The new theater looked a lot bigger when it was empty.
The people at Manatee Players have been anticipating having more backstage space than they could ever use when they moved into their new home in the gorgeous new Manatee Performing Arts Center.
But just a few days after they started rehearsing "Miss Saigon" in the new space, they were feeling cramped.
"We had this grand idea that we'd get this new theater and we'd have more space than we knew what to do with," artistic director Rick Kerby said. "But now that we're back there with the whole cast and all the costumes, we're already playing Rubik's cube. It's amazing how quickly all that space got filled up."
It's not that the space is small, by any standards. But "Miss Saigon" is a gargantuan show that not too many local theater companies would even dream of doing.
And Manatee Players wouldn't have dreamed of doing it until this week.
"There's no way we could have done this in the old theater," Kerby said.
The old theater is, of course, Manatee Players' historic Riverfront Theatre on old Main Street. And the fact that they couldn't have done a play as big as "Miss Saigon" there is one of the reasons Kerby wanted to stage it as the first show in the new space.
"It's a show that doesn't get done very often," he said. "It's nice to do something for our patrons that's not 'Oklahoma!' that they've seen 50 times."
He's certainly not slamming "Oklahoma!," but Miss Saigon is a different kind of show that's a technical challenge even for Broadway theaters.
"Miss Saigon" follows the plot of the Puccini opera "Madama Butterfly," but moves the action to Vietnam at the end of the conflict. In Act Two, a helicopter lands on stage. It's an impressive sight even when it's seen on the largest professional theaters in the world. In the relative intimacy of the Manatee Performing Arts Center it promises to be spectacular.
"It's a lot of smoke and mirrors," Kerby said. "I worked in Las Vegas for a few years, and lot of the things I learned out there doing theater and even magic, we're using them here. It's going to look like a real helicopter and it's going to feel like a real helicopter."
Of course, there's more to "Miss Saigon" than special effects.
The story of a 17-year-old Asian girl who falls in love with an American soldier who abandons her, is tragically romantic, and the music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, with lyrics by Alain Boublil, has beautiful moments.
"It's by the people who wrote 'Les Mis,' which is my absolute favorite, favorite show," said Holly Rizzo, the 16-year-old Manatee Players veteran who plays Kim, the Asian girl. "It's really a semi-opera, because there are no spoken words, and it's very challenging, emotionally, musically and dramatically."
Rehearsals are a challenge too, she said, because construction is still going on at the new theater.
"But we're going to be ready," she said. "The cast will definitely be ready."
As for the theater, which will be as much of draw as the play for this inaugural show, Rizzo predicts that will be a hit, too.
"Oh, it's so gorgeous,' she said. "We all just love it so much."
Details: March 28-April 14 at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W. Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ticket $26-$29. Information: www.manateeplayers.org, 941-748-5875
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919.