Featuring a cast and crew of more than 60, Liberty Middle School presents, "All Aboard for Broadway," a musical highlighting the songs and lyrics of legendary composer George M. Cohan.
SHOW TIMES are Thursday-Saturday, March 30-31 and April 1, at 7 p.m. each day. Tickets are $5 and go on sale March 27, during lunch, in the school cafeteria.
It's set in New York City in 1917. Famous producer Florence Zweibach (based on the real Flo Ziegfield) is putting on a big, Broadway show and lots of girls hope to be in it. En route to her audition, Mary Conklin meets Harry Harrigan, a down-on-his-luck, Tin Pan Alley songwriter, and romantic sparks fly.
When he goes off to fight in WWI, he leaves Mary with his portfolio of sheet music, and Zweibach stars Mary in his patriotic revue using Harry's songs. The show's a huge success; Harry returns to find he's a celebrated songwriter, and he and Mary are happily reunited. Punctuating the show are some of Cohan's biggest hits, including "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Over There," "Harrigan" and "Give My Regards to Broadway."
Eighth-grader Danny Lucas, 14, plays Zweibach. "He's a leader, short on patience and very sarcastic," said Danny. "But he shows a softer side when he falls for Mary. And since WWI broke out, he's producing a patriotic show called 'Grand Ol' Flag."
Danny says it's a fun role because Zweiback is such a dynamic character. "He changes during the show from bitter and mean to softer and then to a really good guy," Danny explained.
That made it difficult, at first, "getting into the character," he said, "but I eventually got it." Besides that, Zweibach's sarcasm makes him laugh. "He's not supposed to be funny," said Danny. "He's very serious, but has a dry wit."
HE SAID many of the audience members will be familiar with Cohan's songs, such as "Grand Ol' Flag," and be able to relate to them. "The story has some really funny parts and a couple twists that'll keep people guessing 'til the end," said Danny. "And with the love triangle between Flo, Harry and Mary — and the patriotic aspect, since they're at war — it has a little bit of everything."
Taylor Aucott, 14, an eighth-grader, portrays Harry Harrigan, a songwriter who's never quite found fame. "Nobody knows who he is, but he's all about Broadway," said Taylor. "He gives up on trying to sell his songs and just writes them for himself. When he goes to war in France, a bomb hits and he's severely injured and everyone thinks he's dead."
Meanwhile, said Taylor, "Mary finds the songs he wrote before leaving and gives them to a stage manager named Barney and a pianist named Cadwallader. Flo tells them to produce a show with these songs because, he, too, is going off to war, and they do. And that becomes the play, 'Grand Ol' Flag.' When Harry comes back, he gets lots of money from Flo, who's returned."
Describing Harrigan as "happy-go-lucky, upbeat and confident," Taylor says he loves the part. "I enjoy his happy attitude all the time, and I get to sing, which I like," he said. He especially likes the "Harrigan" song because it's about Harry's background; he tells Mary where he came from and what he does.
"I also like Mary's song," said Taylor. "She says it'll take a genius to write a song about her name, so I do. I'm also in show choir, and I like singing it because it shows what my voice can do." He said the best part of his role is being "the good guy in the play."
Playing Mary Conklin is eighth-grader Katie Bannon, 14. "She's in her 20s and is in love with Harry," said Katie. "Flo doesn't like her, at first; then he realizes her talent." Katie says her character is "very emotional — either really happy, or sad and crying. I like her because I get to show different sides of my character and what I can do."
HARDEST, she said, was "nailing the emotions; you want to get it just right. But I have lots of support from everyone in the play, including my sister Torie, who plays Charlene, an overly dramatic actress. It's fun rehearsing together at home, singing, dancing and going through lines."
And at school, said Katie, "We're all working together to produce an amazing show." Her favorite song is the one Harrigan sings about her name. "Flo had said 'Mary' was a plain name and I should change it," she explained. "So Harry writes a song, 'Mary's a Grand Ol' Name,' and it's a memory of him when he goes off to war."
Calling it a romantic show, Katie likes the plot because "you see different people's stories and learn who they like — and then you see them all together on Broadway. The moral is: 'Go for your dreams. Shoot for the moon because, if you miss, you'll land among the stars. Never give up; nothing's impossible."
Other students also play key roles, including Meredith Rigby and Allison Nasta, portraying the loan-shark Delaney sisters. "They're hysterically funny," said Liberty Theater Director Jody Scott. "They've made up their own 'schtick' — special mannerisms — for their characters, and they're really getting into their parts and taking off with them. The audience is going to love them."
Other smaller parts are also important. Nicholas Cole, 12, plays Howard Slipdinkle, a restaurant customer who scores the autograph of a Broadway star named Billie. Said Nicholas: "I like it because I'm in a lot of scenes where I don't say anything, but I'm in the background pantomiming."
His real-life twin brother, Mitchell, plays streetsweeper Alf Pinkerton. "They're having auditions where he's sweeping, and he doesn't like it because he's busy," said Mitchell. "But he sets up a war-bond rally because a girl he likes will be auditioning at a theater and the rally's in front of it."
Mitchell said it's cool being the streetsweeper because it's so different. The toughest part? "Sweeping the broom and saying your lines at the same time," he said. His favorite song is "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and he said the audience will like the show's energy and happiness."
Danielle Wilbur, 14, plays a hotel maid named Georgia who's friends with Mary and two other Broadway hopefuls, Gladys and Ethel. "She supports them through all their auditions and shows and is kind to them," said Danielle. "She always dreamed of being on stage, herself."
DANIELLE'S enjoying her role because "I like the people I'm with on and off stage." Her favorite song is "Give My Regards to Broadway" because "I sing the first part of it, everyone knows it and it's one of the highlights of the show."
Tech crew member Betsy McCracken, 14, painted scenery and helps move props during scene changes. "I'm not good at acting, so it gives me a chance to participate in the play," she explained. "It's really fun because you get to do something with your friends that's not school-academic related."
Minah Kim, 14, is stage manager and tech crew head. "We made the backdrop of Luigi's, where the actors get together and where Mary works as a waitress," she said. "I take care of stuff behind the scenes and whatever Ms. Scott can't cover. I make sure everyone does their job and see that the props are in good condition and aren't lost."
Enjoying the experience, Minah said she likes "hands-on stuff and being backstage. It's nice to know you helped out and, when it comes together, it's a good feeling."
Scott says all her cast and crew members are great. She said the actors are "really buying into being people in 1917, and they've told me how happy they are that I selected this play. They're enjoying the storyline, the characters and the dances, as well as the period costumes."
There are WWI army uniforms; vintage hats, gloves and dresses for the girls; 'boater' hats with red, white and blue trim for the boys; and a newsboy's cap and vest for Harry. And the five "Liberty Ladies" selling war bonds wear matching white blouses, blue skirts and red, white and blue sashes.
Most of all, said Scott, "The acting is very strong, and I feel good about providing this opportunity for 25-plus kids to have speaking parts. This show will appeal to everyone from little kids to great-grandparents, and I've choreographed it so there's not a bad seat in the house."