For David Hock, owner and executive producer of Scottsdale Musical Theater Company—which actually rehearses in Phoenix and performs in Tempe—it's all about the big shows.
“My whole thing is bringing Broadway's favorites back to life,” he says.
That explains why in just the past two years his theater company put on major shows like “The Producers,” “Hello Dolly,” “Gypsy” and, most recently, “My Fair Lady.”
Next up, SMTC will continue to fulfill Hock's mission with the 1950 Broadway hit “Guys and Dolls.” It runs Thursday-Sunday at Tempe Center for the Arts.
This tale of love and luck became an instant hit when first released, a very successful film in 1955 with Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, and it still sees regular revivals on Broadway and London's West End.
For theater-goers, it offers instantly recognizable names like Sky Masterson, Nathan Detroit, Sarah Brown and Miss Adelaide, and timeless tunes, such as “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” and “Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat.”
And, according to Hock, what you remember will be what you experience. When asked what tweaks he made to the 66-year-old musical, he responds, “No tweaks to it. I'm very traditional in that sense.”
“The audience is going to see and hear the show how it was originally done,” he continues. “We don't change the script or update the characters.” In other words, it will be “good old-fashioned Broadway.”
As a prime example, the costumes come from the musical's national tour. So do the large Broadway-style sets, which would be unwieldy in most locations.
Fortunately, Hock enthuses, Tempe Center for the Arts' massive 40-foot stage and sophisticated behind-the-scenes technology easily accommodate the sets and scene changes for a true Broadway experience.
In addition, TCA's layout allows Hock to bring in a 25-piece live orchestra to provide the score.
“When the orchestra starts playing (the overture), it's pretty cool,” he says.
The only “updated” element is choreography that takes advantage of the space. The more expansive routines are the work of Manhattan Dance Project founder, touring dance instructor and current Phoenix resident Bill Hotaling.
Hock counts on the highly traditional performance and Broadway-style production to draw his main demographic to the theater.
“With my audience, which is 50 to 75, it's certainly the nostalgia of the old-time musicals,” he reveals.
For instance, the 1955 movie might have been someone's first date, or in the past they saw the show on Broadway.
“I would think a lot them would have seen the Nathan Lane revival,” he says.
Overall, he estimates “80 percent of the audience would have seen the play or the movie.”
While he counts on that familiarity to attract an audience—and with “My Fair Lady” selling out TCA's 600-seat theater for every showing, he's apparently on to something—he also recognizes that it presents a major challenge.
As he explains, every audience member possesses the “sense memory” of another actor portraying each role, and they expect what they see and hear to match what they remember.
Hock, who also directs this production, works extensively with the actors to try and satisfy that “sense memory” for the audience while still making the songs their own. To meet that high bar, he gets plenty of help from East Valley actors and singers.
“I have found that the talent is better in the East Valley, unquestionably,” he says, talking about the company's move from the West Valley to East Valley three years ago. As to why that is, “I haven't figured that one out yet,” he admits.
He acknowledges that the proximity to Arizona State University likely plays a part, and he regularly pulls talent, musicians and crew from the students there.
Overall, he finds the change in venue, and the growth of a strongly East Valley audience, to be a positive move. It lets him continue to present the shows he loves, including upcoming performances of “West Side Story,” “Annie” and “Parade.”
As for attracting larger audiences, including younger theater-goers, he talked at length about the challenges, but in the end came to a very Zen conclusion.
“If I just put up the shows and let everyone know about them, they will eventually get there,” he said. “My only job is to make sure they like it.”