“Fascinating Rhythms” and “Demon Rum”: spring musical is one to remember

Photo by: Aaron Wu

From April 14–16, the PHS Spectacle Theater performed Joe DiPietro’s 2012 musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It in the PHS Performing Arts Center. The play, whose music is by Ira and George Gershwin and is based off the 1928 musical Oh, Kay! by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, tells the story of Jimmy Winter, an oft-married millionaire bachelor engaged to the high-society daughter of a senator in the age of jazz and prohibition. Throughout the musical, Jimmy Winter is confronted with a difficult decision and divergent passions. The play explores themes of love and the pressures of society through its dive into romance and marital rites in the American Gilded Age.

“My very first show here [at PHS] was Crazy for You [by Ken Ludwig], which utilized a lot of Cole Porter and George Gershwin tunes,” said Patricia Wray, drama teacher at PHS. “This musical exposes students to this great music and has been adapted to keep the Roaring Twenties setting with humor much more present tense, which is good, these kids get it.”

“We’ve never done anything like it before—[the musical’s] a lot of jazz, a lot of swing, a lot of old-school stuff,” said Scott Li ’16. “That’s why I think they chose it.”

On the other hand, Enrique Brown, the chief choreographer for the play, believes the musical’s success in New York was in large part due to its choreographic aesthetic. “The show has just recently closed on Broadway, and we thought the dance numbers were cute and fun,” said Brown.

“Teachers are very, very involved with the process. The music teachers like Mr. [Vincent] Metallo, Mr. [Robert] Loughran, and Ms. [Sarah Pelletier] kept the production together, along with the choreographer [Enrique Brown] and the drama teacher Ms. [Patricia Wray]” Li said. “Despite this, I think students are extremely involved in the musical. There are lots of times where I can approach Mr. Loughran about adding certain stylistic elements to a solo I’m playing. Students have lots of ways to contribute their ideas.”

One key challenge was finding time to rehearse the complete show. “It’s very difficult to keep such a large production together because there are so many mediums that need to be coordinated and synchronized to produce a palatable end product,” Li said.

“The most challenging thing has been getting everyone in the same room at the same time. Students are involved in a lot of activities. It wasn’t this way when I got here—people usually channeled into one thing that they did—they were the theater kids, etc. Now, from my point of view, people dabble more often than they actually commit,” Wray said.

Despite their different roles in the musical, everyone agreed that the choreography was the greatest challenge of the play. “My choreographer had to work his little feet off to get these students, many of whom were non-dancers, [dancing],” said Wray in regard to Brown. “He was here almost every day from the beginning. First he had to teach them the style, then the specific steps for the songs—and the songs can be really long.”

“It takes time to try to tell the story through the dance, and many of the songs are short, which make it difficult to express so much information in so little time,” said Brown, “It’s certainly a challenge.”

“We started off with the choreography for the songs in February, and stayed two to three hours every day after school learning a new song, running songs over and over again,” said Nick Pibl ’16, stage manager for the production.

Wray also agreed that the dances are stories in and of themselves. “We’re on the same page, in that we believe that the dances are stories. It’s not just — now we’re gonna dance. Now it’s part of the story. They’re dancing to distract. I hope that’s coming across.”

In the end though, the performers acknowledged that, despite the challenge, they’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning and mastering the works of Gershwin. “It’s just a great, fun, and energetic musical and working with the best from the band program, choir, and the orchestra combined is the best,” said Li. “In [“Someone to Watch Over Me”], I have a duet with the lead female, [Allison] Spann ’16. It’s wonderful to play along with her since the harmonies and chords are so clear and great.” “The greatest pleasure is creating material for them to have fun with and perform,” said Brown, “I’ll always remember all the people involved, they’re embedded in my memory.”

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