"Wine Lovers" is a wine tasting musical.
What do you get when you combine Broadway actors, a touring musical and a wine-drinking audience? You get “Wine Lovers.”
“The show is the world’s first wine tasting musical,” said Holly-Anne Ruggiero, director and lead producer.
Over about 70 minutes, audience members drink six glasses of wine unique to the city or region the musical is in on that tour stop. That means no show is exactly the same.
“[The actors] have to learn new lines at each venue. Most venues work with local vineyards … we’ll write all the lines and the actors will learn them,” said Ruggiero. “What’s so wonderful about the show is it’s a full evening out since you’re getting the tasting and the musical, it’s perfect to pair with going to dinner before or afterward.”
The innovative theater production will kick-off its national tour in Saratoga Springs at Universal Preservation Hall from Aug.9 to the 21. The show already had successful, sold-out runs in New York City and New Orleans before Ruggiero (who worked on “Jersey Boys”) was tapped as director.
“We’re really excited about Saratoga,” said Ruggiero. “It starts a really unique dialogue amongst people because the nature of wine tasting is based in community, so people all start talking to each other. Halfway through the show the whole audience is interacting with each other and some go out for dinner after the show who didn’t know each other before. Saratoga is perfect because there are so many tourists and it’s the absolute best opportunity to bring all these people together for this one show.”
The musical is set up like a wine tasting and as the story moves along, the audience samples the wine right along with the actors. Broadway actors Kristy Cates from “Wicked,” Bryan McElroy from “Jersey Boys” and Jamie Wax from “Treme” make up the small cast.
“I think performers always want to be working on a show that they have a lot to do and the characters are really rich and that’s the case with this show,” said Ruggiero. “Performers very much like to be able to originate roles …they’re really originating these roles so whatever stamp they put on these roles, whoever plays them in the future will be a little in the show.”
The interactive aspect of the musical enhances the production, said Ruggiero.
“It’s a totally different experience … whether you choose it or not, there’s audience interaction because once people start drinking six glasses of wine, some [actors] tend to talk to the audience or feel like they’re more involved,” said Ruggiero.
Cates’ “claim to fame” so far has been her participation in the original “Wicked” on Broadway where she was the understudy for the lead role of Elphaba and went on to play her on the national tour and in the Chicago production. She said even though she hasn’t actually put on a “Wine Lovers” performance yet, the experience is already much different than traditional theater.
“In Broadway there’s so many more elements with costume and sets and sounds and sorts of stuff. Everything is bigger and more showy,” said Cates. “This show the audience is smaller, close to us and tasting the wine with us, so even though we don’t directly address them, it feels more intimate and interactive and just not something you get in a Broadway show at all.”
The nature of the production itself is also new.
“This is an educational piece too because truly as we learn about the wine, the audience is too so it’s a little more connected than a Broadway spectacular,” said Cates.
Her interest in “Wine Lovers” was sparked from her childhood in California where she was friends with the children of various winery owners.
“I’ve always been interested because I went to school there and was so surrounded by it,” said Cates. “I don’t understand how an audience could leave not loving this show, especially if they get to taste all this wine. It will leave them in a good mood.”
As is typical of the life of a professional actor, said Cates, she’s always juggling various roles, commercials, auditions or other work. This particular project is special, though.
“The role I’m doing is a lot of fun, a lot of personality and really well written,” said Cates. “The music is fun. I think it’s a great fun piece and all my friends say that it sounds awesome.”
The show is special to Ruggiero too because she had a big part in developing this adaptation.
“I’ve been there since he birth of this form of the show, which is really exciting for me. I love to come on board with something from the very beginning,” said Ruggiero. “I know the show inside and out and can get people really excited about it and really believe in the piece too.”
Ruggiero said “Wine Lovers” is a cheap way to escape the doldrums of everyday life.
“What’s so important about this show is right now, especially with the economy and unemployment, people really need an outlet to go and just enjoy themselves and this show really provides that,” said Ruggiero. The show is poised to make a huge mark on the theatrical world, said Ruggiero.
“It would be really cool to be able to say you were there for the first production if it explodes into something,” said Ruggiero.
For couples celebrating an anniversary or groups of 10 or more, Ruggiero said advance notice can get you written into the show.
“We love to do that for people and have had some very fun requests already,” said Ruggiero.
Tickets are $59 and available online at www.universalpreservationhall.com or www.wineloversthemusical.com. For group sales of 10 or more email firstname.lastname@example.org. Shows are at 7 p.m. and Universal Preservation Hall is located at 25 Washington St. in Saratoga Springs.