Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals are like old friends to Wayne Bryan.
And presenting them in a concert format with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, the 30-year veteran producing artistic director of Music Theatre Wichita insists, is like seeing them in a new light.
“You get to speed through the show yet savor all of the music,” Bryan said. “It’s quite satisfying. It’s like visiting an old friend, where we get to skip through the ‘Who are you?’ and ‘How do I know you?’ and we get to the juicy stuff we love about each other.”
Two years after the symphony and MTW first collaborated with “Carousel,” they’ll join forces again next weekend to present another classic, “South Pacific.”
“We have such a good relationship with the Rodgers & Hammerstein office – Music Theatre Wichita does, and the symphony does – and it seemed a somewhat logical follow-up,” said Bryan, stage director of the collaboration.
The version used in the concert next weekend is the same that was produced at Carnegie Hall in 2005 and shown on PBS in 2006, featuring Reba McEntire, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Alec Baldwin.
Rather than the elaborate Music Theatre Wichita staging normally seen on the Century II stage every summer, there’s some suggestions of scenery, but with full costumes.
“It gives audiences a sense of the locales and the sense of scene and the ambience of 1940s island military base and what goes on there,” Bryan said.
The dialog is “shaved down,” Bryan said, “a bit abbreviated to get through how we get from song to song.”
The performance clocks in at about two hours, he said, rather than the three-plus for a fully staged “South Pacific.”
As they did two years ago in “Carousel,” singers from Butler County Community College will provide the chorus for “South Pacific.”
“This is more appropriate age-wise because so many of the service people drafted in World War II were quite young,” Bryan said.
Bryan, actress Anne Horak (who plays heroine Nellie Forbush) and actor Jeffrey Coon (who plays wealthy Emile de Becque) were interviewed last week in Nebraska, where they had a similar performance with the Omaha Symphony.
Horak, who began her professional career with MTW in 2016 with roles as Laurie in “Oklahoma!” and Billie in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” said she has performed several musicals in concert, but this is her first time in a lead role.
“I’m more used to a full-on productions,” she said, “but it’s really fun to work in this kind of scenario.”
Coon, a Philadelphia native, said he enjoys the challenge of a sped-up rehearsal process that comes with the concerts.
“It relies on you from day one, without sounding too actory-touchy-feely, to be emotionally present and honest and trying to be your best self to create these relationships as quickly as possible,” he said.
It’s appropriate for “South Pacific,” he said, where his character falls for Nellie rather quickly, even by musical theater standards.
“They form this really, really powerful life-altering relationship in a very short time,” he said.
Where most musicals put the instrumentalists in the orchestra pit, and maybe only number a dozen, the collaboration puts the 55-member symphony on stage, leaving room for the actors in the front.
“Instead of looking at the scenery or the light changes, you’re watching how the instruments and orchestration interplay with the story and the leading actors,” Bryan said. “It adds a new visual. It’s a lot of fun, I think.”
“Carousel” in 2017 cemented the relationship between Music Theatre Wichita and the Wichita Symphony, Bryan said. “We’re very good brother organizations in the (Century II) building,” he said.
Bryan said he gained new respect for Daniel Hege, the symphony’s conductor and musical director, after the last musical concert.
“It’s a different kind of animal when a conductor has to time the dialogue and transition music and make informed edits here and there,” Bryan said. “He keeps the evening rolling with good momentum but can still savor all the delicious nuances in the scenes and in the songs.”
Through the rehearsal process, Bryan learned that Hege has musical credits of his own, including playing the leading man in “Annie Get Your Gun.”
“He does have some bona fide musical theater in his bones,” Bryan said with a laugh.
‘SOUTH PACIFIC IN CONCERT’ BY WICHITA SYMPHONY AND MUSIC THEATRE WICHITA
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10
Where: Century II concert hall, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $85-$30, from wichitasymphony.org, by phone at 316-267-7658 or at the symphony box office