Secret Supper: The Musical
By Niree Noel
For nine magical nights in November of 2017, we put on a musical about social anxiety in a raw space. You can read about the singing and the dancing and the drinking and the dining on BroadwayWorld and Perlamente; here we want to talk about exactly how we manifested this production from just a twinkle in our eye, a thing that felt like an unachievable dream, to a full-blown, immersive, and not to mention, well-attended, affair.
A Year-and-a-Half Before
We first toured the Africa Center, a half-built concrete behemoth at the northern tip of Central Park in the summer of 2016. The space is imposing and very, very raw. No heating, no plumbing, nothing but a blank canvas that sparked our imaginations. Whereas most spaces we discover are only available for a few nights, the Africa Center graciously offered us as many nights as we’d like. We knew there was something there, but it wasn’t until over a year later that we realized the Africa Center, with its four stories, concrete balconies, and tucked-away nooks and crannies, would be the perfect spot for Secret Supper: The Musical, a show about an idyllic Spring Street dinner in a classically raw space. It just felt right.
Four Weeks Before
We called up director Andrew Neisler and playwright T. Adamson, whose visionary prowess and word wizardry, respectively, we’d relied on for 2015’s Mermaiden play, and singer/songwriters Alex Thrailkill and Jeanna Phillipps, whose musical talents we just love to show off any opportunity we’ve got. “We’re thinking of making a meta version of one of our dinners in musical theatre form. A play about social anxiety, but with dancing waiters, too!” “And we want to do it in four weeks.” Four weeks is very little time to pull something like this off, which only speaks to the incredible creative prowess and work ethic of Andrew, T., Alex, and Jeanna, who barely batted an eye before disappearing into a creative black hole. Just two (!) weeks later, we had not any old script, music, and lyrics, but a perfect script, music, and lyrics that captured the pure, undistilled spirit of Spring Street Social Society. The tandem effort was truly apparent in the smooth transitions between scenes and songs, words and tunes.
Two Weeks Before
The plan was for this musical to emulate a typical Secret Supper experience, which necessitated a chef, stylist, and production designer. We knew Chef Daniel Eddy, of Michelin-starred Rebelle fame, was the one for us when we discovered his musical theater background. He immediately got what we were trying to do, and that’s important when what you’re trying to do hasn’t exactly been done before. Daniel let the script guide his menu creation, which became apparent in the hearty, heart-warming dishes that ended up coming out of his kitchen.
We’re fortunate in that so many of our collaborators are multitalented; take, for example, actor and freelance stylist Nikki Pettus, who put together the most perfectly dichotomous floral arrangements and table settings. Or theatrical scenic designer and production manager Christopher Bowser, who is so familiar with Spring Street events he was able to accomplish scenic and lighting design and handle production logistics, all with a wink and a smile. Talent begets talent, so once we had the core crew, everyone -- and everything -- just fell into place. Between the director, the composers, and the production manager, we ended up with a full cast of actors, musicians, and technical theater people. Which is crazy, when you think about it: we had some of the most talented and dedicated people at the top of their industries, all available at the same time. That type of serendipitous timing was also a welcome reminder that we were on the right track, in those rare, but inevitable, few moments where we just felt like “oh dear lord, what have we gotten ourselves into?!”
One Week Before Opening
Our choreographer Ben Hobbs led not just the cast but also the Spring Street staff in rehearsals, including a fun Britney Spears dance number during two of the courses which had all the “waiters” filling the family-style tables with Staub dishware full of roasted mushrooms and fall squash, and a rollerskating bit. While most of our staff has some sort of theatrical background, there were a brave few who jumped right into the creative process; we were so grateful and humbled by everyone’s trust in our vision, and willingness to hop on board and participate.
The cast was comprised of professional actors/singers (or singing actors, depending on how you look at it) with whom we’d worked with before: Ronald Peet, Molly McAdoo, Preston Martin, Emma Tattenbaum-Fine, Audrey Hailes (with Kim Blanck as understudy). Since the musical is about our internal and external presentations of the self, it’s worth mentioning that Ronald has a Sam Cooke cover band, Molly has sung in a plethora of bands, Preston is a director with a host of international shows, Emma is a writer and comedienne, Audrey is a choreographer, and Kim is a writer, as well. These fine folk memorized all their lines and lyrics, took all the cues and made it their own, in under two weeks. What happened next did blow our minds.
The Night Before
The tables were set, the cast in costume (outfitted by designer Heather Barton), the instruments tuned. We invited all our friends, ordered pizza, and did a full run through of the production. Our audience, mainly all with theatrical backgrounds themselves, sat in full attention, later exclaiming it was theatre unlike any they’d seen before. And we realized that’s what we’d been going for all along, wrapping people up in our world with relatable stories, hum-along songs, a beautiful space, and, of course, a secret supper.
Guests gathered in the November chill, walking past the door with the goat sticker and into the space we’d taken over and made our own, with flowers exploding out of trash cans and walls plastered with bills. Amy sang into her mic chic while Patrick directed staff in finishing set up. The chef greeted guests as they passed his station, grabbing snacks, and the bar was stocked with Brooklyn Gin. As the room filled and the doors closes, we took a deep breath and leapt into the biggest thing we’d attempted to date.