That voodoo that you do

If you’re at all interested in the local theater scene, and its heartening and hard-won Great Leap Forward of the last several years (think: AtticRep, the Classic Theatre, the scrappy Overtime, and the avant-mainstay Jump-Start), you probably already know who Tim Hedgepeth is. He directed the much-lauded production of Albee’s The Goat Or Who is Sylvia for AtticRep (of which he’s a founding member) as well as The History Boys for San Pedro Playhouse Cellar Theater, and teaches theater as adjunct professor at Trinity, Northwest Vista College, and Incarnate Word. Hedgepeth also performed brilliantly in Rick Frederick’s quirky and enchanting cabaret production of Gorey Stories at the McNay (where, incidentally, his longtime partner Rene Barilleaux serves as chief curator.)

Now, just in time for Mardi Gras, Hedgepeth’s mounting a big-ol’ musical, Fire on the Bayou, an original work by composer Tom Masinter and playwright Mark Leonard, at the Woodlawn Theatre. (The … Woodlawn? Yes, the Woodlawn). Though the production doesn’t open till Saturday, it has already received a Robert L.B. Tobin Award for Set Design and an Original Production Award from the Artist Foundation. Tim Hedgepeth’s pretty psyched about the whole thing. So are we.

So Fire on the Bayou is an original production for San Antonio?

It is, although there was a production of it about 10 years ago at SAC — Allan Ross directed it with a student cast. But Tom `Masinter, the composer` always wanted to do it again, was always anxious to do more. And when we decided to start our theater company, we were looking for a show that would suit our purposes. We didn’t want to cover the same ground as the `San Pedro` Playhouse or the `Vexler Theatre`, or some of these other theater companies are doing; we wanted to find our own niche and produce musicals.

What’s the name of your new theater company?

The Allegro Stage Company. Tom Masinter and I, after doing, oh, five or six musical revues, we decided let’s start doing our own full-length musicals. But, again, we didn’t want to double what other companies were doing, so we decided to do new musicals, or not so well-known or semi-forgotten American musicals from the mid-century. And Tom has really a lot of affection for Fire on the Bayou, and he should. What drew me to this show was the music. It’s a mashup of all these Louisiana `musical genres`: Cajun, zydeco, blues styles. It references these traditional styles while being, to a certain extent, very Broadway in its sound. But for this production we’ve got a five-member Cajun band — we’ve got the accordion, they’re all local and have known Tom for years. I’ve been hearing the cast sing with a piano for months, and hearing them with this band made my heart sing!

Why Louisiana? What draws you to that region?

Well, Rene `Hedgepeth’s partner` is from Louisiana.

Which town?

Lafayette. And we’ve spent time there over the years, and (laughs) if they’ll have me, I’ve sort of bought into that South Louisiana culture— it sings, it dances, they’ve got great food, it’s very sexy. And very spiritual. And Tom’s from there as well, Tom’s from New Orleans. So we decided to make this show the inaugural production of the Allegro.

And why the Woodlawn?

The Woodlawn has become our … well, we’ve got several benefactors circling the production. In many big cities, not just San Antonio, finding rehearsal and performance space is prohibitively expensive, and Jonathan Pennington at the the Woodlawn was willing to work within our budget. Also, I really love the sense of history there — I tell people that `the production will be` at the Woodlawn, and they say, “Oh! I used to watch movies there as a kid!” When I was in college `at Trinity University`, and being the young enthuiastic gay theater geek (laughs), I used to go catch all the Fred and Ginger, all the Fellini, all the wonderful old movies they showed upstairs.

When it was still a cinema?

Right. And you can feel the history in the space, which is so appropriate to this show.

So, without spoiler-ing anything, can you tell me a little something about the plot?

To synopsize this plot would be like writing Atlas Shrugged on a Post-it note (laughs). But in a nutshell … are you familiar with the legend of Marie Laveau?

Yes! The voodoo queen.

The voodoo queen! And without giving too much away, because the show really has some unexpected and interesting plot twists, Marie Laveau is called out of retirement to come to the aid of this sleepy little bayou town when a sinister con man shows up on the scene. So it eventually becomes good versus evil against a backdrop of romantic fantasy, with a lot of mystery, all set within the world of Mardi Gras. Lots of special, spooky, theatrical mysticism. We have an incredible cast portraying all this … Cassandra Small plays Marie Laveau, and she is a glorious force of nature. She actually played Marie the first time Allan directed it, over at SAC. She’s reprising her role, and she’s amazing. And Tom and Mark are very canny in how they’ve written it — `Marie Laveau` doesn’t make her entrance right away; they save her entrance and we build up to it —

Like Jaws!

(Laughs) Exactly! She’s a presence we feel, we know she’s there before we ever actually see her. Just like Jaws.

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