Virtual and live at the same time. That's the idea for the virtual regional premiere of Honky Tonk Laundry produced by Stages theater with live performances at The Gordy that will then be streamed to the ticket-buying public.
Adopting Screen Actors Guild guidelines instead of the more restrictive Actors Equity ones, Stages will put on the two-person musical by Roger Bean starring Brooke Wilson and Holland Vavra November 10-15. Its original debut date was set for months ago, but COVID-19 got in the way.
"We shut down the night it was supposed to open," said director and choreographer Mitchell Greco. "It was always the plan to get back to it in some way. This is how we’re showing the world what we've been working on. Having a two-person cast makes it easier."
In Honky Tonk Laundry, Lana Mae Hopkins (Wilson) owns a laundromat. She is visited one day by Katie Lane Murphy (Vavra) who goes to work for her. "They decide to live out Lana’s Mae's dream to become a singer and they decide to open a honky tonk in the laundromat."
While Wilson and Vavra were able to recall most of their lines — although as Greco says "It had been a long time since they touched it" — the technical aspects of the show had to be recalibrated to accommodate cameras and closeups.
It helped that during the summer Greco and the crew at Stages had several opportunities to practice on smaller filmed projects. "Lighting for the stage is very different. I wouldn't say the whole show had to be re-lit but a lot of it had to be adjusted."
Levit Stage was converted into a television studio. To ensure safety, those involved are tested for the coronavirus several times a week. "It's been so great to interact with them again," Greco said, although it's from a distance as he stays in his own directing booth.
What he misses, what they all miss, is the audience, he said, "The final element that makes it so unique." Still, he said, "I have been surprised how much the show translates to video. It's so much fun and the music's amazing. I think people will have an incredible time watching it at home."
Right now Stages is planning for virtual shows until early 2021. "Our holiday shows are going to be virtual. Then we'll just see, just like the rest of the world."
Asked why people should watch the two-act musical, Greco said, "It’s a connection to us. It’s a connection to artists that people in Houston know. It's a fun show. It was fun before COVID and it's fun now. The music is incredible; it focuses on country music And it's really great time. Experiencing it and working on it, it’s like what I imagine live TV was like in the '50s. It’s that’s exciting about a live event. Even though you're not in the space it's still live and anything can happen."
Honky Tonk Laundry is scheduled for live streaming at 7:30 p.m. November 10-15 and at 2 p.m. November 14 and 15. To register and receive the viewing link, visit StagesHouston.com. $25.