Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This Friday night, the original musical, “We So Are Them” will be premiering in LPAC theater at 8 o’clock. The musical is directed and written by Katie Chamblee ’07 and Lauren Ianuzzi ’07, who also composed and arranged the music. The musical tells the tale of Mary Jo (Kathryn Ramey ’08) the most popular girl in the eighth grade who is secretly a science nerd and has been working for months on her master project: giving the powers of speech to a lab rat (Evan Buxbaum ’06). Mary Jo’s plans are complicated by the efforts of her “secret” friend Tabitha, the class nerd portrayed in all of her glory by Jackie Vitale ’09. Tabitha wants more than anything to be popular and sexy, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to get what she wants.
Echoing one of the song’s lyrics, “Nobody knows the real me,” Mary Jo is surrounded by a host of unforgettable, quirky characters from Girl Scout and Allergy Boy to the Popular Girls: Mindy, Cindy, and the popular-girl-wannabe Tindy. Each character has an outward, stereotypical persona and a secret self that his or her classmates never get the chance to see. Even Alistair the lab rat is faced with the conflict between his recently realized persona (due to Mary Jo’s experiments), of a “a curmudgeonly, middle aged, British aristocrat” and his identity as a lab rat.
The contrasts between the characterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s superficial, real, and desired personality, is one of the most appealing and human aspects of this play. Director Katie Chamblee explains, “We wanted the characters to be caricatures but still to be human.” Adds Lauren Ianuzzi, “All of the characters have embarrassing moments” in which their true persona is revealed, “for some, it’s a great moment,” for others, it reveals their deep-set insecurities. This is just one example of the balancing act that Chamblee and Ianuzzi undertook. Among the other challenges being creating characters who speak appropriately. “You can’t write a very sophisticated speech when you’re fifteen,” explains Chamblee.
One of the principle pleasures of the performance is the joy with which the actors have developed their characters. The cast is impressive for its size, however this doesn’t prevent the audience from getting to know the characters who each pack tremendous personality and have their own stories to tell. Says Mark Dlugash ’08, who plays Allergy Boy, of the large cast, “It’s great! There’s a joke every minute…. There’s so much to work with.” The actors have clearly become tremendously comfortable in their roles, having been encouraged by Chamblee and Ianuzzi to interact with one another in character. “It’s very individualized,” comments Evan Buxbaum ’06 who plays Alistair the rat and opens the show by introducing the musical as his story.
Ianuzzi’s musical scores draw largely from the sounds of pop, though it also contains a range of influences from R&B to country, and even a soldier’s march. Ianuzzi is particularly proud of what she calls “little touches that add laughs and dramatic color.” In truth, the play abounds with such little touches, from pop cultural references to inside jokes. “The scariest thing for us,” confides Chamblee, “was that nothing would be funny except to us!” The directors need have no fear of that, as the tale unravels with layers of humor.
The score, script and production are the joint labors of Chamblee and Ianuzzi, and the project warmly reflects their tremendous effort as well as the remarkable work of the technical crew under Kristin Leitzel ’07 and the stage management of Emily Gasser ’07 assisted by Philip Katz ’07. Emily Gasser, stage manager for the show explains, “We could not have done this without Phil Katz.” Of Gasser the directors emphatically exclaim, “Emily is our rock.”
The sets, costuming, and lighting combine to create a bright, energetic stage environment, reminiscent of cartoons like “Hey Arnold!” which Chamblee acknowledges to have been an inspiration for their work. Particularly entertaining are Abby Graber’s ’08 lighting choices, creating not only the appropriate atmosphere but complementing the vivid, distinctive individuality of the cast throughout the performance. Similarly, the choreography succeeds in both pulling the sizable cast together and allowing each character to remain true to his or her style.
The play balances humor beautifully, offering both wit and more “middle school” amusement, pathos and parody. Ultimately, as each character struggles with the differences between who they are and who they appear to be, the musical gives the audience a chance to reflect on the insecurities that all face when trying to “fit in” and the chance to laugh a little at how futilely oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true self is hidden. Besides, it’s a lot of fun to watch a show about middle school students and think, “We so were them!”