University of Kentucky theater department chair Nancy Jones notices something while students are onstage doing microphone checks at Tuesday's dress rehearsal of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The actors are looking up.
It's not a level that UK Theatre students often look to when performing on their home stage, UK's Guignol Theatre, which has one level of seating.
But for this production, UK Theatre is making its debut in the Lexington Opera House, with its 19th-century heritage, two balconies and more than 800 seats.
"It's so great that we get to do this big show on this big stage to the community in a year of such growth and a time of change for us," says Peter LaPrade, a sophomore who is playing the title role in the musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. "We've got a lot to sing about."
The big Opera House show represents a number of milestones for UK Theatre and the College of Fine Arts. Chief among them is the end of the first year of its musical theater certificate program, a collaborative effort of UK's theater and music departments.
"The certificate has created a way for me to graduate with that kind of credential that will really help us, all of us, in the business as we try to pursue careers," says Rachel Snyder, a junior who plays the narrator in Joseph.
For much of their histories, the theater and music schools have operated separately with only a little overlap, and the theater department has concentrated on acting training. But in recent years, the theater has made moves to broaden its training, including adding a dance minor.
"Coming from the School of Music side, I have to say the musical theater certificate is forcing a much-needed marriage between the theater department and the school of music," says Joseph music director Brock Terry.
It is as much about educating students as it is about putting on shows. Students and faculty say broader training is what students need going into today's highly competitive theater field.
"The pressure in contem porary theater is such that it's very difficult to think about having a professional career as an actor without an ability to sing. It's just not going to happen," says Joseph director Russell Henderson, a UK theater faculty member since 1985.
Dance instructor and Joseph choreographer Susie Thiel says, "It's just the nature of the beast now that you have to be able to do a little bit of everything well."
Musicals from UK are starting to become a regular part of the programming at the Opera House. UK Opera Theatre presented blockbuster productions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables the past two seasons. True to the spirit of the certificate program, several Joseph cast members were involved in Les Miz last October.
But Jones said the choice of show and some other advantages helped dictate the move to the Opera House for the theater program.
"I never really thought about it. I always thought, we've got a theater, so why go anywhere else?" Jones says. "But some of our designers, particularly Tony Hardin, have done a lot of work here. ... He really pitched the idea that it would be good for our students and it would give us a sort of different public persona."
As the program grows, getting off campus and into a higher-profile venue like the Opera House is a great way to raise awareness of UK Theatre. Jones says that already has showed up in ticket sales. UK Theatre usually attracts a strong walk-up audience, but hundreds of advance tickets have been sold for each of this weekend's four performances.
Of course, the show's name recognition helps, as does the involvement of students from Lexington Children's Theatre, who make up the show's children's choir.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which has been performed tens of thousands of times since it was first staged in the early 1970s, tells the story from the Book of Genesis of the dreamer Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers but eventually became one of the most powerful men in Egypt.
"This was the right show to do because of the size and the scope of it," Jones says of the biblical musical.
She isn't quite ready to make trips to the Opera House a regular thing. Next year, for instance, the spring musical will be Cabaret, which she says is better suited to the Guignol's more intimate setting. But she and others expect to be back.
"The Guignol, because we all live there, feels like doing a show in your backyard," Jones says. "This feels like the big time."