An old show on a new stage: NU Theatre does 'Anything Goes'
You've got to wonder what the ghost thinks about all of this.
That's the first question in my mind as I walk into NU's newly renovated Leary Theatre, in the brand new Elizabeth Ann Clune Center for the Arts. It's been hiding behind enormous backhoes and walls of construction fencing for the entire school year, and ever since I left the Theatre Department at the beginning of last year, I haven't been in the building much at all. My memories are still of the old Leary Theatre: uneven floors, cramped seats and the difficult-to-explain half-proscenium/half-thrust style stage.
That is worlds away from the theater that I walked into.
The door I went through opened into the backstage area, and after picking my way through what had been built so far of the set, I walked out on stage, facing the empty chairs as each of the actors and actresses would do in what was rapidly becoming only a matter of days.
It was mind-boggling.
The stage in the old Leary had been an odd combination of a proscenium and a thrust stage; the new stage is a classic picture-box proscenium stage. The seats are raked, very similarly to how the seats are arranged at the Theatre-at-the-Church, and the new seating arrangement boasts 134 chairs. The seats are also larger now, with two-foot wide cushions, which is wider than the average Broadway seat. The walls of the theater are a plush dark purple, as is the curtain. There's certainly no question of what color the eagles that fly at Niagara University are.
But what's almost as striking as the new theater itself is the lobby - the first thing patrons will see when they enter the Elizabeth Ann Clune Center for the Arts. With the walls a striking gray stone, and a brand new box office facility on the first floor, the new space sends all images of the old makeshift Leary lobby off into the gorge. When I visited, the construction didn't appear to be entirely finished yet - the old Commons on the Ridge has been turned into a patrons lobby, but it didn't seem to have anything in it yet - but even in its current state it is something that few could have envisioned from the pictures.
A few days after I first went to the new Leary, I had a chance to see one of the first dress rehearsals the cast of "Anything Goes!" had in its new theater. While the stage is rather small - probably not too much different from the other stage commonly used by the department - the cast makes full use of what they have. And it certainly is an impressive cast, especially in terms of size.
"Anything Goes!" is the show that the Theatre Department chose to open its new acting space with, and the production calls for the largest cast an NU stage has had since "Vincent in Heaven" back in 2006. The show was slated to run the weekends of April 29 - May 2 and May 6 - 9, but when tickets began selling out before families of cast members could get seats, an evening show on Wednesday, May 5, and a matinee on May 8 were added. Even with two more show times, tickets went fast.
The show's plot outlines one of the classic comedies in the history of drama. It takes place back in the mid-1930s on an ocean liner by the name of "American," traveling from the United States to England. The main character, if you can pick just one from several stand-out characters in the cast, is a stock broken by the name of Billy Crocker. Disobeying the wishes of his boss, Elisha Whitney, he stows away onboard the American to chase after the girl of his dreams, debutante Hope Harcourt.
With junior Geoffrey Redick and freshman Alan Trinca each playing the role of Crocker on separate nights, and freshman Kerisa Bonville playing Harcourt, the onstage chemistry between the actors is evident. Even though Trinca works as Redick's understudy, the junior has nothing but praise for his counterpart.
"We've all noticed a significant growth in Alan throughout this process as he uses this great opportunity to further his talent early in his theater career at Niagara. He's become far stronger over the time he's been in the role, and everyone else in the cast has the chance to strengthen their own skill set by learning to play their role off of two different actors in a lead part," Redick said.
Other important parts to be watched included Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, the British gentleman that Hope is engaged to be married to, and whom Billy hopes to shake off. Oakleigh is performed by senior Steven E. Sitzman, who brings a certain charm to a character who is quite evidently the comic relief.
"Evelyn, being from England, doesn't understand most of the expressions and anecdotes that the Americans use, which is the basis for most of the comedy produced by my character," Sitzman said.
After hearing many of the words and phrases the gentleman flubs (including "hotpants" and "step in it"), I am in complete agreement.
And in his quest to lead Evelyn away from his beloved Hope, Billy turns to none other than the girl who sings the title song itself, sexy nightclub singer-turned-evangelist Reno Sweeney. Playing the enigmatic Sweeney is senior Courtney Weather.
"Reno is outspoken, flashy and confident. For me, what resonates the most about her is that from an outside perspective she has it all: fame, fortune, looks, etc. But in reality, what she is really searching for is love," Weather says of her character.
Other characters to watch for are Moonface Martin, "Public Enemy #13 and a hapless gangster," as his actor junior Joe Liolos calls him; his sidekick and companion Erma (played by sophomore Erica Diederich); the four "Angels" that makeup Reno's entourage (played by sophomore Alicia Burning, seniors Jocelyn Hanson, Meghan Hinton and Sara Ball); and Whitney, played by freshman Michael Wachowiak. The entire feeling of the anticipation of opening night was summed up well by Burning, when asked what it was like working in the new theatre.
"Moving in and seeing the set, the lighting, costumes, and hearing the music is always a spectacle in itself, but having it be in the new theater was a spectacle in itself. In the back of our minds was the thought of, ˜We are the very first group in a line of many talented young people who will perform in the amazing new theater.'"
"Anything Goes" features the familiar tunes of "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," "I Get a Kick Out Of You," "You're the Top," and of course "Anything Goes."
Whether the theater ghost of lore likes it or not, the new stage means that from now on anything goes for the NU Theatre Department.