From the prohibition era to songs about spelling, the fall shows at Fairleigh Dickinson University showcase two drastically different styles.
This year marks the first time the Department of Visual and Performing Arts will have a musical in the fall, according to Lucinda Fisher, a senior theater arts major.
The musical selected is “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a 2005 Tony Award-winning musical comedy, and the play is a tense Tennessee Williams drama, “Orpheus Descending.”
Fisher said the fall musical is a spelling bee like no other, in which one character’s best friend is her dictionary, and one boy believes he has a magical foot that helps him spell. “Spelling Bee” is about exactly what it seems: a group of contestants in a countywide spelling bee … except with singing.
“Spelling Bee” was written by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin. The FDU production has a small cast of nine theater arts students, including sophomores Stephanie Windland, Ashley Seldon and Caitlyn Roper, and senior Tyler Morrill, and they are currently rehearsing every weeknight, Fisher said.
Stephen Hollis, the director of the theater program, said the musical comedy is about “the unlikeliest of heroes: a quirky yet charming cast of outsiders for whom a spelling bee is the one place where they can stand out and fit in at the same time.” Fisher said the show’s director is Cindy Thole, who teaches dance classes at FDU, and previously directed “Into the Woods” last spring.
Fisher said the department decided to include a fall musical rather than just one in the spring because of the addition of a musical theater concentration in the program. This change increased interest in the major, so more students, and particularly incoming freshmen, want to participate in the musicals, Fisher said.
“Because it’s a smaller program and it is in its beginning stages, I see a lot of potential for the future,” Fisher said, “and it will only get bigger and better from here since we now offer a musical theater concentration.”
Hollis is directing “Orpheus Descending,” which he said is “full of Tennessee Williams’ themes of sexual longings, unfulfilled desires and thwarted dreams,” though it is one of his more obscure works.
Fisher said the play stars Morrill and senior Amanda Hagar as a husband and wife who deal with marital tensions, as well as racial tensions, in Mississippi when a new man moves to town. Fisher plays a nurse who cares for the ailing husband.
“Gypsy” has been announced as the spring musical, with auditions and rehearsals beginning after winter break. The spring drama is to be announced.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” began Wednesday; it will run through Sunday and from Oct. 21 to 23 at Dreyfuss Theater. “Orpheus Descending” will run from Nov. 16 to 20. The price is $5 for students, and $10 for others.