It was the Friday before fall break, one week before opening night, the orchestra pit was empty, and it was tech weekend. Tensions may have been running high, but the cast was still smiling and talking anxiously about the Department of Performing Arts’ fall musical, “Of Thee I Sing,” which opens at the Greenberg Theatre this Friday.
“When you hear ‘1930s Gershwin musical,’ people form their own opinions in their heads,” said sophomore Anne Veal, stage manager for the show. “But a lot of the humor is relevant to today.”
AU’s production of “Of Thee I Sing” melds 1930s music with contemporary humor and flair.
“It’s a ‘30s presidential election satire usually done in election years,” said sophomore Sean Bartley, who plays the senator of Massachusetts and is an ensemble member in the musical.
There is an obvious reason why the DPA chose to do this musical - the election. However, many involved with the production agree that the show’s political aspect is not its only shining quality.
“This musical is very rarely done, except in election years,” Veal said. “This is a political school obviously, but [politics] is in no way its only selling point.”
Emily Formica, who plays the part of Miss Benson, agrees with Veal.
“Politics is more a secondary issue,” she said.
“Of Thee I Sing” debuted in 1931 at the Majestic Theatre in New York and was the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The musical follows the burgeoning political career of John P. Wintergreen, played by junior Ryan Nealy, who decides to nominate himself for the presidency on a whim.
To build his popularity, he runs on a “love” platform, hoping that Americans will love a man who shows his love for others. To further emphasize his campaign theme, a contest is held to find “Miss White House,” Wintergreen’s future first lady. However, trouble ensues when he falls in love with Mary Turner, the pageant coordinator, because of a certain food she can bake without a key ingredient.
Wintergreen’s quest to become “the romantic ideal of every man, woman and child in America” leads to some amusing antics, especially when it is publicized that Miss Devereaux, the scorned pageant winner, is the “illegitimate daughter of an illegitimate son of an illegitimate nephew of Napoleon.”
Even more comedy is provided by Michael Fulvio, a senior who plays the cast-aside vice presidential candidate, Throttlebottom.
“He is kind of the everyday American who is forgotten,” Fulvio said of his character.
Throttlebottom is the only character who has reservations about being in the political spotlight, but the National Campaign Committee silences his fears by telling him the truth (“No one will know!”), satirizing the practice of ignoring the vice president unless he actually becomes president.
The cast has had a great time putting together this musical.
“It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of singing,” said Jamie Fischer, an ensemble member.
And despite being set in the 1930s, the show mounts an all-out assault on the American way of life that is just as relevant today.
“Because of the time period, it’s more reserved, [but there’s still] sex, lies, and deceit,” Veal said. “And it’s funny as hell.”
The cast is composed not just of theater students, but of students from all different concentrations.
“We have SIS majors, business majors and math majors in the cast as well as theater majors and minors,” Veal said.
Bartley is a theater management major.
“Being on the main stage is required for my major, because it’s all about applying what you’ve learned,” he said. “You have to participate in it.”
Jeremy Knobel is a sophomore majoring in Communications, Law, Economics and Government, and political science.
“The show eats up a lot of study time, but it’s definitely worth it,” Knobel said. “Theater is a passion of mine.”
“Of Thee I Sing” is directed by Karl Kippola, professor of musical theater at AU who directed last spring’s “Kiss Me Kate.” The show will run at the Greenberg Theatre through Oct. 23. Get tickets by visiting american.tix.com or the box office, 4200 Wisconsin Ave., from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays or one hour prior to showtimes. Tickets cost $8 for the AU community and $15 for general admission.