To say that the four principals of upstart production company FourFront Theatre are ambitious is a bit of an understatement.
The veteran actors of the local theater scene – Gary Rucker, Kelly Fouchi, and Megan and Lucas Harms — banded together a little less than a year ago with a mission to bring new popular off-Broadway and Broadway shows to New Orleans.
Within four months, they self-financed and opened their first play, a regional premiere of “Guttenberg! The Musical!” at Southern Rep Theatre, and followed it with the local premiere of “The History Boys” just two months later.
In April they will close out their first season with the regional premiere of “Altar Boyz” while gearing up for an even bigger sophomore season that promises six shows, including the local debut of a major Broadway musical on Le Petit Theatre’s main stage. (Hint: It’s not a done deal, but they’re hoping for a plus-size show set in 1960s Baltimore.)
The high-energy group has been on such a roll that they’ve only recently stopped to think about the pressures of pulling everything off.
“We got real sassy about (the lineup) and now we’ve got this mega season” planned, Fouchi says, her eyes widening. All four have full-time jobs separate from FourFront.
“Kelly and I were on the phone the other day saying: ‘Let’s just take a deep breath real quick and step back … Can we actually do this?” Rucker says.
Do it they must. That self-induced pressure to raise the bar high is what brought the group together in the first place.
They’ve all acted in productions across the city, with most starring in musical comedies. While they were passionate about the work, they felt they could be doing it bigger and better. They didn’t think local shows had to be the same classics performed year after year. Why couldn’t they be as fresh and crowd-pleasing as something playing in New York?
“We seemed to care so much more about the shows that we were doing than maybe the producers at the theaters we were working in,” Fouchi says
“We were just pouring our souls into these shows and nobody cared,” adds Rucker. “We were doing shows and not able to fully realize them artistically and put our names on them the way we wanted.”
The chance to do something on their own — with complete creative control — was a dream too good to pass up. They formed FourFront last spring and started planning shows. They scored a big coup when Southern Rep Artistic Director Aimée Hayes offered to lease space to the group as part of the City Series, an outreach program that supports local independent theater companies. The deal gave the group a viable first-season home.
Each FourFront principal brings different strengths to the table. Fouchi is the resident “musical theater girl” and choreographer. She owns her own dance studio in Harahan and is in charge of FourFront’s marketing.
Rucker is the experienced director, singer and actor. He spent three years as resident director at Rivertown Repertory Theatre and teaches acting at Tulane University. The Harms, who are married, have been acting in New Orleans for six years. Megan teaches elementary theater in Destrehan, while Lucas teaches theater at Hahnville High School.
The four make all their important decisions as a group, including selecting shows and hiring directors. They’re strict about running FourFront as a business first and not a vehicle to create plum parts for themselves.
“We went into it saying: ‘What do we need to pick that is going to sell?’” Megan says. The discipline also stems from the fact that the group has no investors. They started with money from their checking accounts and depend on ticket sales to fund all production costs. So far, they’re in the black.
For the first season, FourFront chose shows that were all new and whose rights they knew they could secure. As a professional production company that pays actors, the company has access to new shows that amateur theaters can’t get, such as the upcoming “Altar Boyz,” which is still running off-Broadway in New York. The show, scheduled April 10-19 at Southern Rep, is a musical comedy about a fictitious Christian boy-band that lampoons teen groups like the Backstreet Boys and Nsync.
“It’s hilarious,” Rucker says.
“I think it’s the show this season that is for everyone.”
The group plans to stick with musicals and comedies for its second season, which will be staged at both Le Chat Noir and Le Petit. The season will open with “My First Time,” a comedy about first sexual experiences. The show will star all FourFront principals and marks the first time the group has ever performed onstage at the same time.
Other shows planned include David Mamet’s “November,” the children’s show “Pinkalicious,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” and two other yet-to-be-announced musicals. One will be a major show that recently closed on Broadway, Rucker says.
He and his co-producers want FourFront to be the homegrown version of the old Saenger Theatre where people can buy tickets and expect to see the latest in New York theater, “Our goal is that if you didn’t see it on Broadway, this is the next best thing,” he says. “We want people to say: ‘Oh Fourfront is doing that – it’s going to be really good.’ ” •