The musical Quilters is being presented by Rockville Musical Theatre in partnership with the City of Gaithersburg at The Arts Barn. The show’s book is by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek with Music and Lyrics by Barbara Damashek. Quilters was originally developed and produced at the Denver Center Theatre Company.
This joyous and moving celebration of American Womanhood became a record-setting regional theater success before its presentations on Broadway and at the Edinburgh Festival. It even had a run at our very own Kennedy Center for seven weeks beginning August 4, 1984. Quilters opened on Broadway at the Jack Lawrence Theatre on September 25, 1984 and closed on October 14, 1984. The show was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
According to Dramatists Play Service, “Quilters blends a series of interrelated scenes into a rich mosaic which captures the sweep and beauty, the terror and joy, the harsh challenge and abiding rewards of frontier life. Illuminating stories contained in various patches or “blocks” with music, dance and drama, the action depicts the lot of women on the frontier: girlhood, marriage, childbirth, spinsterhood, twisters, fire, illness and death. But, with this, there is also love, warmth, rich and lively humor and the moving spectacle of simple human dignity and steadfastness in the face of adversity. In the end, when the various patches are assembled into one glorious, brilliantly colorful quilt, the effect is both breathtaking and magical—and a theatrical masterstroke which will linger in the mind and memory long after the house lights have dimmed.”
At the helm of this production is Director Paul Loebach, who is making his directorial debut. I was impressed how beautifully the show flowed. There is some serious subject matter represented in Quilters and he made some brave choices in tackling them.
Shari Seymour’s intricate and creative choreography was superb. A lot of the choreography is timed movement that has to be in sync. The cast had to handle various props during the choreography, which wasn’t easy. Kudos to Maizie Rocke for her properties design. There was no shortage of items that were needed and used throughout the show. One of the most interesting was the life sized log used during “Every Log in my House.”
The set design by Maggie Modig was simple, yet beautiful. She used a windmill, fences, straw, and my favorite a wood burning stove that accurately depicted the pioneer women. The costume design by Sandy Eggleston was so colorful. I loved her use of vibrant purples, pinks, blues, and golds for all the women’s dresses. Something as simple as a hat was used when the women depicted various men in the show. The lighting design by Rick Swink was quite soothing to the eye.
The music director, conductor, and pianist is the masterful Marci Shegogue. Her music direction as well as the extremely talented, all-acoustic five-piece orchestra makes the show worth seeing and hearing alone. She insisted that this be a collaborative effort between the cast and orchestra.
Cast members Zoe Alexandratos, Megan Evans, and Maisie Rocke played the guitar, flute, and pennywhistle at points during the show. The sound design and effects were handled by the cast and orchestra themselves all acoustically.
I spoke with Marci to ask “What’s that sound?” She told me they utilized such unorthodox items as an old icebox, piano strings, spoons, the inside of a piano, a washboard, homemade slapstick, and a traditional Bodhran Irish Drum. Their voices created the wind sounds. To top it off, the cellist used his wedding ring to play percussion on his cello.
The vocals consist of extremely difficult seven-part harmonies at times. The ladies sounded gorgeous and blended well together. One of my favorite numbers that showcased three-part harmony was “Never Grow Old,” sung by Alexandratos, Evans, and Templeton. The rest of the cast joins the song a bit later. Leah Kocsis will take over the reigns conducting and playing piano the weekend of April 8-10th.
Quilters is co-produced by Lee Michele Rosenthal and Teri Allred. I can’t leave out the fact that Lee also crafted each of the patterns for the pieces and hand-stitched two copies of each block for the spectacular quilt. Each block is used individually to describe every part of the story. Then there’s the completed quilt at the end of the show. Lee started working on the design and creating the quilt last December. That’s real love and dedication right there. The end product was stunning.
The cast is comprised of seven pioneer women. The backbone of the group is Sarah McKendree Bonham, played flawlessly by Liz Weber. She’s the mother and has six daughters. You immediately feel her warmth, love, and dedication to her daughters as well as her passion for quilting with her portrayal. Sarah is such a dominant figure and Liz captures that trait extremely well. She adds a bit of humor too. Not only is her acting impressive, but her vocals match it.
The remaining six actresses who portray Sarah’s daughters are: Zoe Alexandratos, Megan Evans, Valerie Hubert, Maisie Irene Rocke, Hillary Templeton, and Amy Winter. There are over ninety characters played by all seven actresses, which is quite daunting. Each of them had their own moments to shine. Alexandratos sings beautifully in “Quiltin’ and Dreamin'” and “Double Wedding Rings.” Evans shows her vocal chops during “Little Babes” and “Thread the Needle.”
You hear Hubert’s pretty vocals during “Windmill.” Rocke plays the youngest daughter with a bit of naiveté and wonder that really works. Templeton has strong vocals on “Green Green” and has many comic relief monologues that had me cracking up with just her facial expressions. Winter sings “Butterfly” and shows her acting skills with a dramatic monologue. All seven actresses seamlessly work together as an ensemble.
If you want a unique night out at the theatre, look no further than this entertaining dramady. It shows what true life was like as a Pioneer Woman.
Rockville Musical Theatre’s Quilters is a real labor of love for the cast, crew, musicians, and production team. Don’t miss it! This wonderful cast and musicians deserve sold-out houses!
Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Quilters plays through April 17, 2016 at Rockville Musical Theatre and The City of Gaithersburg performing at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394, buy them at the box office, or purchase them online.