1880s on stage: Theater and Dance departments ‘make the ordinary extraordinary’
March 6, 2014
Swing yer partner ‘round ‘n ‘round, dosey doe and don’t let go!”
Smiling as he watches students rehearse, dance professor and choreographer Dr. Thom Cobb, renowned as “TC” to the SRU community, said he’s looking to create something magical.
The smell of freshly cut wood tickles at your nose upon entering the University Union’s Multi-Purpose Room (MPR). Viewing the set is something out of a storybook, with tree bark and trunks growing out of the set you’ll think you’ve stepped into the North Country Brewery.
“We’re turning the ordinary stuff into extraordinary magic,” Cobb said. “There’s no way to describe it other than magic.”
Cobb began traditional folk dancing about 45 years ago and he is excited to incorporate what he’s learned into the SRU Theatre and Dance department’s collaboration of The Robber Bridegroom. The show is based on the 1975 musical adapted from the 1942 novella by Eudora Welty and takes place in the fictitious town of Rodney, Mississippi in the 1800s.
“The music has a definite bluegrass feel,” Cobb said. “It reflects the rural setting of the show that we hope many people around this area can relate with.”
Cobb will be retiring in July after 36 years of teaching at SRU. He decided he wanted to end with a show that thoroughly wrapped up his career, he said.
He clutched his chest at the thought of his last show, “I am extremely grateful that the theater department asked me what I wanted to do,” Cobb said. “This is my fourth musical with Laura [Smiley] and she has really brought the characters to life.”
Theatre professor and director of The Robber Bridegroom, Dr. Laura Smiley said Cobb has wanted to do the show for a long time. She’s happy to work with him, but sad to see him go, she said.
“We’re all cogs in the wheel keeping it together and keeping it going,” Smiley said. “The show’s kind of unusual because there aren’t many bluegrass musicals but I think it’s pretty appropriate to Slippery Rock.”
Smiley said the ensemble had the most fun coming into character.
“Rather than viewing themselves as an ensemble, they’ve created back stories and have made up their own names,” Smiley said. “They all got on their smart phones to look up names from the 1800s to become the townspeople of Rodney Mississippi. The characters that own the inn in the show are the Bedletter family. It’s just silly things like that I think they had a lot of fun with.”
Working to also make the ordinary extraordinary is theatre professor and design director Dr. Gordon Phetteplace.
He created the backdrops for the show from his own photography.
“When I have spare time, which isn’t often I take nature pictures,” Phetteplace said. “I took these pictures at Moraine State Park. I went through hundreds of pictures I’ve taken over the years and chose these ones.”
Phetteplace said the backdrops were his way to communicate with the audience.
“I grew up in a rural setting and that was always important to me,” Phetteplace said. “I know it’s important to people around here so I did a lot of visual research and I really wanted to communicate that setting to people in the audience.”
Costume and make-up directors Rebecca Morrice and Tabbitha Isacco made many of the costumes from scratch with historical details and accuracy in mind, Morrice said.
“The history of the town is a little bit shady,” Morrice said. “There a lot of gowns for the character Rosamund. It was a challenge to coordinate a lot of her costumes because she changes clothes constantly.”
Morrice said she was also worried about Rosamund’s wig in the show.
“Wigs can make or break a show,” she said. “They can fall off, you just never know what will happen. The girl who plays Rosamund (Emily Daning) has short brown hair and we are putting a long blonde wig on her, but she looks like a Disney princess in it.”
Freshman art major Emily Daning, 19, said her character Rosamund seemed like a “spoiled brat” to her at first but then she realized her dynamitic qualities.
“She’s the daughter of a rich plantation owner with a stepmother who wants to kill her,” she said. “And she lies, a lot! But there is a lot of fire inside of her.”
Daning compared the show to The Princess Bride or Cinderella.
“Its very authentic and folksy. But the whole show is suspenseful. And there is a lot of risqué nudity,” she said wide-eyed.
Junior theater major Zachary Frye, 20, said he enjoyed coming into both sides of his character.
“The entire show asks the question ‘Who is Jamie?” Frye said. “He’s very suave and smooth talking.”
Frye’s character, Jamie Lockhart is the bandit of the woods and the thief of Rosamund’s heart. He saves Rosamund’s father, Clemment Musgrove played by Joe Karl, who then introduces Jamie Lockhart to Rosamund.
“I’m in a cape, so that’s a selling point,” Frye said laughing.
Throughout much of the suspense the cast can be seen square dancing and promenading, part of Cobb’s authentic choreography. Frye blushed when it came to his dance moves.
“I’m a not a very good dancer,” he joked. “Some of the steps took awhile to figure out but I think things have been worked out. There’s a lot of pressure because this is TC’s last show. So we really want to make this good for him.”
The Robber Bridegroom opens Friday March 7 in the University Union Multi-Purpose Room (MPR) at 7:30 p.m. with no show Saturday but a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. and a show at 7:30 in addition to shows Monday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 for students and $12 for general admission.