“Cinnamon, aluminum, linoleum, petroleum.”
Actors chanted the tongue-twister last week during a rehearsal at Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre, limbering up their mouths with exaggerated lip movement.
“I know you feel you look like a weirdo. That’s OK,” assistant music director Joanna Bryn Smith said, urging the group on to “bigger and harder” efforts during a second diction warm-up: “High roller, low roller, lower a roller.”
The cast is rehearsing an original musical called “National Pastime” that composer Al Tapper and author Tony Sportiello want to test on Wilkes-Barre audiences. The composer and author, both based in New York City, intend to take the show to Broadway, and the local cast is trying to hone its version to perfection.
“It’s so exciting to get a fresh slate,” director Christa Manning said. “There are no pre-conceptions for the audience.”
“If you’re singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ (from ‘Les Miserables’) everybody knows how fast you should sing it and how it’s supposed to sound. Here we have a chance to be really creative,” Bryn Smith agreed.
During a recent press conference, Little Theatre manager Walter Mitchell described the chance to put on a Broadway-bound show as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for thespians from the local community.
“I can’t tell you what an honor and privilege it is to get that phone call,” he said. “The same actors and technical people who did (Little Theatre’s production of) ‘Music Man’ or will do ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ are involved with this.”
The musical, as you might guess from its title, deals with the subject of baseball.
Set in Baker City, Iowa, in 1933, the play tells of radio-station staffers so desperate for ratings they broadcast the games of a fictional baseball team. The team is supposedly in Europe, so no one worries about fans not actually being able to attend a game. And the team never loses, which boosts the spirits of townsfolk and advertisers alike.
It’s not as if the radio-station manager is committing fraud, said Christopher LaFrance of Luzerne, who has that role. “He’s more like Robin Hood.”
So you’ll probably root for him to succeed.
Maybe you won’t like Karen Sloan so much. She’s the Chicago lawyer and part owner of the station who would like to see it sold.
“She’s mostly in it for herself,” said Deidre Lynch of Edwardsville, who has that part.
Complications arise when Life magazine hears about the team with a long winning streak and wants to do a story.
If you to find out what happens, the cast and crew invites you to attend any of 11 performances from Friday through Nov. 10.
The show is lots of fun, LaFrance said, listing as high points the sound-effects people who provide baseball noises at the radio station and the “out-of-this-world harmony” of three women who gather around a microphone to produce advertising jingles.
“We sing about Alka Seltzer,” Jesse McNatt of Kingston said with a laugh.
“And how you should shop at the general store,” Maureen Hozempa of Dallas added.
During the press conference in early October, writer Sportiello said he was thrilled about the size of the Little Theatre, which can easily hold more than 300 people. Real estate in Manhattan is so expensive, he said, he’d never find a similar hall there, which is one reason to use a smaller-city venue to try out the show and gauge audience reactions.
He’s also getting a lot of dedication from the local thespians.
Spend about 30 minutes at a rehearsal and you’ll realize Bill Ulichney spent his own money on a retro-looking phone the cast might use as a prop; Chelsea Huizing intends to dye her brown hair red to match some of the other singers; Jillian Kemmerer is dancing up a storm with a baby on board and Bryn Smith, who recently graduated from law school and found a job working for a judge in Belvidere, N.J., is commuting two-plus hours round trip to Wilkes-Barre for rehearsals.
“I love this place,” Bryn Smith said.
Mitchell understands and pointed out that’s the motivation for many in the realm of community theater.
Amateur doesn’t mean non-professional, he said. It means you love what you’re doing.