West Side Story

JUNE 16-25
Buskirk-Chumley Theater

Randy’s Final Show


Cardinal’s founding artistic director leaving a lasting legacy

By Marcela Creps
June 11, 2017

Randy White, artistic director of Cardinal Stage Company, directs a group of young girls auditioning for the lead role of “Annie.” Photo by David Snodgress | Herald-Times.

As Cardinal Stage Company faces its final rehearsals of “West Side Story” before the musical opens, one thing is unclear. Director Randy White isn’t sure when, or if, he’ll ever direct another musical.

The founding and artistic director for Cardinal Stage Company will leave Bloomington soon and head to Chicago.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” White said.

Over the past 10 years, White has directed various types of plays, from large-scale musicals including “Les Miserables” and “The Wizard of Oz” to smaller musicals like “Next to Normal.”

Tina Stafford played the mother in “Next to Normal,” a rock musical with a small cast that manages to tell the story of a mother who struggles with her mental health. It was Stafford’s one and only performance with Cardinal.

The New York-based actress didn’t know what to expect when she first walked into rehearsals. “I think generally we talk about it like it’s the first day of school, and it really is, because we’re not sure what we’re going to be asked to do,” she said.

Despite not knowing what to expect, Stafford quickly realized she was in good hands.

“It’s when you walk in, and it’s someone like Randy who looks at you with love and humor and respect. And he brought you here because he respects you. It’s automatically a freeing experience, because you realize right away he has the respect for you that you have for a director, especially for someone you don’t know,” she said.


Photo by Chris Howell | Herald-Times

In the end, despite the difficulties of the music and the role, Stafford found comfort and joy in the work. Sometimes the work was draining and exhausting, but the end result was positive.


Looking back on the experience, Stafford appreciates that White takes chances.

“The first words that come into my mind are vision and bravery because, as I’ve only done one show with him, as I left, I could see that Cardinal Stage was taking on bigger and more impressive challenges than even ‘Next to Normal,’” Stafford said before naming off the larger musicals Cardinal has done over the past few years. “It takes a warrior to do that, someone who is not afraid, someone who has vision and sees what a community wants and needs.”

Sue Swaney, who has served as musical director for a number of Cardinal plays, has also seen White’s bravery. She said she’s always struck by White’s desire to drive everything forward.

“Everything has to move forward. Everything has purpose,” she said, adding that White will work a scene until everyone understands what they’re saying and why.

Swaney is currently working with White on “West Side Story,” where she marvels at his work with the young cast.

“Every detail is well thought out and drilled and has appoint. It always has a point. That is something in musical theater. It is something you can’t lose,” she said.

With such a young cast, Swaney said she is watching White as a teacher as well as a director. “He’s been saying things like ‘What happens when Rif comes in? The world changes. What happens when you see Tony? The world changes. Pay attention to how the world changes for you,’” Swaney said.

Swaney said that idea of seeing how the world changes is an interesting way to look at theater “and I think Randy really thinks that theater changes the world.”

While she’s enjoyed working as musical director, Swaney’s most challenging production with White was “Souvenir.” In that production, Swaney was on stage as the star.

“For me, the most challenging was ‘Souvenir’ because I’m not a good actor. I was way outside my comfort zone,” she said.

There were challenges, though. Since Swaney’s background is in music, she said White often tried to use musical terms to explain what she was to do. The problem: White used the terms incorrectly, which led to some wrong acting decisions on Swaney’s part.

“That was sort of funny,” she said.

That production led to some interesting acting exercises as well, but in the end, Swaney came out the other side relieved and more understanding of the acting challenges.

Swaney also found that some fundamental ideas White has about acting can translate into singing. “I didn’t understand about how much of acting is listening. In music, that’s certainly true, too. It’s what I would call chamber music, and that’s all about listening and paying attention.”

She also found an analogy that White uses works well in music lessons. “He talked about something I’ve used a lot actually in singing lessons, which is the idea of a line being like crossing the creek on stones. And you land a little bit on the stones in the creek, and you’ll arrive at the other bank. That’s a great analogy of how to read a line, but it’s also a great analogy on how to sing a line,” she said.

Swaney said that idea is basic, but following through can make a difference in the comprehension of the line. “It’s very important, I think, and I’ve used it again and again,” she said, adding that she and White tease each other about who came up with the idea first.

“I’m pretty sure he said it first,” Swaney admitted.

When looking for good traits in a director, Stafford said she values the ability to find and use her strengths as an actress. When she did “Next to Normal,” she was surprised by the amount of humor in it. With her comedy skills, she found White was able to recognize those traits and utilize them well.

“Humor is something I’m good at on stage. Even though it was quite serious, he wanted to make sure the moments of levity, in which there are many sprinkled throughout the story, that they were able to shine,” she said.

Stafford said White is the type of director who works with each actor’s strength.

“I could tell right away that that’s why he hired us. That’s who we are, and that’s what he allowed us to do in the rehearsals,” she said.

White said curiosity is important as a director. Wanting to understand and know more about what’s happening is important, as is having a sense of space and time.

“I think you have to have a good sense of space and time, because all directing is is controlling space and time,” he said. “The more I do it, the more I’m convinced that the difference between good directing and bad directing is the good director controls time on stage,” White said.

While White has produced plays with one actor as well as large cast musicals, he said inspiring actors is important if you want to stage a stellar production.

He said there are hundreds of ways to do that but “on some level, people have got to want to listen to you and believe in you and want to achieve with you what you’re trying to accomplish because if you’re not, then you’re never going to create great work.”