By Samantha Brandbergh
A presidential candidate holds a beauty pageant in which he gathers 24 of the most beautiful girls in the country to compete for his love. Sound familiar?
Not only does this emulate a particular candidate’s involvement with the Miss America pageant, but it is also the plot of Rider’s upcoming musical, “Of Thee I Sing,” which originated on Broadway in 1931. The production’s preview performance will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the Yvonne Theater.
Composed by the Gershwin brothers, “Of Thee I Sing” is a political comedy about John P. Wintergreen, a presidential candidate who decides to run on a one-word campaign of “love” after his popularity plummets.
Directed by assistant professor of theater Nathan Hurwitz, Rider’s version of the production will be a “concert version,” with an ensemble present on stage, reacting to moments along with the audience.
“It’s more of a Greek Chorus here; it’s a group of people who interject with their reactions, we don’t get to just leave stage,” said senior musical theater major Kate Tenenbaum. “We’re watching everything the audience is watching, and we’re reacting to it as much as any other character standing on stage would.”
Being a part of the ensemble has proven to be challenging, not only physically, but mentally, as well.
“Not only does it take a physical toll on your body to stand for four-hour rehearsals, it’s important that we stay engaged,” Tenenbaum said. “When we’re not singing, we’re not just standing there not paying attention, you are visible the entire show. It’s definitely been a learning process for us.”
The 80-person cast has presented challenges for Hurwitz, as well. Having never directed a show this large before, Hurwitz stressed the importance of staying focused.
He chose “Of Thee I Sing” as Rider’s fall musical in January, when the presidential candidates were not yet chosen, and the campaigns hadn’t gained massive amounts of media attention. Since then, the election has escalated, making political involvement among college students critical.
“I chose this show because I want people on this campus to get involved politically and I want to shake them up a little bit,” Hurwitz said. “This election has become so intense and bizarre in so many ways, and I think it’s more important now than ever to vote and get involved in this process. So it’s been a great show to work on.”
Tenenbaum reiterated this, as well, explaining that the main point of the production is “get out and vote” in a time when many may not because of disdain for the candidates.
“There’s a lot of people standing with the presidential campaign [saying], ‘Oh, if either one of them win, we’re doomed,’ but that’s not how we can view this situation; there are two candidates,” she said.
The promotional posters and stage for “Of Thee I Sing” contain images of Clinton and Trump, and the show itself will contain sly references to both of the candidates. The production will feature a narrator, Louisa Flaningam, a friend of Hurwitz and a Broadway actress who has run for political office.
“I think it’s important to have a narrator that wasn’t a student and lived in a different world to look at and comment on what’s going on onstage,” Hurwitz said.
Although many college students may view politics as a dull subject, both Hurwitz and Tenenbaum believe that “Of Thee I Sing” will open audience’s minds, and hopefully make them laugh a lot, too.
“It deals with politics in a way that sees it for what it is, it’s really funny,” Hurwitz said. “It was written 75 years ago, and the same bullshit that went on back then is going on now, but a little more amplified, a little worse. To put it in a distant time, 1931, and look at it is kinda funny.”
Tenenbaum emphasized this, saying that being involved in this musical has opened her eyes and hopes it opens the eyes of those in the audience.
“There’s nothing better than to raise awareness on a serious topic in a way that’s not too heavy,” she said. “In the end, our whole point is to get people out and vote. A vote not cast is one person not making a difference in this campaign right now.”
The musical will run Sept. 28 through Oct.2 in the Yvonne Theater. Tickets are available at the box office (609-896-7775) at $20 for students and seniors, and $25 for adults.
Published in the 9/28/16 edition.