Student production of “The Glorious Ones” explores roots of theater

Combining comedy, drama and tragedy effectively and effortlessly, the student production of "The Glorious Ones" is an entertaining and surprisingly slapstick homage to the roots of modern theater.  

"The Glorious Ones" by Lynn Ahrens is a relatively new musical that tells the story of a commedia dell'arte troupe in Venice during the Italian Renaissance. Commedia dell'arte was an early acting style featuring improvised comedic scenarios and stock characters – many of whom would eventually find their way into the plays of Shakespeare and other writers. 

The first half of the play follows charismatic leading man Flaminio Scala (freshman Taylor Walders) as he searches the streets of Venice to recruit unique characters, whom he describes as "a group of cranky maladjusted misfits." As the show progresses, the troupe's onstage and backstage drama winds webs of emotional entanglement, passion and tragedy.  

As the world of theater advances around them, Flaminio and the actors are faced with the question of transitioning to written plays or remaining an improvisational troupe. The stage quickly becomes a battlefield between old and new as Flaminio defends his legacy from the innovations of rising stars Isabella (senior Ali Marshall) and Francesco (freshman Jacob Stewart). 

The troupe featured in the musical is based on the real-life Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi, and the performers in the show are also based on real historical figures. Flaminio Scala founded the troupe as he toured Europe, in addition to creating many of the stock characters. 

The musical performances of the show were excellent, flipping seamlessly between campy and operatic. Each voice in the many complex harmonies came out evenly and blended gorgeously, in huge tribute to the vocal direction of junior Katelyn Hearfield. Sophomore Alli Abbot skillfully accompanied the actors on an ever-present but never overpowering piano. 

One of the most notable aspects of the show was the incredible amount of energy expressed by the actors. Walders commanded the stage as the dynamic Flaminio and Stewart's first scene as Francesco demonstrated an incredible command of physical comedy. Freshman Alyssa Conte's bright-eyed and playful Armanda was also a delight to watch. Junior Sean Leigh exploded onto the stage as Dottore Graziano, miming, flourishing and bursting into different accents with unparalleled ecstasy. He easily stole several scenes, even those in which he had no lines.

Though Sturges Auditorium isn't a conventional theater space, the production utilized it well. The use of both the stage and the floor in front of it allowed for neat transitions between the inner drama of the theater company and the performances within the performance. The only downside was that actors occasionally faced the stage instead of the audience at times when it would have been nice to see their expressions. 

 "I fell in love with the music and thought it was a very interesting little story," said senior Brian Clemente, the student director of the show. Clemente intended "The Glorious Ones" as a musical opportunity for students in the absence of the usual main stage fall musical. 

The show, however, wasn't without its challenges. "There's a reason commedia's not hardly performed anymore," Clemente said. "It was hard for me to teach something I'm not heavily schooled in." In spite of these concerns, the effort clearly paid off in this uniquely intriguing show.