Rome wasn't built in a day, but four musicals were created in one. On Jan. 30, a documentary called One Night Stand will screen across the country, giving a behind-the-curtain look at four teams of writers, composers, directors and actors coming together to create and put on a brand-new show in 24 hours.
The 24 Hour Plays was founded in New York in 1995 by Tina Fallon, and is now a New York theater institution, with celebrity versions every year and affiliated events around the country. After hearing about the 24 Hour Plays at a holiday party, Elisabeth Sperling came to fellow director-producer Trish Dalton with the idea of creating a documentary to show the creative process behind it.
“The whole spirit of the event is that everyone does it for free,” says Dalton. “You're doing it for the love of theater, for putting on a show, for creativity.”
In the film's interviews, many cast members talk about how how they got their start in musical theater. “A lot of them said to us that [musical theater] is their favorite thing to do,” Sperling says, a fact that may come as a surprise to some fans who may not know that their favorite actor or actress from TV or film can even sing.
One actress who makes no secret of her limited singing ability is Rachel Dratch, probably best known from her stint on SNL, who agreed to the project because she had done the 24-Hour Plays before and thought she'd be mostly used for her comedic and improvisational talents rather than her vocal ones. “I figured I'd be singing, but maybe [just to] pop on as a character or something,” she says. “I didn't think I'd have some sort of solo and be under the spotlight.”
It also didn't help that she was paired with notable belters Mandy Gonzalez (Wicked) and Tracie Thoms (Rent). When asked if she'd ever do an overnight musical again, she laughingly replies, “Probably not. No, I don't know… It's just not so much in my wheelhouse. But sometimes I like just facing the fear. Now I feel like I faced it.” But despite her unease, she does admit she had fun.
For the audience, the fun comes in watching people who've never worked together have to not only come up with an idea but also commit to it, because there's simply no time to dwell on self-doubt. Then there are also the moments of panic as the actors get the wonderfully hilarious songs for the first time and struggle with memorizing their lines. And, finally, we get to see snippets of each of the four short musicals where some actors, such as Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), realize — while onstage — that maybe they don't have all their lines memorized.