“Lobby Hero” wasn’t George Popovich’s first choice to direct at Riverwalk Theatre.
“I was scheduled to direct ‘Sweeney Todd’ at Riverwalk in 2020,” he said. “COVID crushed that.”
When the theater sent out a call for small shows with minimal casts for this season, Popovich submitted the four-character, Kenneth Lonergan play.
“I love his dialogue,” Popovich said. “A friend of mine directed it at another theater, and it played rather well.”
When the meant-for-mature-audiences “Lobby Hero” starts a two-week run at Riverwalk on Feb. 10, it will be only the second live show on its main stage since the 2020 shutdown.
“Since Riverwalk had severely reduced the number of its shows for the ’21-’22 season, we had the whole place to ourselves,” Popovich said.
Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t unusual to have four different productions in various phases inside the theater.
“The rehearsal process was intimate and quiet,” he added. “We were the only ones in the building.”
“Lobby Hero” reunites Popovich with producer Laura Croff. He directed her in Peppermint Creek Theatre’s, “Shakespeare in Love.” Joe Dickson—who did the lighting for that play—is the lighting designer for “Lobby Hero.”
Popovich designed its set. “Couldn’t seem to find anyone else,” he said. Popovich had help from Riverwalk’s set crew—Leroy Cupp, Tom Ferris, Leon Green and Bob Nees. They worked with Popovich when he directed “Sweat” at Riverwalk in 2019.
“Working in the shop is pure Zen,” he said. “It is peaceful, productive and creative.”
“Lobby Hero” is set in the lobby of a deteriorating apartment building in New York City. Popovich described the set as “No Trump Tower with velvet and gold.” It features an authentic, swing-door elevator he is particularly proud of.
“Swing-door elevators are present in older apartments in New York City,” he said. “I did a lot of research on how these things work.”
Popovich, 72, has often designed scene, lighting, sound and effects for his shows. From 1985 to 2017, Popovich was the Director of Theatre at Dearborn’s Henry Ford College. He still teaches there part-time.
Popovich has directed several plays for the Community Theatre of Howell, where he resides. Since December, Popovich made the commute to Lansing for “Lobby Hero” rehearsals.
His familiarity with New York City helped him identify the kind of New Yorkers depicted in the play.
“Before COVID, I took many trips to the city,” Popovich said.
For the character-driven drama set in Manhattan, Rachel Daugherty, Ndegwa McCloud, Ayden Soupal and Andrew Stewart comprise the “punctual and hardworking” cast. For “Lobby Hero’s” four roles, 35 to 40 actors auditioned for the parts. Popovich said it was “quite a turnout.”
“Lobby Hero” deals with ethics and moral decisions—and universal issues that are still relevant.
“I have decided to keep the show set in 1999,” Popovich said. “I think the audience will be amazed how prescient Lonergan was.”
To Popovich, the Me Too Movement and consequential figures like Harvey Weinstein and George Floyd—and the outcomes they produced—are relatable the play.
“I’m not so sure we have improved as far as the social issues in the show are concerned,” Popovich said. “At least, not judging from the daily news.”
The most challenging part of doing this show?
“Trying to balance my input—notes, analysis, etc.—with giving the cast enough time to run the show,” he said. “I think I found the balance.”
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