This past summer, more than a year into a pandemic that’s rocked the world, Barbara Tomasic was finally able to get together with some musical-theatre artists to work on a new production, A Broadway Holiday.
She cowrote this show, described as a “fun and festive concert”, with local director, writer, and actor Christopher King.
Tomasic, who is also Gateway Theatre’s director of artistic programs, recalled that first day during a recent phone interview with the Straight. Plexiglas separated the performers, but the music still warmed her heart.
“It gets into your bones,” Tomasic said. “I had certainly forgot how much I missed it.”
A Broadway Holiday will be the Richmond theatre company’s first in-house production since the curtain came down in early 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19.
Tomasic is overseeing stage direction; Jenny Andersen is the musical director and one of the performers. The other performers are Devon Busswood, Sean Hara, Tim Howe , Catriona Murphy, Alexander Nicoll, and Gabrielle Rutman.
Tomasic said that because the actors are playing instruments, there isn’t a lot of blocking in rehearsals, which reduces any likelihood of COVID-19 transmission.
“There’s no massive dance numbers,” Tomasic added. “There’s no romantic love scenes. It really is a concert, so we do have a little bit more leeway around keeping them safe.”
Songs will be performed from well-known Broadway shows such as White Christmas and Holiday Inn, she said. In addition, there will be other songs from Broadway musicals that audiences don’t often think of in a holiday context, such as “Food Glorious Food” from Oliver.
“It’s fun and playful and heartwarming,” Tomasic promised.
Gateway Theatre can seat up to 500 people when the balcony is open. But Tomasic said that attendance at A Broadway Holiday will be limited to about 150 people in the downstairs area. She described that as a “simple and lovely solution to keeping people feeling comfortable”.
Tomasic said that Gateway Theatre was already in a process of “adapted planning” prior to the pandemic as it was trying new methods of community engagement. That accelerated and intensified during the past 20 months with Tomasic working closely with other staff, including artistic and community producer Jasmine Chen.
Rather than heavily focusing on recording plays and presenting them online, they focused more attention on what they felt the community needed. One example was an event called Mad Practice: Sanity Skills for Crazy Times, presented by self-decribed mad activist and comedian J D Derbyshire. There was also a Chinese shadow-puppetry workshop and a discussion about the sometimes difficult relationship between immigrant parents and their children.
“Jasmine did some awesome work in collaboration with Rumble Theatre and Upintheair [Theatre] around how to support artists and people during the pandemic,” Tomasic said. “That was really at the forefront of what we were curious about.”
In addition, Gateway Theatre has a new mural by artist Carmen Chan on the wall of its building along Gilbert Road. The company also held its first outdoor concert in Minoru Park, which Tomasic described as a “huge success” and something she would like to do again. According to her, none of this would have been possible were it not for the efforts of so many people.
“I always want to shout out to our staff and our community who’ve been supporting us through all of this,” Tomasic said.