At the first rehearsal, I was confounded to see my fellow cast members taking notes. They had brought little notebooks and pencils with them--on the very first day!--and they were counting steps and asking questions. "Is that pause on the downbeat?" "Do we go up with the left hand or the right at the break--and should our fingers be clenched or free?" Each step every ensemble member took on that stage was already being "blocked," or choreographed. In the early years, no one paid attention to such details until at least three weeks in. But back then our volunteer directors mostly said things like, "You guys clump over here, and you other guys clump over there." No notes needed.
Sets and costumes also have become more elaborate, and the orchestra has evolved from the show's weakest link (a horn player once had to be removed during intermission) to one of its strongest. And once the troupe started to hire U-M musical theater students as directors, choreographers, and musical directors, the bar was raised again. For this production, director Quinn Strassel is most nervous about the part of the set that for logistical reasons cannot be put in place until dangerously late, probably not more than a week before opening night. This will be particularly challenging given its size--it's an entire ship, with various decks and levels and numerous doors--and the expected upheaval already has cast members murmuring.