Departments of theater, music present lively musical

Paige Graves
Staff writer

Photos by Jordie Oetken/The News

On Thursday the department of music and the department of theater opened their annual musical in Johnson Theatre. This year the production is “Orpheus in the Underworld,” an operetta focusing on the classic legend of Orpheus’ pursuit of his wife Eurydice, who is carried off to Hades.

Originally a mythological story by Homer, this play is an operetta because of the light music and subject matter presented.

Aaron Jones, sophomore from Dunlap, Ill., plays the role of Mars, god of war. Jones said the play might not be what the audience expects.

“One of the things that is appealing to this show is that this is not a serious opera,” he said. “It is supposed to be funny. A lot of the lines are comical and there are quite a few moments of humor present.”

Jones said rehearsals started in mid-September and there was a schedule for what specific parts would be practiced each week. As Mars, Jones sparks a rebellion against the god Jupiter.

“My favorite moment of this process so far has to be spending time with people who understand this story so well,” he said. “The members of this cast are so much fun to be around, and I wouldn’t trade these moments for anything.”

Jones said acting in an opera is on his bucket list, and it is different from the musicals he was involved in throughout high school.

While the actors have had long rehearsals with plenty of strain on their voices, the orchestra was practicing just as diligently.

Christopher Mitchell, assistant professor of music, is directing the music of the operetta. Mitchell has previously served as music director for two other collaborative productions: “Godspell” in 2008 and “Into the Woods” in 2010. He was also the music director for the music department production of the opera “Dido and Aeneas” in 2009.

The orchestra met three to four times per week for three weeks to get a solid grasp on the music. From there, stage director Norman Wurgler began to work with the music.

“Students had staging rehearsals four nights a week and one music-only rehearsal per week to keep the music consistent as they learned the stage directions,” Mitchell said. “The orchestra for this production consists of selected members from the University Orchestra – most of these students are music majors, but not all. The orchestra is directed by professor Dennis Johnson, and the concert master (1st violinist) is Sue-Jean Park, the violin/viola professor in the music department.”

Mitchell said the adaptation of the music the orchestra uses is somewhat obscure, making it difficult to obtain the script and musical scores. Scheduling rehearsals was also a challenge.

“Music and theater students have very busy class schedules and many other obligations including other productions,” he said. “We have to honor schedule conflicts like evening classes or any other important events the cast lets us know ahead of time, so getting everyone you need for every rehearsal can be challenging when you have a cast of 29.”

Despite the challenges along the way, Mitchell is optimistic about the outcome.

“The students have worked extremely hard and it’s a very talented cast,” he said. “We always strive for professional quality productions and I feel like we are very close to attaining that level. This is a very fun show – audiences should come expecting to hear some wonderful music, fine voices and, most of all, to laugh. This is a comedy and at times is down right silly. Do not be intimidated by the ‘opera’ label. This is a work that anyone can enjoy.”

The production will run at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The shows are at Robert E. Johnson Theatre. Admission is free to students with a Racercard. General admission is $15, and faculty and staff tickets are $13.

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