NACOGDOCHES, Texas – The musical/comedy “[title of show]” is set to take the stage April 20 through 23 in Kennedy Auditorium on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University. With music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and book by Hunter Bell, the production provides great growth opportunities for college students who are learning the intricacies of acting, singing and dancing at the same time, according to Kristen Blossom, assistant professor who teaches acting, voice and musical theatre at SFA and the musical’s director.
“[title of show]” is about Jeff and Hunter, two struggling writers, who hear about a new musical theatre festival. However, the deadline for submissions is a mere three weeks away. “[title of show]” follows their journey through the gauntlet of creative expression, and is, above all, a tribute to musical theatre and the joy of collaboration.
One of the standout features of this production is the use of mirrored choreography, where two actors perform choreography as if they are looking into their own reflection, with the other actor mirroring the other’s movements. This choreography concept adds depth and complexity to the performances, as the actors navigate their characters’ worries, insecurities and questions about working with each other in a song within the show.
Blossom explains, “The actors aren’t aware of the mirror; it’s just a choreography concept. It’s a challenge to ensure that the choreography matches the music, so that the actors can juggle three balls at the same time – singing, dancing and acting – without one aspect getting in the way of the other. But it’s all about finding the harmonious balance between the three elements and making it work seamlessly.”
The musical’s music, not an easy feat to tackle, has been expertly guided by music director Jay Teamer, a senior music education major from Lewisville. The complex harmonies and demanding vocal parts have been diligently taught to the actors, showcasing their talent and dedication to their craft.
The power of muscle memory is a crucial aspect of the production, Blossom said. Drawing from her own experience during undergraduate years, Blossom recounted a moment when she had to switch from a high soprano part to a mezzo part in a song, but had to continue performing the choreography for the original part. “That’s when I realized the true power of muscle memory,” she recalled.
Blossom said that her co-choreographer Heath McCormack, who is also a professional dancer and has spent time performing in New York City, has been “essential for me to bounce ideas off of throughout this process,” taking her requests to combine stage combat and choreography into an energetic and innovative routine.
One of the show songs, “Die, Vampire, Die,” has been an audience/fan favorite musical number in every mounting of the show since the original production debuted at NYMF (New York Musical [Theatre] Festival) in 2006. The character Susan explains: “A vampire is any person or thought that stands between you and your creative self-expression.”
“Personally, I have always identified with Susan – a role which is divinely sung by our cherubic Riley Spencer,” McCormack said. “Perhaps it is Susan’s dry, sardonic wit that tickles me, or maybe it is the similarities in our lives, but whatever the reason, the message in ‘Die, Vampire, Die’ is one to which every human being in the auditorium can relate. Everyone has been affected, in some way, by a metaphoric vampire.
“Has a person ever said something that made you doubt your own knowledge or capabilities?” McCormack asks. “Have you ever been criticized in a way that was not productive or helpful to you at all? Has a person ever been negative to you just for the sake of being negative? We have all experienced that sort of negativity, be it from another person or inside our own head. Thankfully, Susan teaches us how to take control over our own self-doubt, spot, and eliminate those confidence-draining ‘vampires.’
“Choreographing this number to tell the story in a fun and energetic way was intensely personal,” McCormack added. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to show my chops and showcase the amazing talents on stage in this show.”
The production of “[title of show]” is a collaborative effort, with the Blossom, McCormack, Teamer, stage manager Snyder O, and assistant director Maggie Jordan, all working in sync to bring the vision to life. “They all typically get the same idea at the same time, which is lovely,” Blossom said.
“We’re really excited about ‘[title of show]’ and getting the chance to introduce to our audience a show they might not be familiar with,” said Cleo House Jr., director of the SFA School of Theatre and Dance. “Musical theatre remains the most popular field of study for students and typically is the largest draw for audiences. This is why the SoTD’s commitment to musical theatre in the form of our upcoming new minor (beginning fall 2023) in musical theatre is so important. As students’ desire to study musical theatre increases, we are preparing to meet that need head-on through production and training.”
“[title of show]” performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 20 through 22, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23. General ticket prices are: adult, $15; senior (62+), $10; youth (high school and younger), $8; SFA faculty/staff, $8; non-SFA student, $8; and SFA student, $5. For ticketing information or to purchase tickets, call the Fine Arts Box Office at (936) 468-6407 or (888) 240-ARTS, or visit boxoffice.sfasu.edu. For information about the play, call (936) 468-4003 or visit sfasu.edu/theatre-dance.
For more information about SFA’s filmmaking program, contact the School of Art at (936) 468-4804.