Wilkes theater revisits jazz age with “archy and mehitabel”

Wilkes+theater+revisits+jazz+age+with+%22archy+and+mehitabel%22

Courtesy of Teresa Fallon

Jamie Alderiso and Amanda Thomas jazz things up as the titles characters of “archy and mehitabel,” a musical play based on the writings of Don Marquis.

Anthony Bartoli, Assistant A&E Editor

Wilkes University Theatre will be presenting “archy and mehitabel,” a jazz musical about Archy, a nerdy cockroach (literally) with the heart of a poet and his love for Mehitabel, a free-spirited alley cat, on the main stage of the Dorothy Dickston Darte Center for the Performing Arts on River Street

The play, based on a series of newspaper columns written by humorist Don Marquis, is a satrical but emotionally resonant tale of life, love and loss in the 1910s and ‘20s.

Archy will be played by English and theater arts junior Jamie Alderiso, who says, “the show is about the inability to change another person, and the choice of accepting  a person for who she or he  is as an individual.” Mehitabel will be played by education and theater arts sophomore Amanda Thomas.

Teresa Fallon, Wilkes’ director of theater and performing arts, will direct the musical. Other cast members include Brandon Scott, Cassidy Conroy, Luke Brady, Kelly Pleva, Sam Prentice, Kassandra Richmond, Janel Naro, Erin Weinberger, Courtney Littlefied, nd Nicole Weaver.

The Beacon had the chance to speak with the stars of this production to get some insight into the musical.

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What’s different about this play than any other production that you’ve been in?

Amanda: This production is a jazz comedic musical; I have never been in a production where those three are combined into one.

Jamie: This is a jazz musical. Written in the 1950s, the piece doesn’t sound like any contemporary musical today.

What challenges do your roles bring?

Amanda: Challenges that I face when playing Mehitabel are definitely bringing a cat to life, but still keeping realistic instincts and feeling and connections with other characters in the show.

Jamie: I have a ton of different aspects to portray as Archy: everything from       dejected, to inspired, to drunk as a skunk.

How did you prepare for your roles?

Amanda: I honestly researched a lot of cats. The way the move, react, and interact with others. I also researched jazz icons including, most importantly, Josephine Baker, whom I based a lot of my acting choices off of. She was an extremely free spirited woman who owned her body and took control of every situation.

Jamie: I had to learn how to respect Archy. I also had to learn how to do a vaudeville and cartoony piece of theater.

What is the experience of performing in a jazz musical like?

Amanda: Vocally challenging. This show cannot be sung like normal Broadway, not choral music or pop. It’s a whole other animal, which I have never actually attempted in length before.               

Jamie: With a musical like this, style is always a concern as an actor.

What do you like most about your role?

Amanda: I enjoy Mehitabel’s ambition and unwavering belief in the phrase “toujours gai,” meaing “always happy.”

Jamie: There are times when I clearly identify with Archy. And for this reason it makes it very easy to like him.

If you could change anything about your role, what would it be and why?

Amanda: I wouldn’t change Mehitabel, because that’s what the show teaches us. We can’t try to change ourselves to be what we’re not.

Jamie: Actors aren’t supposed to judge their characters. I’m the interpreter, and I don’t think I’d change anything.

Do you connect on a personal level with the character you are portraying?

Amanda: I definitely believe I connect with her fun energy.

Jamie: There are aspects of Archy that remind me so keenly of my identity as a person.  We both definitely have unrealistic expectations of people. We are both idealistic.

If you could describe your character in one word or phrase, what would it be and why?

Amanda: Free. She is a firecracker of a free spirit and she owns the situation she’s in.

Jamie:   I don’t like to describe or assign anything to one specific word. This is a comedy and I am playing a cockroach, but I’m dressed like a human being. Human beings are complex and so is Archy and his feline-like counterpart.

What is your favorite part of this production?

Amanda: I love seeing the whole production come together into true art.

Jamie: I love getting the chance to perform “Flotsam and Jetsam” with the beautiful and highly talented Amanda Thomas. All in all, we have a great cast and the visionary Teresa Fallon as a director.

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Performance dates of “archy and mehitabel” are on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 15, 16 and 17 and Feb. 22, 23 and 24. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays will be at 8 p.m. Performances on Sundays will be at 2 p.m. General admission is $10. Admission for students and seniors is $5. Admission for Wilkes students with a valid ID is free.