PORTLAND—Many of us played with Barbies, G.I. Joes, and Star Wars action figures growing up, but one man has taken his love of this type of childhood play and combined it with his classical music training to produce elaborate, operatic miniature theater productions in Maine.
David Worobec, 31, who lives in Portland, is the one-man showmaster behind Tophat Productions. His specialty includes a wide repertoire of live miniature theater productions from iconic Broadway shows such as Camelot, Guys and Dolls, and South Pacific to name a few.
But, it’s his fascination with gothic horror that he’ll bring to stage with a live-streamed production of Jekyll & Hyde in conjunction with Mayo Street Arts in Portland at the end of October.
“As a kid, I was always a fan of that kind of classic Gothic literature and I still love it to this day,” he said.
Toy theater, according to Worobec dates back to the late 18th to the early 19th century as an art form in Europe.
“It was a way of formal parlor entertainment,” he said. “People would buy these paper and cardboard kits and set up a stage, playing out scenes and stories from whatever was popular at the time. For the past 50 years or so, toy theatre has made a comeback and there are toy theatre festivals done all over the world."
“It’s the way I played as a kid,” said Worobec. “I always loved acting out stories and I think when I first saw Phantom of the Opera, I became hooked at a young age. I had the whole score memorized. I was acting out the whole show with Star Wars figurines. I had a PVC figure of Snow White as the opera singer Christine in Phantom of the Opera. It was while watching me act out the show with her old dollhouse that my mom decided to make me a miniature theater.”
Worobec might have come to his gift early in life while playing, but miniature theater is only part of his talent. He is a classically-trained opera singer and a talented pianist. A graduate of the Boston Conservatory, top-shelf classical vocal performer, he plays live piano for parties, and also acts in theater productions.
For Jekyll & Hyde, the mini theatrical set comes from one of his childhood creations, which he has since used many times in his productions. Different stage sets have been revised and the figurines are sourced from multiple places, including custom-made creations he buys from eBay to pre-made 12-inch scale Victorian-era dolls.
His mother, Polly Plimpton not only builds the stages and sets, but also helps with creating costumes.
As an artist, Worobec, like so many others in his field has taken a big hit from the pandemic. Not only has it curtailed his own performances in theatrical shows, but it has also drastically impacted his miniature theater performances. Prior to March, 2020, he was doing live shows. How it worked was he’d stand behind a screen and hand manipulate the figurines around the stage, while voicing the characters. With pre-recorded orchestral music playing in the background he’d also sing every character's musical parts. A camera would be pointed at the mini stage, and then would be projected onto a bigger screen, which allowed the audience to see all the details of the characters, sets, and costumes.
“Audience members have told me after seeing one of my productions that with little subtle movements, along with the voices I give the characters, they are able to see the emotions of the scene,” he said. “It's all about suspension of disbelief,” he said.
Worobec said his Jekyll & Hyde is a slightly abridged adaptation of the Broadway musical by Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse, which is based on the classic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Some music cuts are made to help improve the dramatic tension and focus of the plot. “The first act of the musical is around an hour and 15 minutes; then we have an intermission, and the second act is around 50 minutes,” he said.
Jekyll & Hyde will be his second live-streamed performance throughMayo Street Arts where he also works part-time.
The performance will take place on October 30 at 7 p.m on the MSA Facebook page. The viewing is free but MSA recommends a donation toward the artists’ work.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org