The two questions people ask me most about theater are: “How much work does it take to put on a show?” and “Does anyone really go to the theater in Lincoln?” To answer both those questions, I figured my best bet was to visit the annual musical at Pinewood Bowl.
Going strong for 70 years, Pinewood Bowl, Inc. brings a big, spectacular musical to life in Lincoln every summer. This year’s offering, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, has been in the making for over a year and will bring enormous crowds out for nights of family-friendly fun. A small audience at Pinewood Bowl is about 1,000 people, while their biggest nights can bring over 3,000. So, yes, people really go to the theater in Lincoln!
Walking onto the stage at Pinewood Bowl was like walking onto the field at Memorial Stadium for this theater geek. I was lucky enough to visit after the cast had laid the wooden floor, which has to be done every year to cover the permanent concrete stage. The lights were already hung, which is done by a professional traveling crew that had just finished unloading all their light and sound equipment.
This crew has worked the Pinewood show for several years, but they usually do big rock concerts. They, of course, are paid professionals, but the rest of the production is done with the help of dozens of volunteers and only five full-time staff.
One of those full-time staff members is Artistic Director Courtney Piccoli, who has been involved with Pinewood for 23 years, and is directing/choreographing for the 14th time. She was kind enough to walk me through the process, which begins over a year before opening night.
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In January 2018, the musical selection committee narrowed the field down to five possibilities. The full board of Pinewood Bowl, Inc. voted for "Beauty and the Beast" in March. They announced that selection last year, when they opened "Legally Blonde." Auditions took place in late March and early April, at which time they got a jump on costuming by taking measurements of all the auditioners. Rehearsals started in mid-May and are held from 6-10 PM five times a week, culminating in eight performances in mid- to late July.
This year’s cast is relatively small for a Pinewood show, with only 42 cast members. According to Piccoli, this was a strategic decision, because the shows have attracted many pre-professional actors who can learn more about their craft in a smaller group. They are able to have more detailed rehearsals and costumes than if the cast was larger, hopefully allowing them to smoothly transition into careers in theater. If anyone can prepare them for it, it’s Piccoli, who believes she has “probably spent more time on this stage than any other human being.”
In addition to all the rehearsals, the cast volunteers their time to work on sets and anything else needed. Everyone’s favorite candlestick, Lumiere, played by Sam Ninegar, is in his fourth year, having found that this is the place in Lincoln to perform for the largest crowds, and also a place where the cast has real ownership of the show because they “build it from the ground up.” Caitie Cornelius, who is in the ensemble, is celebrating her twelfth year, saying “Once you’re out here, you just catch the bug.”
If you really want to see a show that required over a year of work and proof that Lincolnites attend theater, this is the show to see. Just remember to get there early, because there will be at least a thousand other people jostling for a good view!