What do you call a play with dancing, music and a little bit of singing? How about an experimental, organic and collaborative experience for students in the University’s School of Musical Theater? That’s how those involved in this weekend’s studio production of “A Good Boy” view its new piece.
As a studio production in the School of Musical Theater, “A Good Boy” is directed by faculty and cast with students in the school. Studio productions stand in contrast with University Productions like “J.B.,” running this weekend, which have significant financial backing by the school.
Dubbed a “dansical” by students in the program, “A Good Boy” is deeply rooted in the University. Written by University alum Brian Spitulnik, directed by Linda Goodrich, associate professor of dance and with musical composition by University alum Sam Davis, the show debuts this weekend at the Arthur Miller Theatre on North Campus.
“Dancical” may not be the appropriate term for “A Good Boy,” but as unprecedented as the piece is, students inevitably had to call it something. As most Amos Wolff, a Musical Theater senior, cast member and associate choreographer, put it: “There is no ‘Good Boy’ elsewhere.”
The show introduces a new style into musical theater. Traditional musicals usually present the feelings and thoughts of characters through song, but “A Good Boy” does this through dance. The story is about a 6-year-old named Scott and his family. Goodrich expressed initial fear of the show being too “esoteric” but has been pleasantly surprised with its accessibility. She said audiences will “feel for the characters” before the story ventures into the abstract. The music, composed by University alum Sam Davis, contains a specific motif for each character.
All four main characters are dancers – an unusual phenomenon in musical theater. Goodrich said the distinct training of everyone in the cast amplifies this anomaly. While one lead has a background in modern music, another has an athletic style and others are trained in the more traditional musical-theater style. Goodrich is also the choreographer, and her dance creations are extremely collaborative. Before choreographing anything, she created a basic vocabulary by having the cast improvise while she picks out poignant phrases and movements.
The work is based on a Hopwood-winning short story written by Spitulnik in 2005. He adapted it into a play after a year or two of encouragement from Goodrich. Both creators are dancers and they saw the potential to try something new with the story. Producer Randy Adams, founder of Junkyard Dog Productions, has taken on the production to foster both a new artist, Spitulnik, and a possible new genre. Prior to this weekend, “A Good Boy” has never had an audience of more than a few friends for a reading in New York.
“There’s never been a dull moment. It’s always complex and difficult but very rewarding,” Wolff said, referring to the rehearsals and overall experience.
Darren Biggart, a Musical Theater senior and cast member, called it an “actor’s dream,” citing the cast’s flexibility to shape their characters. To get into their roles, Biggart – who plays a 6-year-old – did some insider research by trick-or-treating with the other cast members who play his family.
“A Good Boy” is very much a work in progress. Biggart predicted Sunday’s show might be noticeably different from tomorrow’s premiere. Last week, Spitulnik cut a page-long monologue down to three lines. What better place to debut such an experimental piece than in a school that offers the optimism and malleability of youthful artists? Even the eager and excited participants don’t know what to expect from a show that offers an innovative take on several traditional forms.
“We didn’t set out to create a new genre,” Spitulnik said. But that seems to be exactly what they did.
A Good Boy
Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
At the Arthur Miller Theatre
$9 w/ student ID/$16