When a musical is not a musical
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Years ago, when he played Long John Silver in a production of Treasure Island, actor and improviser Kris Erickson had to convince the audience he had a peg leg. This was done with the help of a contraption that his bent knee rested inside of while the rest of his limb was tied behind his back.
“I got pretty good at moving around with it, but my leg was useless for about an hour after each show,” Erickson recounted in a recent “Get to know the cast and crew” interview on the Bellingham Theatre Guild’s Facebook page related to upcoming performances of the comedic play Scapino. “We did 17 shows for that run of Treasure Island.”
When he takes on the titular role of the adaptation of Moliere’s Les Fourberies de Scapin starting Fri., March 30 at the longtime H Street theater hub, it will be for another portrayal that demands a lot of him. The version of the play written by Jim Dale and Frank has singing, but isn’t really a musical in that none of the songs bear a whole lot of relation to the action. Words like “zany” are often used to describe it, and it’s performed in a commedia dell’arte style—meaning stock characters, love intrigues, clowning and improvisational acumen are part of the action.
The story takes place in modern-day Italy, where the fast-talking, quick-thinking Scapino is involved in complicated machinations designed to help two pairs of lovers overcome parental opposition (spoiler alert: the familial furor he claims to be helping them with doesn’t actually exist). Farce is a factor, and whoever plays the leading man must be able to exude both physical and theatrical prowess.
“A big challenge about bringing this script to life is that a lot of the action in the show isn’t in the words,” Erickson says. “There are a lot of fun physical pieces that need to be worked and reworked to find the best way to do them. Comedic timing and the right reactions from other characters are huge parts that aren’t written into the script, but must be nailed in order for this show to work.”
In her interview, director Teri Grimes acknowledges the physical challenges inherent in Scapino, but says that’s part of what drew her to the exuberant, family-friendly play.
“I’m always looking for scripts that I would love to see as an audience member,” she says. “Scapino is such a delightful blend of the classic story by Moliere, put into modern English and enhanced by the physical aspects of commedia. It’s a delight to watch the combination of broad comedy with physical action. There is no separation between audience and actor in commedia, so there’s a lot of audience interaction and participation—something new for BTG audiences.”
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