Set on an airship captained by Hope Goodwell, “The Northern Skies” hit the ground running on Thursday, April 11. An original musical written by Drama and Music double majors Emily Drossell ’19 and George Luton ’19, this story has been in the works for over two years. It was brought to life by a cast of nine characters, and a crew of many more, that have been working tirelessly for the last six weeks. A tale about six people who end up on a mission to find a cure to a plague ravaging livestock, “The Northern Skies” incorporates dark humor, political exile and star-crossed romance.
Luton composed the music while Drossell wrote the script; they collaborated on the story and lyrics. Once the characters were created, the artists quickly decided Drossell would fit into the role of the protagonist. She described the difficulty of creating a character in the two-dimensional format of a script, and then taking on the role in real life: “I had to create this role in its purest form and then figure out how to bring life to a two-dimensional character. As I acted, I tried to find avenues of which depth could be brought out of her.”
Luton and Drossell were in contact the summer before their junior year, which is when the ideas of the setting and main plot were generated. They created a preliminary storyboard, which featured all the characters that ended up in the final draft. This show was the thesis of Jacqui Anders ’19, actor Raphe Gilliam ’19, stage manager Lindsay Matheos ’19 and director Allison Breeze ’19. It also stars Gracie Nayman ’22, Charles Mangan ’22, Bryan Smith ’21, Abigail Goldman ’21, Eli Wassertzug ’22 and Samantha Hodes ’20.
When discussing the process of writing and starring in her own musical, Drossell admitted, “In the rehearsal process I found it very hard to turn off the writer part of my brain, and [was] trying to figure out how to focus on the whole work as a creator as well as what to bring to it as an individual character.” While the majority of the script and music was developed in the Fall 2018 semester, writers still continued to work throughout production. The future of the show after Vassar is unclear, but Drossell is excited by the idea of the project becoming something more.
Anders, a Drama major, starred as Madame Capitaux, the ruthless villain. Her intense character study presented a challenge, as it was wildly different from her usual roles: “I took it upon myself to like my character because everyone else hated her, and it was necessary to like her in order to give her a fair chance and make her human; finding things that were relatable in this obvious villain was a challenge.” Anders delivered a dramatic and bewitching performance alongside a cast of all class years.
Intense rehearsal for the show began Feb. 19; it was a six-week process with 16 hours of rehearsal a week, Monday through Thursday. During tech week, the cast and crew rehearsed for twelve hours a day, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. They worked through the technical aspects of the show, pausing to adjust lighting and sound cues as the actors ran through their blocking. The live orchestra only joined the cast a week before opening, and the tech crew had been working separately for weeks before; it all came together in the last ten days.
The musical received a standing ovation from a lively audience of friends, family and theater enthusiasts. Audible gasps and cheers were heard throughout the performance, fueling the already impassioned actors. The show’s creators, too, were pleased with the outcome. Breeze commented on the experience: “I was thankful to have such talented collaborators to work with, and I think the resulting performance speaks for itself.”
[Correction (Saturday, Apr. 27): The original version of this article stated that Luton had composed most of the music and Drossell had written most of the script. In fact, Luton wrote all of the music, and Drossel wrote the entire script. Additionally, the word “illicit” was changed to “star-crossed,” and clarification about the meaning of the term “two-dimensional” was added.]