Musical-theatre company Patrick Street Productions lives out its dream

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If you think Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s classic songs like “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” and “Some Enchanted Evening” are old-fashioned relics from the past, the company that brought you cutting-edge musicals like Bat Boy and The Light in the Piazza is here to tell you they’re still fresh.

With the new revue Rodgers and Hammerstein: Out of a Dream, Patrick Street Productions, the only local professional company devoted entirely to musical theatre, invites audiences to see the composers behind Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Sound of Music with modern eyes.

“I wanted to create a tribute to their work; they were mavericks in their field—pushing the form, trying new things, trying to get musicals to do things that hadn’t been done before,” explains director Peter Jorgensen, a self-described musical-theatre addict who launched Patrick Street Productions in 2007 with his wife, Katey Wright. “And that’s what our company is about: let’s challenge what musicals can do.”

Sitting in a café near Langara, where he’s about to direct Studio 58’s production of Grease, the in-demand artist cops to diving headfirst into the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon in preparation for the show he conceived and created. A production of Oklahoma! in 2009 for Chemainus Theatre had prepped him with a newfound appreciation for the Broadway duo that won 34 Tony awards and almost singlehandedly ushered in what’s known as the golden age of the musical in the 1940s and 1950s. Jorgensen delved into bios of each, and adds with a smile: “I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to every cast recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein, barring ones done in other languages.

“When you get into their work, they were exceptional dramatists,” he continues. “That’s where my appreciation grew the most, was seeing what Hammerstein did with lyrics and to understand how much he understood about theatre. These are beautiful songs, but he constructed the words in such a theatrical way.”

Choosing which songs to work into the revue became Jorgensen’s biggest task. He decided he wanted at least one from each of the 11 shows the pair wrote together—even the comparatively less successful work.

“The one that was hardest was Me and Juliet,” Jorgensen says with a laugh about the little-known 1953 musical that portrayed a backstage show within a show. “But even their flops ran for over 200 performances,” he adds.

On the other end of the spectrum, he had Carousel, an embarrassment of riches when it comes to gorgeous songs, explains Jorgensen, who is also program director of the Arts Club Musical Theatre Intensive and teaches musical-theatre history at Capilano University. “Seventy-five percent of it is set to music,” he says of the duo’s second creation, following the hit Oklahoma!. “It was like Oklahoma! gave them permission to really explore what they wanted to do, so they musicalize every scene.”

One of the key pieces in Out of a Dream is Carousel’s “If I Loved You” bench scene: “There’s this churning feeling, with this little hiccup at the beginning. You hear that and you think ‘He really knew how to dramatize that feeling of being with someone you love but you’re too afraid to say it.’ And it grows and grows, almost exploding with this need to say ‘I love you.’ ”

Jorgensen has eschewed narrative, instead tying the songs loosely together around a woman’s search for love. He stresses that he needed to find strong singers to showcase the music in this way. The cast comprises Kazumi Evans, Kaylee Harwood, Warren Kimmel, Caitriona Murphy, and Sayer Roberts, under the musical direction of Nico Rhodes. Jorgensen says he’s working with all of them to stick to the purity of the original compositions—“to what’s on the page”, as he puts it.

“What I love about musical theatre, and why I love it better than other forms, is that it’s constantly trying to articulate that which we can’t articulate,” Jorgensen enthuses. “Music can point to the meaning behind the words.”

The revue format is perfect for showcasing that, he believes. “My hope is that you can really just get swept away by the music; my goal was not to create a new musical.”

It all takes place in the freshly refurbished York Theatre, which Patrick Street Productions is making its new—and first long-term—home. Jorgensen loves the idea that the venue once thrived during the golden age of musicals, and he likes the intimacy the balconied space will give a show like this.

The security of having a home theatre has allowed the rising company to launch its first season, with Out of a Dream followed by Floyd Collins in March. The latter is another lyrical work by Adam Guettel, the composer who penned The Light in the Piazza—the luminous production that earned Patrick Street an outstanding-production Jessie Richardson Theatre Award in 2011. Jorgensen enjoys the tie-in that Guettel just happens to be the grandson of Rodgers. But there are other, even more compelling reasons for his company to take on the daring and haunting Floyd Collins, named for a 1920s cave explorer.

“Kate and I are really picky; it takes us a long time to pick a show to produce,” Jorgensen explains, and then adds with a smile: “We both see different strengths and weaknesses of a show, so when we come to a consensus, you know it’s a good thing.

“After Light in the Piazza it was really hard to know where to go next,” he continues. “We felt we couldn’t step too far beyond the sophistication in that show. So we came to Floyd Collins, because it has the same richness and sophistication, but in a totally different musical. We’re going from Light in the Piazza’s gorgeous Italy in the 1950s to Floyd Collins’s caves in Kentucky in 1925, but it still has the depth.”

So while Floyd Collins will provide Vancouver theatre lovers with something unexpected, Out of a Dream will bring new depth to the familiar. And it’s hoped that both will bring out new audiences for the ambitious company at a time when musical theatre—thanks to recent hits like Avenue Q, which Jorgensen recently helmed at the Arts Club Theatre—seems to be on the rise again. Consider Out of a Dream Patrick Street Productions’ way of, as Rodgers and Hammerstein might have put it, “getting to know you” and “getting to hope you like me”.

“You hope that people’s love of Rodgers and Hammerstein will bring in people who haven’t seen our shows yet,” says Jorgensen. “I feel anyone who loves musicals will love our shows—and I also feel people who don’t love musical theatre will love our shows."

“We want to get people to understand there’s no story that can’t be told through music.”

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