The Road to the Spring Musical, Second Installment

7 Feb 2018
ByXarissa Holdaway

Rehearsal dissolves into giggles again. The actors are working on a musical number, "Communist Rag," which is full of raunch and innuendo, and after a couple of hours no one can sing with a straight face anymore.

The raunchiness is essential to the plot. In this historical musical based on the 1937 production of The Cradle Will Rock, the cast's licentiousness is meant to show the audience what might have nudged Hazel Huffman, played by Sara Armstrong '18, to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about the subversive play being produced at the Mercury Theatre.

Students are doing much of the choreography work themselves. According to director Clare Mottola and and choreographer Ava Heller, the dancing should be unstylized and spontaneous, allowing the characters to revel in their freedom and sexuality.

The play, which was written by musical director William Norman, is being tweaked all the time. Dhari Noel, the assistant director and a teacher of ethics and performing arts at Fieldston, tells me, "That's the difference between doing a production of a show versus something new." Sometimes the actors will get new pages of the script or score emailed late the night before the rehearsal, and often their ideas end up changing the play itself.

Today, after a consultation with Heller and Mottola, the focus of the "Communist Rag" number shifts to Hazel, and other dancers draw her in while she tries to keep her distance. What started as a purely exuberant number about the Cradle cast blowing off steam now foreshadows the intervention of repressive political forces, as Hazel starts to sneak towards the wings. Heller says, "That's great! I want to hear from the dancers. I steal from them all the time."