As the applause swells, the stage door bursts open.
Women peel off to the right, running down the hallway behind the stage. Men hang a left toward the rehearsal room. Some are already taking off clothing as they come out the door, and a few dive into a little alcove behind the stage where changes of clothing await.
In It's a Grand Night for Singing, there is little time to take your bows.
Over its 23 years, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre's annual show tune and pop-song revue has evolved into a full-out song-and-dance extravaganza with full costumes and even some set piece changes that can make life backstage chaotic and confusing, particularly for the uninitiated.
It's an environment where you can expect to hear stage director Marc Schlackman on the intercom page someone saying, "We need you on stage immediately, if not sooner."
Some of the tale can be told in numbers. The show contains 29 musical numbers and 76 performers, including the children's chorus, but not including the orchestra. They share 27 body microphones and two handheld and wear 300 to 400 costumes over the course of the night, including laundry bins full of hats for numbers like One and Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army.
Keeping all of that straight is a job that falls to Schlackman, his crew, and costumer Susan Wigglesworth.
According to Schlackman and producer Everett McCorvey, the demands for costumes and microphones often dictate the flow of the show as much as the music and themes.
"Fortunately, our stage director, Peggy Stamps, is also an engineer," says Schlackman, the Opera Theatre's longtime stage director who has worked on Broadway and other venues. "So she makes up all these spreadsheets of where things need to be and when.
"That pacing of the show is dictated by the pacing backstage, and if someone forgets and keeps a microphone, it can wreck the evening."
Schlackman says he has had nights trying to locate missing microphones backstage during performances.
Most of the drama backstage on opening night centers around costume changes; performers sometimes have just a couple minutes to go from one outfit to another, if not less.
For McCorvey, it is another part of the educational experience he has tried to create with Grand Night, introducing students to the often chaotic life backstage in professional theaters that is masked by big smiles and seemingly effortless singing on stage.
That dynamic was exemplified in a popular YouTube clip from the Tony Awards earlier this month, showing Tony Award-winner Kelli O'Hara switching from a complex dress to an elaborate gown during the King and I performance in 47 seconds.
"That's what it's like," says choreographer Lyndy Franklin Smith, whose experience includes the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. "You either make it or you don't, and you'd better make it, because once the music starts, it doesn't stop."
There have been times, in rehearsal, performers have not made it.
"We have had people run off the stage in tears because their costume was coming off, because they didn't get dressed properly," Schlackman recalls.
Actors help each other, and they can get an assist from costumers Wigglesworth and Jan Masters Yon, stationed right outside the main stage door.
One of the bigger switcheroos of the evening is in the second act, between the numbers New Music and Transylvania Mania, both of which involve the majority of the cast. They are separated by one strategically placed number: I'm a Woman, which involves just four women. Singer Rachel Jarrard, one of the lead singers in Transylvania, runs through the stage door and, with Wigglesworth's help, quickly slips a gown over her head. On the floor sits a skirt she pulls up while costumers help get a blouse over her head. In a matter of seconds, she sprints back through the door.
While there aren't exactly naked people running around backstage, as you sometimes hear about on Broadway and other professional venues, McCorvey notes that students "learn there is a certain immodesty to the theater, that you just have to get used to."
He adds that performers in the show under age 16 are kept in a separate area from adult performers and come out only for their numbers. For some particularly fast changes, Wigglesworth has designed costumes with Velcro fasteners, so they can be torn away when the actor comes off stage to reveal another outfit, allowing them to immediately return.
Even when all goes well with costumes, microphones can present other problems, even if they don't get lost. Between June weather, stage lights and aerobic choreography, sweat can become a big issue for keeping the units in place. During intermission, sound personnel tell a number of actors to wipe down around their faces and ears with alcohol to get rid of any substances that make microphones hard to tape down.
If all does go well, performers will have a moment or two to wait in the wings for their cues.
It wasn't always like this. McCorvey recalls the biggest costume changes the first few Grand Nights involved men changing their tuxedo vests at intermission.
"All the ladies had one gown and there were microphones set up across the front of the stage," McCorvey says.
Over the years, costume changes and body microphones became more of the norm, leading to the backstage intensity. But, McCorvey says, just as the music in the production teaches students to diversify their musical arsenal, backstage gives them an idea of what to expect as they move into professional opera and musical theater settings.
Schlackman says, "They come out of it with a greater respect for what goes on backstage and how to handle it."