At first glance, Martha Banta wasn't convinced directing a musical such as "Rock of Ages" was the right kind of project for her to take on. A closer look, however, was all it took.
"I can be somewhat of a snob when it comes to this kind of theater, but I ended up laughing out loud when I read the script," said Banta, who is directing the national tour of the 2009 Broadway smash coming to Proctors for three shows Friday and Saturday. "I was delighted with how much I liked it. I wasn't expecting that much, but it has a lot of heart and some great rock and roll music."
This current production has been on the road since October, but Banta, a Lake George native and former co-founder of the Adirondack Theatre Festival, met with producers much earlier in 2018.
"They approached me and asked me if I would do this tour and I told them I would take a look at it," said Banta, who left the ATF in 2007 and moved to New York City year-round. "I had never seen a production before but it made me laugh out loud, and listening to the music took me back to my high school and college days. I started working on it, came up with a few new ideas and pitched it to the producers, and I guess they liked it."
The play is set in 1987 when Drew, an aspiring rock musician working as a busboy in a Hollywood hotel, falls in love with a young aspiring actress named Sherrie. The show opened on Broadway in April of 2009, was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and played 2,328 performances before heading out on its first tour in 2012. It was also turned into a Hollywood film in 2012, and featured songs by Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Styx and Journey, to name a few.
Anthony Nuccio plays Drew and Katie LaMark is Sherrie.
"It's been pretty much the same group and I'm very happy with what they've done," said Banta. "It's a proper musical, like 'Mamma Mia!' where the song comes along within the story, and it's all live. It's a great show for music fans, and it's also a great show for theater fans because you can have a lot of fun with the characters."
When Banta talks about "Mamma Mia!" she knows what she's talking about, having served as assistant director to the Broadway production and national tour.
"I did 'Mamma Mia!' for quite a while," said Banta. "The original director lived in London so I was in charge of keeping the show going and looking into how it was doing on tour. It ran for years and every year when the contracts were up we had to decide who we wanted to renew and also looking for new people and getting them to rehearsal."
When Banta and her husband Dave Turner left ATF a little more than 10 years ago, it didn't take her long to get plenty of work as a freelance director.
"I had been working down in the city at the New York Theater Workshop," said Banta. "When we started ATF during the summer of 1994 we had already been based in New York. We still had our lives in New York but ATF got to be such a job that we needed to be there beyond the summer to manage it the right way and to continue to see it grow. But what I always wanted to do was direct, and I have to say the work's been pretty steady. Some years are much busier than others, but I'm able to be flexible with my schedule and work around things."
While Banta doesn't typically follow a show that's on tour, she is going to be checking in on Schenectady with her husband and their 14-year-old son, Henry.
"The nice thing about having an ongoing show is that as director you have the time to work on other projects," said Banta. "I'm going to stop at Proctors because it's close to home. My mom still lives in Queensbury and four years ago we decided to get a place up here to use as our escape from New York."
Banta said she'll always feel a strong connection to the Capital Region, in particular the Glens Falls area and ATF.
"We're so happy that ATF has continued to grow and flourish," she said. "We started from nothing at a time when there wasn't much going on, and we feel like we helped change the face of Glens Falls. It went far beyond being just a mom and pop thing. It was happening all across the country; economic development of downtown through theater, and we're very proud to be a part of it."
ATF is still known for something Banta and Turner incorporated into their theater troupe; new plays, and it's something that remains a big part of Banta's career.
"I'm helping out down in New York with something called Theater Masters," said Banta. "It's an organization that helps new playwrights coming out of masters programs at various universities across the country. We bring them to New York and find a director to do a short play with their work. I love working with new playwrights. There's some great talent out there and it's very exciting to work with them."
'Rock of Ages'
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (April 19-20)
HOW MUCH: $75-$25
MORE INFO: Visit www.proctors.org or call (518) 346-6204