What happens when you suddenly can’t perform the show you’ve been rehearsing for three weeks? You find a new one. That’s what happened to the cast of “Pippin,” when, for legal reasons, they were forced to switch shows.
The show had to go on, and so it did. The result is a freak show circus fueled by spiked lemonade.
Directed by Logan Pitts ’18, “Lemonade” is a musical written by Vassar alumnus Sean Eads ’15. The plot of the musical revolves around the protagonist Georgie and his encounters with a freak show circus in which the ringmaster exploits his employees via spiked lemonade to ultimately and permanently chain them to the industry. Allegra Kaufman ’19, who plays Georgie’s love interest, elaborated, writing, “What [Georgie] doesn’t realize is that the bright lights of the circus are not as innocent as they appear to be.”
Aside from the specious narrative, “Lemonade” explores the fibers of the human condition. Stage manager of “Lemonade,” Isabel Furman ’19, wrote, “It deals with ideas of addiction, love, corruption, power.”
Behind the curtains of production is a story in and of itself. “Pippin” was the original musical to be produced. Josh Bruce ’16, who plays Georgie, wrote, “The opportunity to put on this musical came as a result of [the Future Waitstaff of America] failing to obtain the rights for Pippin. The cast and crew had already been recruited at this point so we still really wanted to put on a show and started looking for an alternative. I became familiar with “Lemonade” several semesters ago when I was in “Sludge Dump,” also written by Sean Eads. Sean wrote “Lemonade’ in high school and staged a workshop version so I figured he’d be happy to let us do a full production and make some progress on his previous work.”
Bruce continued, “Having to change shows meant that we lost about three weeks of rehearsal time… Though we didn’t have that luxury, the story and characters are actually inspired by ‘Pippin,’ which made the transition between the two shows a lot easier… [but] Sean’s music is [still] very rhythmically complex and doesn’t always make sense until you hear the piano parts. We’re just now starting to get piano accompaniment during rehearsals and the first time you hear the vocal line and piano together there’s this magical moment of transformation from something that sounds clunky and ugly to something hauntingly beautiful or bouncy and fun.”
Furman also wrote about the transpiration, “Lemonade is like nothing I’ve ever done. For one thing, losing the rights to Pippin and then picking Lemonade a week later made us lose a ton of time, so this process has been greatly a game of catch up, but the cast and crew have been absolutely incredible in making up that lost time. Another thing is the playwright and composer Eads. Having contact with him and having his say in the process has been very different for me and very valuable. His music is incredibly complex and his story lines are fascinating. Nonetheless, he has invited us to change things and make it our own, but it’s been wonderful having him as such an open minded resource and opinion. ”
The process of switching shows so late seems demanding and exhaustive. But in reality, it has benefited the show–bringing the cast even closer together. Furman wrote, “We were drawn to Lemonade for a number of reasons. Primarily, we were interested in the idea of doing a show that has never really been done before. Since much of the cast knows and loves Sean, the personal attachment coupled with the freedom of doing a show that none of them have seen or know was very appealing to many people. We were also fascinated because Lemonade as a story bears a lot of resemblance to Pippin. Even more, however, we felt like it tackled more directly a lot of the issues we would have tackled anyway in doing Pippin. And, of course, everyone was drawn to Sean’s incredible music and lyrics, which tell the story in such a unique and creative way.”
Mused by Eads’ artistry, Bruce wrote, “Sean definitely writes his musicals with the songs in mind first and the script essentially to fill the gaps, so he’s been very open to the big script changes that our director, Logan Pitts, and the cast have developed over the course of the past month. With only 12 days until we open we’re all getting a little nervous but there have been some really amazing moments in rehearsal that I can’t wait to share with the campus.”
Undoubtedly, the production is an aggregate of the time and energy of Vassar students, notably Pitts, the student director of “Lemonade.” Furman wrote, “In terms of some key participants, Logan Pitts, our director, is one of the kindest and most creative thinkers I’ve met. He always has an interesting take on the scene from an acting perspective but also from a visual/artistic perspective. Ari Bell [’18] and Leora Randall-Tavori [’18], the vocal director and choreographer, are super enthusiastic people with an amazingly creative outlook on how to incorporate music and dance into the telling of the story. Our whole production team has been working so well together…finally, of course, the cast is so hardworking and talented…they’ve been unbelievably supportive both of each other and of the whole process.”
When asked about what kind of impact Lemonade’s participants would like to make, Bruce wrote, “First and foremost, I’m just excited to share Sean’s music, which sounds fantastic in the voices of my fellow cast members. Each number is so different and so full of moments where you can clearly pick out what makes the characters unique. Secondly I hope the show can communicate in a shocking, spooky way how a person’s sense of self-worth or heroism can be used against them.”
Kaufman keeps it sweet and simple. “I just hope to give the student body a fun entertaining show. I think this piece is a fun and silly and slightly creepy kind of show, just like any circus. Maybe they can take away the thought that though ‘life is grand,’ not everything is as it seems,” she wrote.
On a final note, Furman wrote, “We hope that this show will be an insight for the student body into a lot of important themes–addiction, power, greed, love, sacrifice. To me, though, the fact that it was written by an alum demonstrates to the student body what is possible of the work created by Vassar students and how Vassar theatre can function to promote and support that work. This is, in a lot of ways, a workshop. It’s important, at least for me, to see students use Vassar as an opportunity for furthering and cultivating their own work in its very first steps, because it reminds me of the amazing resources we have here.”