So, a short while back I had the chance to interview Joe Calarco, the Director of Sarah, Plain and Tall at the Dallas Theater Center. The show, which was fabulous, is closed and the interview never made it to the paper. So I thought I'd at least share it here.
Block: Can you tell readers a little about “Sarah Plain and Tall”?
It’s a beautiful family musical based on the award winning novella of the same name by Patricia MacLachlan. The show was originally commissioned by TheatreworksUSA, a company that producers theatre for young audiences in New York. The version Dallas audiences are seeing is a much expanded and changed two act version.
Block: How did you come to direct “Sarah Plain and Tall”?
Well I had known Julia Jordan, the book writer for the show, for a long time and I had directed readings of a couple of plays of hers. She recommended me for the project, and I had a conference call with Julia and Larry (the composer) and Nell (the lyricist) and we all hit it off and I got the job.
Block: How do you approach a piece like this that is based on a book that is both well-loved and award-winning?
Honestly, you just trust the material. Julia and Larry and Nell did such a brilliant adaptation that I just felt lucky that it fell into my hands. The really stayed true to the spirit of the novella while adding a great deal of dramatic action as well.
Block: What’s the biggest challenge you faced in terms of staging this particular show?
It’s so beautifully written that honestly I never thought of it as a challenge. Yes, there are hurdles such as how do you stage a scene where two characters swim in a cow pond or stage a sequence that takes place over a series of months and takes place in both Maine and Kansas at the same time, but those challenges are what I love most about being a director. It forces you to use all your skills.
Block: What is it that makes “Sarah Plain and Tall” such a special piece?
This might sound corny but its heart. Nowadays so many musicals have characters that are so blown out of proportion that they seem almost not human anymore. I find it very refreshing that the characters in SP&T are incredible real and human and are totally recognizable to any audience. Their pains and their joys are very real and universal.
Block: Are you ever amazed that bringing such wonderful stories to life is what you get to do for a living?
All the time! I am incredibly grateful that I get to make my living doing what I love to do and I’ve been able to do that for over a decade now. I feel very fortunate.
Block: What’s the best part about directing this show?
It’s one of the “special ones.” It’s a beautiful script and the writers have been incredibly loyal to me over the years. Also half the cast has been with the show since we first workshopped it 8 years ago, and the newer cast members are just as talented and lovely and sensitive. It is a show that has always attracted really good people to it.
Block: Any crazy anecdotes from the rehearsal process you can share?
Honestly no (laugh). It’s been a blissful rehearsal process.
Block: Who should come to see this show?
Everyone. It is a true family show in that it appeals to adults and kids equally for different reasons. And it also appeals to people who just love good theatre. That is why I like it so much. Julia and Larry and Nell have written a very special piece.
Block: Anything else you want to say to potential audience members reading this?
Well, I’ve LOVED Dallas and can’t wait to come back.