Andra Velis Simon has music directed several productions for The Hypocrites, including American Idiot, Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, and HMS Pinafore, the last of which she also co-adapted. Regionally, her work has been seen at BAM, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, A.R.T. in Cambridge, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Berkeley Rep and Olney Theatre Center in Maryland. In Chicago, Andra has worked with dozens of theatres as a music director, vocal coach, accompanist, adapter, or arranger. Credits include: The Goodman Theatre (The Iceman Cometh and Camino Real), Chicago Children’s Theatre (The Hundred Dresses, A Year with Frog and Toad, and Goodnight Moon), Theater Wit (Mr. Burns: a post-electric play), Windy City Playhouse, and many others. Andra is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College Chicago, where she teaches several musical theatre performance courses. She was also the Musical Director for Columbia’s Theatre Department from 2008-2016.
Photo: Adapter and Music Director Andra Velis Simon
In this 4-part feature, PerformInk continues its INSIDE series and takes you behind the scenes of The Hypocrites production of CINDERELLA AT THE THEATRE OF POTATOES through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes.
By Andra Velis Simon, adapter and music director
We’re in our fourth week of rehearsals for CINDERELLA AT THE THEATER OF POTATOES with The Hypocrites. So far we’ve learned music, made adjustments, started staging, made adjustments, learned new music and yes, made some more adjustments! I love this part of the process, when every day includes tweaking moments and making discoveries.
CINDERELLA AT THE THEATER OF POTATOES is a new piece adapted from a 1904 operetta and various other works by Pauline Viardot-García. Just over a year ago, Sean Graney emailed to ask if I’d ever heard of her operetta Cendrillon. I hadn’t. But several hours later I emerged from a research rabbit hole, inspired by both the piece and its author, a fascinating composer, singer, pianist, teacher, and heartbreaker. Pauline was a woman working successfully in what was at the time (and often still is) a man’s field. We became interested in telling her Cinderella story from that perspective. The next twelve months included finding as many of Pauline’s compositions as possible, translating them from several languages (she spoke six), adapting her Romantic-era music, and holding a workshop to hear things aloud before going into rehearsals.
When producing new musical adaptations, The Hypocrites usually schedule casting while in the midst of the writing process, which is so helpful. For Cinderella, we have a wonderful group of actor-musicians who are funny, smart and fearless, and who are bringing terrific ideas to the process. As I get to know them, I have the opportunity to write specifically with each of them (and their instruments) in mind. As with many Hypocrites musicals, the cast will operate as their own orchestra. I am in awe of their ability to do everything at once, such as singing and playing guitar while also executing choreography. And it’s great fun to watch the instruments become part of each character — a character who plays trombone is going to have a different physicality than one who plays flute. Of course, there are also logistics to consider, such as being sure not to write flute or trombone parts when they are singing…
This is my first time writing book and lyrics in addition to music. Especially as a first-time writer, I’m incredibly lucky to work with the amazing team that Sean Graney and The Hypocrites have brought together. The next step is tech, where we get to see the various design elements come into production. I hope you can join us at the Den – I look forward to sharing Pauline’s music and would love to chat about her life and work.