When Molly Stricker (’17) and Aidan Cleary (’17) recognized the need for musical theater at Sarah Lawrence, they decided to form a club of their own. The Musical Theatre Collective started at the beginning of this semester and has already made waves on the college’s performing arts scene.
The production group does weekly workshops on Mondays in the Cannon Theatre to help students prepare songs for auditions or for the group’s monthly cabarets. The group is currently getting ready for next week, when they are set to put on their first musical production, Rodgers and Hamerstein’s Carousel.
Sticker, the co-artistic director of the collective and assistant director of Carousel, explained the importance of the group. “It’s really aiming to fill the holes in the theater department. The department doesn't do really any musical theater training. They do about one musical a year. From our experience it has usually been a workshop or an experimental musical, so not your mainstream kind of Broadway,” the aspiring theater director said.
The group has certainly made an impact on campus’ theater community, with over 20 students - both undergraduate and graduate - performing in the production of Carousel. Faculty member Bill Shullenberger also makes his stage debut as the Starkeeper. But aside from the production, the group has provided a safe haven for first year students still figuring out their way through college.
Ella Hartley (’20), assistant director of the collective’s cabarets and a part of Carousel’s ensemble, explained how integral the group has been to her first year at college. “I don't know what my first semester being here would be like without it,” she said. “It’s given me access to relationships with people that I wouldn’t have had.” Hartley also described how the group has helped her transition from high school to college. “I have been able to face those issues that I have had throughout the semester through musical theater and with the help of this community that has been created by Molly and Aiden. It’s the most important thing that I’m doing here so far.”
Carousel, which goes up December 9th and runs through the 11th in Open Space Theatre, is not a happy-go-lucky Rodgers and Hammerstein musical like Oklahoma. Rather, the show presents themes of abuse and death by centering on the tumultuous marriage of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan.
Stricker explained the musical choice: “Since it’s the first in this wave of heavy, real musicals that actually explore things in life, we thought it would be the perfect show to start our productions.”
In putting on Carousel, one of the biggest feats is furnishing the production with props: namely, as the title would suggest, a carousel. But the Sarah Lawrence production has a more bare-bones approach to the set, which lacks the structure. This staging limitation is partially due to the financial restraints of the collective; the student senate sponsored less than $5,000 for the organization.
Cleary, the co-artistic director of the collective and director of Carousel, discussed how the limited resources surprisingly allowed for more creativity. “We wanted to bring experimental theater to commercial theater and see if it would work,” he explained. “If you strip away all the big, fancy things, does the show still work? Is it the text or is it the money that makes the theater work? That is something both Molly and I are really interested in. For me, for Carousel, it’s the text.”
Even without the extravagant props, the Sarah Lawrence students pulled together a riveting show that showcased the musical talent that flourishes on this campus.
Jaela Cheeks-Lomax (’17), the powerhouse singer who plays the lead in Carousel, discussed her role as Julie Jordan: “What is really interesting about this show is that it is talking about something that is pretty revolutionary for the time period when Rogers and Hammerstein first wrote this. The show talks about a woman who is really in a predicament and in an abusive relationship, but really loves this man. It is really interesting to play a character like that.”
Caroline Burkhart (’19), the supporting actress who plays Carrie Pepperidge, talked about the process. “We started rehearsing two months ago, but I came in late to the process because I was in Macbeth. We started off with music rehearsals and then we did the blocking and now we are doing a bunch of runs, which is really great. I think we are ahead of the game with the runs."
Lomax and Burkhart are the definite showstoppers of Carousel. The actresses have goose-bump worthy vocal ranges, and each garner different emotional responses from the audience. Lomax embodies the love-torn woman, especially in the song “If I loved You.” Burkhart provides the much needed comic relief, which she pulls off masterfully with dynamic gestures and inflections in such songs as “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan and Mr. Snow.”
Other noteworthy players include Colin Magerle (‘18) as main character Billy Bigelow, and Evan Poe (‘20) in supporting role of Enoch Snow, each of whom make noteworthy male counterparts and deliver strong performances.Together the ensemble works harmoniously, as best showcased in the number, “Blow High, Blow Low.”
All in all, this is a well performed, dark but comedic musical and is an impressive first showing from the newly formed Musical Theatre Collective.
Tickets for the show are available on the Musical Theatre Collective’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/slcmtcollective/
Andrea Cantor ‘17