Interview: In ‘All Together Now!,’ ‘Glee’ star will sing live in public for the first time in 10 years
Chris Colfer was worried about Good Company Players.
It was the dark days of the pandemic, and the “Glee” star and best-selling children’s book author knew that community theaters were struggling. He wondered about GCP, where he had performed as a child in both the Junior Company and in several mainstage shows, and how it was holding up financially during a time when live theater was shut down across the country.
So Colfer decided to do something about it.
“I reached out to Dan Pessano (the company’s managing director) and said, ‘When the theater reopens, if there’s anything I could possibly do to drum up some excitement and drum up some sales, please call me.’ And he did.”
Related story: ROARING BACK: CHRIS COLFER IS RETURNING TO FRESNO TO HELP GOOD COMPANY CELEBRATE A BUSY NOVEMBER
At about the same time, the mega music publisher MTI (Music Theatre International) announced plans for a special performance weekend during which community theaters can perform a lineup of well-known musical-theater songs without having to pay royalties or licensing fees. Titled “All Together Now!,” the idea is to help local theaters bounce back in terms of revenue and visibility.
It turned out to be a perfect opportunity for Colfer to appear with the company. He will emcee and perform in the gala production (7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14) at Shaghoian Hall, along with a lineup of GCP all-star performers.
“I had no idea what ‘All Together Now!’ was,” Colfer told me in a phone interview earlier this week. “I think it’s a really incredible gesture from Music Theatre International to do this for small theaters.”
Incidentally, Children’s Musical Theaterworks — another company that contributed to Colfer’s early theater education, when he starred in the 2003 production of “Oliver” as the Artful Dodger — is also performing a variation of “All Together Now!” on a different night (Saturday, Nov. 13, at Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium) as a fundraiser, but because it is a customizable program, it likely will be a different lineup of songs.)
For Colfer, this GCP appearance is actually quite a monumental one for him.
He will kick off the show with a version of “Pure Imagination” from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” And there will be a surprise song from him later in the show.
“This is the first time I’ll be singing live in over a decade,” he says.
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Over the years, Colfer has been candid about the bullying he experienced growing up in Clovis, particularly during middle school. It wasn’t easy for him.
“I think for a lot of people growing up in this valley, in very conservative areas, it sometimes wasn’t the easiest place to be, especially for an LGBT kid or a sensitive kid like I was.”
Thank goodness he had a place to be.
“For me, local theater was always a safe haven, a sanctuary where I was allowed to grow and explore my talents and be part of a family,” he says. “They really gave me the tools and the training and the discipline that I think have been the secrets to mine and so many other people’s success.
Much is made of the “performing arts boot camp” feel of the Junior Company, the hard-working troupe of child and teen actors who perform pre-show musical numbers at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Rules are strict. Call times are rigid. Expectations are high. The eight-week runs are long and demanding.
“It really taught me how to be professional. When I first started ‘Glee,’ one thing that people would always ask me is, ‘How are you so professional with no professional experience?’ And I would say, ‘Well, because I was in the Junior Company.’ You know, a Good Company Players run can last longer than a lot of Broadway shows.”
He was nervous for his first GCP audition — and had no idea if he was even going to make it. He sang “Supper Time” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Laurie Pessano, GCP’s creative director and an important adult in Colfer’s childhood, was there.
“I had forgotten to tell the pianist what key I needed to sing it in, and so she started playing it in a key that I was not used to, and I panicked. And so, Laurie stopped the song and did vocal scales with me to see what my range was. And, anyway, I got a part in it.”
From 2001 to 2004 he did about 20 Juniors and mainstage for GCP. One of his first shows at 2nd Space Theatre was “My Heart’s in the Highlands.” (He remembers that on opening night, his character had a jar of marbles and spilled them all over the stage.)
The pink bunny suit figures prominently into memories of playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” — his biggest claim to fame in Fresno, he says with a laugh. (And also the iconic BB gun and how nervous the audience would get when he aimed it at them.)
Another fond memory comes from an offstage endeavor. When the company announced it would be performing “Beauty and the Beast,” Colfer made a model of what he thought the set should look like. When Pessano heard about the model, he invited Colfer into his office to look at and discuss the model — “it was two hours,” Colfer says — and Pessano offered him an internship in the set shop.
“And I was very excited. But I was there for about like, maybe five minutes before I realized that all the carpentry and hammering was not for me.”
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On the phone, Colfer is obviously excited about the Sunday concert. He’s been working with Laurie Pessano on the script for the show. (She calls him “fun and smart.”) As the date nears, the anticipation is building.
“I’m sure the last week I’ve annoyed my boyfriend to the edge because I’ve been pulling up old pictures and going on the (GCP) website and scrolling through their timeline of shows, and like, giving them all these stories — Oh my god, that’s the production Carol Channing came to visit us. That’s when Tracy Jones fell off the stage. I mean, I’m very excited to be going back.”
(I tell him that Jones just finished up a hilarious run as the grandma in “The Addams Family.” He replies: “I’m so bummed I missed it!”)
Colfer usually makes it up to visit the Fresno area from Southern California, where he now lives, three or four times a year for family celebrations — birthdays and what not.
I’m very excited to be hosting and performing in a benefit for the @GCPlayers this Sunday, November 14th in Fresno, CA. For tickets visit https://t.co/cinoMFDH2w or to watch the livestream visit https://t.co/tnrtZk2N0V 🎭 pic.twitter.com/B1B9eShKb0
— Chris Colfer (@chriscolfer) November 8, 2021
“All Together Now!” will be the first time he has performed live in the Fresno-Clovis area since he starred in “Grease” at Clovis East High School in 2008, during his senior year.
With the passage of time, it’s become easier in recent years to return to his hometown.
“Growing up in Clovis — and I’ve been very honest about this over the years — was really difficult and challenging,” he says. “And I’ve heard that the challenges that I faced when I was younger aren’t as prominent anymore, and I’m really happy to hear that.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the place that Good Company Players holds in the hearts of the theater community. The pandemic was tough, no doubt about it, and I’m sure there were more than a few times that even the Pessanos wondered if it would be worth it — or even possible — to keep it all together.
Sunday night is a statement, just as “All Together Now!” will be a statement heard at hundreds of theaters this weekend across the country. And, because of Colfer’s involvement, around the world. GCP is streaming the performance live, and thanks to Colfer publicizing the show on his Twitter feed, fans are planning watch parties in Brazil, London and other locations. (If you’re out of town, you can buy a streaming ticket here.)
“I think it’s going to be a really, really special night,” he says. I know that I have obsessively been practicing my songs all day every day because I’m so nervous about singing live again. You don’t get many opportunities to celebrate and benefit something as special as Good Company Players, and I’m just very honored and touched to be part of it.”