This Monday, July 13, Bay Street Theater kicks off a new eight-week series, as part of its Bay Street To-Go online programming platform, Backstage with MMD: Random Notes & Anecdotes from Productions Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge.
The series is a retrospective of Dodge’s 40 plus years in the theater business—working as a director, choreographer and playwright for productions including the 2009 Broadway revival of Ragtime—and features live interviews with many of her past collaborators, including Peter Scolari (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and HBO’s Girls), Kenita Miller (Come from Away), Terry Lavel (Kinky Boots), Alan H. Green (Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and School of Rock) and Dame Julie Andrews.
Dodge pitched the series to Bay Street Executive Director Tracy Mitchell as a way to not only create work for herself during this time when the pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for directors, actors and the like to do so, but also to provide a unique online program for a theater that she loves and has come back to time and time again.
Each episode is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. and will focus on one of Dodge’s eight Bay Street shows and serve as a mini reunion with photographs, video clips and lots of nostalgic reminiscing. “We’ll schmooze. We’ll talk about what the show was like; what it was like doing a show in the Hamptons; who came to see the show; what crazy things happened backstage that, now 20 years after the fact, we’re not ashamed to disclose,” Dodge says. “Each broadcast is going to have its own personality, just like each show has its own personality.”
The topic of the first episode, on July 13, is uncoincidentally Dodge’s debut show at Bay Street, the 1999 world premiere Fit to Print, written by Sidney Blumenthal, Constance Congdon, Christopher Durang, Terry George, David Ives, Craig Lucas, Wendy MacLeod and Marsha Norman. She’s invited two of the show’s actors—Randy Graff (Les Miz) and Robby Sella (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)—to join her in discussing the show and the fascinating story behind how she became its director. “It seems like a long time ago to go back and talk about a show that was done in 1999,” Dodge says. “But when I got on the phone with Robby, it was as if we were still in the rehearsal room together.”
On July 20, Dodge, Max von Essen (American In Paris) and Alan H. Green will have an honest discussion about their time producing Hair in 2001 and their personal connections to the horrific tragedy that occurred a mere five days after its run ended on September 6.
Later that year, Dodge and her husband, Anthony Dodge, were set to produce their first original play together, Sherlock Holmes & The West End Horror, but after 9/11, that plan fell apart, so she called Bay Street founder Sybil Christopher and got the green light to produce it there, starring Terrance Mann as Sherlock and Anthony as Watson. The parallel between these circumstances and her pandemic-inspired Backstage with MMD pitch is not lost on her. “It’s really interesting how two very impactful world events connect me to Bay Street Theater,” she says. On July 27, she’ll delve more into the West End Horror story with Mark Shanahan (The 39 Steps) and Jen Waldman (acclaimed leadership instructor), who have their own special story to share regarding the play, having met and fallen in love during the pre-production readings.
In the following weeks, Dodge will reunite with Kenita Miller and Alan H. Green from Once on This Island; Euan Morton (Taboo) and Liz Pearce (Sweeney Todd) from The Who’s Tommy; the entire cast of Ain’t Misbehavin’, including James Alexander (Little Shop of Horrors), Jim Weaver (Ragtime), Q. Smith (Come from Away) and Aurelia Williams (Once on This Island); and Peter Scolari and Terry Lavel from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
The series culminates in a special final episode on August 31, when Dodge is joined by Julie Andrews and her daughter, author Emma Walton, from Simeon’s Gift, written by Andrews, Walton, Ian Fraser and John Bucchino. “I thought [getting Andrews for an interview 13 years after working together] was going to be a long shot,” Dodge admits, adding that the esteemed actress was actually very happy that she asked to reunite.
“We’re going to relay funny things that happened backstage and, also, not shy away from the impact that the pandemic and current events have on our actors and their futures,” Dodge says of the interview series. “We hope that the conversations will be lighthearted and entertaining, but at the same time, take us into some more challenging topics should they arise.”
Looking over the long list of productions she directed and/or choreographed, Dodge can’t help but feel nostalgic, adding that this new project has intensified “a hunger for getting back into the rehearsal studio and making live theater.” She adds, “Maybe it’ll spur Bay Street to revive some of these productions, because if there’s interest, there’s got to be a way, even in our current strange and challenging situation, that we could still make theater in some social distanced way that still brings people together in the dark to have a shared experience. There’s really nothing like it!”
Out of all her productions, Ragtime certainly brought Dodge the most recognition—and a Tony nomination for best musical direction—but she considers her true M.O. to be venturing out of New York City to direct shows in communities like Sag Harbor, Cleveland and Cincinnati, where she can research the local demographic to better understand the people who will see her show. “I find it not just necessary, but essential for me to know where my show is taking place. For example, when I did Hair in the Hamptons in the early 2000s, I knew that my audience probably lived through the Vietnam War and had a connection to the material in a very deep way. And I was right!” She adds, “It’s always very important to me that the show means something to the audience at the time, and I believe all of these shows, when they were done at Bay Street, really meant something to the audience at the time that they were presented.”
Working as a choreographer throughout the 1970s and ’80s before progressing to the role of director in 1991, Dodge has noticed a predisposition to directing “full-bodied performances” with big gestures, strong emotions and “real physical work.” To this day, she’s still humbled by getting to direct shows that she’s passionate about and working with incredible designers, actors, technicians and craftspeople. “It’s very heady, because sometimes I think I’m just telling all these people what I want to do, and they’re all making it happen. And it’s so amazing that I get to do that for a living,” she says. “It’s such a gift, on some level, that I’m always pinching myself, even after working in this industry for over 40 years.”