MTG's homegrown stories about love and technology
Gregory F. Kuhnen--The Tech
Zanth (Chris Merkel '95) and Shannarah (Shan Shan Huang '00) sell products for GTX Industries in the act "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" in Weird Romance.
Musical Theatre Guild
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by David Spencer
Directed by Scott Gagnon
Kresge Little Theatre
April 18, 19 at 8:00 p.m.
Starring Sarah McDougal '00, Stacy Pruitt '99, Jake Yara '93, Chris Merkel '95, Shawn Kelly G, Cara Loughlin '97By Teresa Huang
MIT's Musical Theatre Guild has struck gold with its production of Weird Romance, an unusual musical featuring two completely separate one-act musicals that comment on love and human nature. Although each act is successfully produced and excellent by itself, the combination of them produces a powerful evening of entertainment.
The first act, subtitled "The Girl Who Was Plugged In," deals with a futuristic world where advertising has been made illegal. Companies like GTX, the eighth largest industrial firm in the world, deal with this new regulation by creating their own celebrities. Their strategy is to find relatively unattractive individuals with low self-esteem and transfer their consciousness into attractive, healthy, manufactured bodies. Their latest candidate is a bag lady named P. Burke (Sarah McDougal '00), who they transform into the beautiful celebrity Delphi (Stacy Pruitt '99). Eventually, Delphi falls in love with her guardian Paul (Shawn Kelly G), and she questions whether or not he would love her if he knew what she really was.
This act is marked by a compelling story and strong musical numbers. McDougal sings a beautiful ballad, entitled "Stop and See Me," in which she describes how her one wish in life is for people to notice her and not see through her. Also powerful is the duet "Worth It," in which Burke and Delphi wonder whether they should reveal the truth to Paul or continue living a lie. The music is emotionally charged as are the performances. Pruitt is compelling and real as Delphi. Both she and McDougal are terrific in their roles, generating both sympathy and pity from the audience.
Themes of vanity and its connection to love and fame are introduced and investigated in a meaningful and thoughtful fashion. Although the issues it deals with are dark, the music and the performances make it entertaining.
The second act, subtitled "Her Pilgrim Soul" is based on an episode of The Twilight Zone from the early 1980s. Interestingly enough, this act was originally written at MIT, a coincidence which the director and cast used to their advantage. Dr. Kevin Drayton (Chris Merkel '95) and his curious graduate student assistant Daniel Gaddis (Shawn Kelly G) have been working on a holographic chamber which can produce three-dimensional images from history that can move and talk. Kevin spends so much time at the lab on this project that he begins to neglect his own marriage to Carol (Shan Shan Huang '00).
Matters get worse when a three-dimensional image of a baby mysteriously appears in the holographic chamber one day. Unable to shut it down or figure out where it originated, Kevin and Daniel disregard it as a practical joke. The next morning, when they discover a little girl in the chamber, they realize something greater is at work. Nola (Cara Loughlin '97), the woman in the chamber, grows and matures at a very rapid rate into a grown woman who shares her life experiences with Kevin while Daniel tries to figure out who she is and why she's appeared in their lab. Nola died very early in life, but is connected to Kevin in a very special way, and she brings with her an important message about love and life which she passes on to him before her time with him ends.
This act also contains several strong performances. Loughlin skillfully portrays the hologram Nola, acting and singing entirely from within the holographic chamber. Chris Merkel '95 plays the workaholic researcher with true frustration, and Kelly gives a humorous performance as a graduate student with a perpetually questioning mind.
The highlight of this act was the holographic chamber which Nola inhabits, a special effect that was impressive and yet non-intrusive to the rest of the action. "Her Pilgrim Soul" is especially entertaining because it's close to home, and many of the jokes and references are related to MIT.
The director Scott Gagnon, who received his master of fine arts from Emerson College, says he was drawn to Weird Romance because it was much like the kind of work he likes to do anyway. "I've done Sondheim's Assassins and a number of other shows where my focus has always been with fame and with the price of fame and with the extents that people will go to be noticed and to be listened to." He also felt it was particularly appropriate that the musical be done at MIT because part of it was written to take place at MIT. "I couldn't think of a better place to be doing it. This is a show about MIT at MIT." With the help of the cast and crew, Gagnon added several new MIT references, which make the act especially familiar to an MIT student.
Having written the music for Little Shop of Horrors and a series of Disney movies including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Weird Romance is certainly one of Alan Menken's more obscure works. Nevertheless, the music is spectacular and the stories are so profound, it's a wonder the musical hasn't been more popular in the United States. The Musical Theatre Guild's production of the show is a triumph not only for Alan Menken, but for MIT. The musical's run here is certainly appropriate and should enlighten audiences to Menken's lesser known work and to the talent MTG can present. Weird Romance is an engaging production which should not be missed.