Featuring a cast of 45 and a crew of 15, plus an amazing, eye-popping set, Chantilly High's production of "Auntie Mame" is about to burst upon the stage.
It's the school's Cappies entry and will be presented Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 and April 28-29, at 7 p.m. each night, in the auditorium. Tickets are $7.
DIRECTOR Ed Monk didn't initially plan to double-cast it but, he said, "At auditions, there was just too much talent. It's a really fun show, and we hope everyone comes. It's a classic, so the audience should really enjoy it."
Sharing the lead role are seniors Abba Kiser and Faith McAuliffe, both 17. The story unfolds over eight years in the 1920s-'30s in New York and is based on a book by Patrick Dennis, Auntie Mame's nephew.
"Auntie Mame is rich and sophisticated, but liberal and artistic — open to new ideas like modern dance, Eastern religions and wild costumes," said McAuliffe. "When the stock market crashes, she's left with nothing and tries to get a job, but fails. But before losing a job at Macy's, she falls in love with a Southern gentleman, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, who comes into the store. Later on, she dresses as a Southern Belle to meet his family."
The plot centers around Mame and her nephew Patrick, 10, who comes to live with her after her brother dies. This happens while she's living in New York and throwing big parties. "He's straight-laced, and she tries to open up his world, while battling with his trustees [who think she's a bad influence on him]," said McAuliffe. "As he grows up, he looks for something more normal and gets engaged to snobby, shallow Gloria Upson."
Naturally, when Auntie Mame invites the Upson family for dinner, crazy things happen. "The Upsons leave, and Patrick realizes they're snobs and Gloria is an idiot," said McAuliffe. "Auntie Mame then realizes Patrick finally is his own person."
Describing her character as "charismatic, quirky, fun and big-hearted," McAuliffe said Mame "really loves life and all its different colors and flavors." Since she's so multi-dimensional, it's a challenge to capture her many facets, but not overact.
But McAuliffe loves the part because she can do so much with it and "the whole play's about having fun and loving life, and Mame's over-the-top and larger-than-life. She's the center of attention and a really strong character."
She said the audience will love the show's motion. "It's like a rollercoaster — always something happening, so it's easy to get caught up in Mame's adventures. She was a strong, female character for her time and an independent woman."
ALTHOUGH McAuliffe won't critique her own show, she's also a Cappies critic and, speaking as such, she believes Chantilly's show is a crowd-pleaser. "It has great comic moments, a huge set and lots of costume changes," she said. "And although it's a fun, feel-good show, the level of difficulty should be impressive."
Abba Kiser calls Mame eccentric and caring, but "self-concerned, at the same time. She's classy, but down-to-earth, smart, witty, quick and a Renaissance woman." Kiser says the role's difficult because "you have to come off as the stereotypical, rich woman from New York City, while still winning over the audience."
But she loves getting to "look at each line and figure out how it would sound best. Faith and I play her differently. She plays her as maternal; I'm more of a snob, so it's harder for me to come off as well-liked by the audience and to give the impression that everyone adores me. But there's something about Mame that's so endearing."
Kiser, too, says the elaborate set is pretty spectacular and even the props are an integral part of the show. She's acting on Cappies night so, she said, "It adds to the stress. It would be awesome if we got nominated for anything, but we're trying our best and will just have a good time doing it."
Freshman Andrew Dugan, 14, is playing Patrick in both casts. "It's really great," he said. "I'm honored to get a lead role at such a young age in high school." After Pat's father dies, servant Norah takes the boy from his home in Chicago to his Auntie Mame's in New York.
"Pat's blown away by all the action around him in this new environment," said Dugan. "His father didn't really talk to him; Norah took care of him. Pat tries to be polite and help whoever is looking after him. He's just a nice boy. But soon after arriving, his trustee Miss Babcock sends him to St. Boniface, a private school in Massachusetts."
At first, he's upset to leave Auntie Mame, but then grows accustomed to his new surroundings and becomes a bit snobby. "I enjoy it because he's a fun character to play," said Dugan. "He goes through so many emotions from confused to depressed to happy."
Dugan's in the whole, first part of the play, so he has lots of lines to memorize. But he loves acting and has made lots of new friends with his castmates. He says the audience will "definitely enjoy the show. It's extremely funny, the acting's wonderful and Mr. Monk's a great director."
Senior April Glick, 18, portrays Miss Babcock. She's also doing the actors' makeup so, she said, "It's going to make for an interesting dress-rehearsal week." To create each character's appearance, she said, she and her helpers took photos of their faces and sketched in colored pencils what they wanted them to look like. Designing Mame's makeup was toughest, said Glick, but doing makeup gave her "the opportunity to see how much work goes into the other aspects of the show."
SHE DESCRIBED Babcock as a "WASP-y banker from Connecticut, in charge of Patrick's father's will. I get to determine where he goes to school and where the inheritance money goes. I want him to be a God-fearing Protestant going to all the proper boarding schools and taking etiquette classes. I'm restricted and pristine and never do anything wrong."
Glick said this role is "such a far step outside of me to be a closed-up, angry, snotty person, that it's fun to play." She said the audience will appreciate the show's physical comedy and one-liners. "We're putting our whole hearts and souls into this show," she said. "And we're a fun department, good at doing comedy."
Sophomore Clare Bonner, 15, also plays Babcock. "She's stern and not too nice," said Bonner. "Auntie Mame doesn't agree with her odd views, but she thinks her view is always right and does what she can to get her way. I usually play happy, nicer, comedic characters, so this is very different for me." And although it can be hard playing someone so mean, she said, she's glad to try something new.
Junior Chloe West plays Vera, a high-class actress originally from Pittsburgh. "But she puts on a British accent to make her sound more credible to people, because those in her world consider anyone other than from New York to be from Hicktown," explained West.
"She's shallow and is Auntie Mame's best friend," said West. "And when Patrick is being taken away from her, she tries to cheer her up by putting her in a play. I love this role; Vera's so hilarious. Everything she says is out of the blue. She says whatever she's thinking, no matter what."
Junior Jesse Igbokwe, 17, plays Ito, Mame's Japanese servant. "I play him as sort of Mame's sidekick, always alert, excited about life and jumping on what she has to say," he said. "He has little, comedic quirks, such as giggling and walking with a slight hunch."
"I auditioned for this part, so I was happy to get it," said Igbokwe. "I thought it would be a fun character to play because I like his randomness and his Asian accent. And he has short, funny, one-liners."
Since he's black, he said, it'll be a challenge "changing races." But he's delighted that his role's so funny. "All our actors and actresses are phenomenal, and so are our techies," he said. "And the sets are so cool, the audience will love it."
Gloria's mother, Mrs. Upson, is portrayed by junior Lindsay Arnsmeyer, 17. "She's a conservative woman who cares a lot about labels and appearances, big time, and is very stuck up," said Arnsmeyer. "I love playing her because I can be snotty, fake and very loud. And in children's shows, I've played animals, so I'm glad to play a person."
SENIORS Marley Monk, 18, and Kevin Jones, 17, head the tech crew. Jones helped build the set and design the lighting. "I love construction and working with my hands," said Jones. "There are several, different scenes and everything moves. Because it's all on wheels, everything has to fit together perfectly. But it's all going up like a breeze."
During construction, said Monk, "We make sure everything's getting accomplished and our designs are getting carried out the right way. This is the first set I've designed that has a lot of locations, and there's a lot of scene changes and big things that move. So we have a large running-crew to move all the pieces and make sure all the furniture gets on and off."
"And they have to do it fast and quietly," she added. "So we need every actor that's not on stage to help." But she's enjoying herself because "it's senior year and the group of techies we have right now has worked together a long time. We know each other well and have a good rhythm established."
As for the audience, said Monk, "They'll be surprised because, everytime they see a new scene and think, 'This is it,' the next one will amaze them even more — and that's our goal."