March 22, 2019 | 47° F

Backstage at Cabaret Theatre: Elegies


Courtesy of Heather Tedesco

Elegies, a song-cycle by William Finn, opened on Dec. 2 at Cabaret Theatre. Theater Editor Heather Tedesco sat in on one of the cast's final dress rehearsals and got an exclusive look into the makings of this extremely powerful show. Tedesco sat down with co-directors Galadriel Sevener and Danny Cassidy to get their perspectives as directors. 

Danny Cassidy

IB: Tell me a little about yourself.

DC: I am a 5th year senior at Rutgers University, studying English and Information Technology & Informatics. I've spent most of my extra-curricular time at Cabaret Theatre since sophomore year of college, serving as the artistic director on the executive board for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons.


IB: How would you describe Elegies?

DC: Elegies is a witty, intimate and ultimately endearing song cycle by William Finn. But Finn also understands that language and narrative fail us in times of grieving. Meshed throughout the triumph of memory and storytelling are the guttural sounds of despair and the dissonant, muscular harmonies of trying to cope in the face of loss.


IB: Why did you pick this show?

DC: When I first listened to the soundtrack, I was very interested in the ways Finn goes against the rather formulaic structure of traditional Broadway musicals in the show. Elegies felt very innovative to me both musically and thematically as well, so I was immediately drawn to the score.

IB: How has this experience been different than directing in the past?

DC: I felt a lot more vulnerable than I have directing in the past. I had never directed a musical before and Galadriel taught me how to relate the themes I was finding in the text to the musical score supporting the lyrics.

IB: What fears did you have going into this production?

DC: My fears going into this production were not having experience directing a musical; not being able handle the complex score and emotionally challenging subject matter; and finally, not being able to serve as a guide to the actors as their put all their passion and energy into the production.

IB: Tell a story from rehearsal.

DC: On the first rehearsal, the entire cast and crew each went around and explained an interesting fact about themselves as an ice-breaking exercise. I stupidly confessed my immense fear of sea creatures and since then it's been a running gag for the cast to taunt me with mollusk fingers and banana peels resembling octopus tentacles.

IB: What was it like working with co-director Galadriel Sevener?

DC: I loved working with Galadriel. I would have never had the courage to propose such a challenging and emotionally heavy show. She came into the entire process prepared to tackle the complexities of the score and themes of death and loss. Not only was she patient with me as I became familiar with the stylistic differences of directing a musical versus a straight play, she is also great at exploring nuances with the music and the text. Overall it was a very laid-back atmosphere and I thought our creative energies were very nicely aligned. She is also infinitely more organized and level headed than I am!

IB: What was your favorite part about working on this show?

DC: My favorite part about working on this show was each day witnessing and taking part in the tremendous amount of passion, creativity and emotional honesty the actors brought to the score and the rehearsals. Theatre thrives on collaboration, and it was an absolute pleasure being immersed in such a talented atmosphere.

IB: Tell us about your experiences directing in the past.

DC: I've directed three straight plays in the past at Cabaret Theatre. With two out of those three productions, I was working with a fellow co-director, and it's always been a really intellectually gratifying experience to work with another so closely on a project.

IB: What was it like working with this cast and crew?

DC: It was wonderful working with such an intimate cast and crew of talented and dedicated people.


Galadriel Sevener

IB: Tell me a little about yourself.

GS: I am a senior psychology and music double major and theatre minor. I have been doing musical theater since I was about 8 years old. I hope to pursue a master's degree in speech pathology next year to work with children with autism.

IB: How would you describe Elegies?

GS: Elegies is fairly autobiographical as Finn dedicates individual songs, which feel somewhat like vignettes in context, to various people he has known throughout his life.

IB: How did you pick this show?

GS: We had done two of the songs from the show in a review two years ago. When I was looking to see if I was interested in directing any song cycles I came across Elegies again. My mom is a hospice nurse, so I've grown up hearing about various experiences she has dealt with in different families throughout her career. I thought this show in particular was a great way for me to explore both of my majors and have a really fulfilling and emotional experience.

IB: What was it like directing for the first time?

GS: It was an incredible experience. I was lucky enough to have an extremely easy to work with and respectful cast who handled the music gracefully and learned incredibly quickly. I also had help from my mom who came in to do a workshop to allow the cast to communicate freely about their own experiences coping with loss.

IB: What fears did you have going into directing for the first time?

GS: It is always scary approaching a musical where each member of the cast is responsible for so much. Given the time frame of the show, it was a little stressful to look at how much needed to get done so quickly. After the first few rehearsals though, I realized my fears were unwarranted given the immense talent each of the actors has.

IB: Tell a story from rehearsal.

GS: Before a show the other night, they stood on the set and enacted an entire scene of the muses from Hercules. When people ask how they get through the show emotionally, it's because they can do that; sing Hercules and then focus to put on a brilliant and emotional performance.

IB: What was it like working with co-director Danny Cassidy?

GS: I don't think I could have done this show without Danny. With his experience directing straight plays, he had brilliant ways to handle the complex text of the show and helped me clarify my ideas through blocking and character work with the actors.

IB: What was your favorite part about working on this show?

GS: I think my favorite part was the discussions we had. Each of the actors took every question we posed and expanded on it outside of rehearsals and it was so fun to play with ideas with the cast and the rest of the production staff. This was absolutely the smoothest process I have ever encountered and I think that was due to the initiative each member of the production took.

IB: What made you want to direct?

GS: I have musically directed a lot of shows and have always been interested in directing a song cycle specifically. Since it's my senior year I thought it would be a great time to try it for the first time, especially knowing I had the support of the Cabaret E-Board.

IB: What was it like working with this cast and crew?

GS: The cast is absolutely brilliant, I think that's all there is to say. Each of the crew members handled their roles very well. I had a lot of help from Kate Levine who taught many of the individual songs and helped the cast become confident in their vocals. Mike Bond also dedicated more time than is usually expected of an accompanist to help the actors understand the music as a whole. Kate Baron and Kaajal Kheny were invaluable stage managers who took initiative and made the process run so smoothly.


Elegies closes on Dec. 9. For more information check out the Cabaret Theatre website


Heather Tedesco

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