p.m.) Gina Rattan and Caley Beretta present a fund-raising concert at Toquet Hall. Proceeds benefit the world premiere of “Sweet Tooth,” a 1-act play opening at the New York International Fringe Festival in August. (It’s about 2 very smart high school seniors about to become step-siblings.)

Gina — a former Players president — directs “Sweet Tooth.” She’s been resident director of Broadway’s “Billy Elliot.”

As if she doesn’t have enough to do, Gina is directing another world premiere this summer. The musical “How Deep is the Ocean” is presented by the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It opens July 12.

This Friday’s fundraiser features current and past Staples Players, singing Broadway and pop standards. Performers include Sally Eidman, Haley Bond, Max Stampa-Brown and Eva Hendricks. Broadway’s Liz Pearce (“Billy Elliot”) will also appear, and a raffle with be held for an actor coaching session with Gina.

“The Staples Players community has been a constant source of artistic inspiration for me for years,” Gina says.

“After a year on a Broadway musical, I’m using the leadership skills and artistic direction I first learned at Staples to produce and direct “Sweet Tooth.

“I’m so excited to be breaking out on my own as a director with a world premiere, but self-producing is daunting. We have to raise all of the money to put on the show.

“I have to raise capital for costumes, scenery, lights, marketing, venue insurance, fire-proofing costumes and scenery — and paying all the artists.

“I’m so excited that current and former Staples Players are coming to their artistic hometown to lend their time and talents to a team of former Players. I couldn’t be more honored and excited for Friday.”

(Tickets for this Friday’s concert are $20 for adults, $15 for students. For more information, email caleyberetta@gmail.com. To donate to “Sweet Tooth” via Kickstarter, click here.)

Gina Rattan And Her 4 Billy Elliots

When you or I watch “Billy Elliot” we marvel at the dancing, the energy, the predictable but uplifting story line.

Gina Rattan watches actors’ entrances and exits.  She listens to decibel levels.

And she does it in rehearsals and performances, night after night, week after week after week.

Gina is “Billy Elliot”‘s resident director.  She’s responsible for maintaining the Broadway show’s consistency.  She keeps it true to its original creative vision.  She trains new cast members.

And — because there are 4 Billy Elliots — she spends much of her time handling a quartet of 11-year-old boys.

The Westport native loves every minute of it.

Gina Rattan

Her road to Broadway began with Staples Players.  She assistant directed main stages, One Acts and studios.  Director David Roth gives his students plenty of responsibility, and Gina reveled in the opportunity to learn all about theater, develop strong bonds and produce great shows.

After graduating in 2004, she earned a BFA in directing at the University of Michigan.  Like Staples, it combines a superb theater program with strong academics.  Gina studied every aspect of performing, from a worldly perspective.

She moved to the Old Globe in San Diego, working on Shakespeare and musicals.  She got jobs in New York, and with “Little House on the Prairie:  The Musical.”  Last winter she returned to Staples, helping Roth with the One-Act Festival.

In May — just a couple of weeks after interviewing for it  — she started her “Billy Elliot” gig.  It’s her best, most intriguing — and demanding — job so far.

It was a baptism by fire.  Gina learned the show — the timing, tempo, blocking, cues and “emotional temperature” that spell the difference between success and failure — at the same time she critiqued it.

It’s a huge undertaking.  There are 51 cast members, and the staging is complex.  Fortunately, Gina says, “I’m not responsible for the dancing.”  Two resident choreographers handle that task.

She’s got enough on her hands.  The 4 Billys — each boy does 2 shows a week — must deliver consistent performances, though all are different people.

The Billys respond well.  “They’re terrific kids,” Gina says.  “They’ve become a pack.  And everyone once in a while one of them says something that makes me think ‘Wow, you really are 11!”

The demands on the boys are intense.  Besides continuous rehearsals — 10 blocks from the Imperial Theatre — the 4 Billys juggle tutoring, physical therapy, strength training and acrobatics.

“They run all over the place,” Gina notes.  “I have to look at the big picture, and make sure it all fits together.”

The rest of the cast and crew have been great too.  They share their knowledge of “the life of the piece” — something Gina missed by not being there from Day One.

“Collaborating with colleagues, working with kids, learning how it all fits together — that’s what makes this such an amazing show,” she adds.

Every day, Gina adds to her skill set.  Whatever she does next, her experience as resident director has given her career a major boost.

So what’s next?

“I have no idea,” Gina says.  “My contract is for a year.  Right now, I just know I have rehearsal in 20 minutes.  And a long day ahead!”

Pina Coladas And Staples

Say “Pina Colada” to people of a certain age, and they instantly think:  Rupert Holmes.

Actually — thanks to movies like “Shrek,” “Bewitched” and “Grown Ups” — a new generation of young people also knows the iconic 1979-80 song about a bored relationship, personal ads, “a bar called O’Malley’s” and “the dunes of the Cape.”

Rupert Holmes has called “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” the success that ruined his career.  It took attention away from his more serious musical work.  He’s the 1st person in Broadway history to singly win Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Music and Best Lyrics (“Mystery of Edwin Drood”).

There are supposedly only 4 “whodunit musicals” — and he’s responsible for half of them.  Besides “Drood,” he wrote the book and lyrics for “Curtains.”

The other day Holmes described his multi-faceted career to a fascinated group of Staples Players.  This was not just a visit from a famous Broadway figure:  The award-winning troupe is presenting “Curtains” as their fall production.

Rupert Holmes addresses Staples Players. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Gina Rattan — a 2004 grad who worked with Holmes as assistant director on “The First Wives Club” — arranged his Staples visit.

He talked about his career in general, and his experience with “Curtains.”  (He rewrote the book after the original writer died; when Fred Ebb also passed away, Holmes contributed additional lyrics as well.)

Holmes weaved plot and character development in “Curtains” with his own love of musical theater.  “Curtains” epitomizes that love:  the main detective is infatuated with musical theater.

It is, Holmes told Players, “the only art form that cannot be digitized.”  Musical theater, he said, must be performed in front of a live audience.

Rupert Holmes hopes to see a live performance of “Curtains” in Westport.

Sounds like a great escape.

(“Curtains” will be performed Nov. 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.  Click here for ticket information.)