|Costume assistant Hannah Lynch makes costumes for Oklahoma. The Theatre Arts Department is making all the costumes for the show.|
Liberty University’s Tower Theater will welcome some new guests this year, from dancing cowboys and daring spies to magical fairies and even a giant man-eating plant.
The characters are stars in the Department of Theatre Arts’ mainstage season, which kicks off Sept. 23 with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!. Other shows this academic year include Little Shop of Horrors, Romeo & Juliet, Ragtime-The Musical, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and Peter Pan.
It’s a lineup of old classics mixed with some modern-day surprises that will help students learn many aspects of theater and at the same time keep the audiences coming, said Linda Nell Cooper, chair of Liberty's Theatre Arts Department.
“We choose the shows thinking about what students we have and what would be good to challenge them as artists -- and not just our actors, but our production students, too,” she said.
Whether it is making costumes for Oklahoma!, creating a giant plant puppet for Little Shop of Horrors or using the advanced fly and rigging system for Peter Pan, students will be able to enhance their skills and, Cooper said, add some top scores to their resume.
All theater students are required to participate in eight shows before they graduate. Liberty currently has 120 declared theater majors.
The 2010-2011 academic year was the first year students performed in the new theater, with more than 30,000 seats sold.
Cooper said she expects just as much of a following this year, with shows that will attract all ages.
“We really did a nice job last year bringing in community members that had never set foot in our theater or on Liberty’s campus before, so we wanted to find something that would encourage them to continue to come,” Cooper said. “We think Oklahoma! does that, and Peter Pan and Romeo & Juliet.”
Some of the shows have been performed at Liberty before, but the new facility allows the department to take them to a whole new level.
Liberty performed Oklahoma!, the musical set in a Western Indian territory at the turn of the century, 10 years ago. This time around, Liberty’s costume designers are making all the costumes for 29 cast members. The show will involve more than 50 students, including a full orchestra.
Little Shop of Horrors, though never done at Liberty before, will be the first time a musical has been performed with a small cast of eight.
“It’s one of those musicals that makes fun of those B-level science fiction-type movies, tongue-in-cheek, very fun, jazzy music, so it will be fun for the students,” Cooper said. She admitted students were “shocked” when they saw the show in the lineup, but “it really speaks to their age and sometimes they don’t realize we listen to their age and understand it.”
The show opens Oct. 28.
Just before Christmas break, students will perform Romeo & Juliet, which has not been done at Liberty in the last 20 years, Cooper said. With a large cast of 24, the show will make use of all the theater’s new amenities. “It’s large enough for us to do a play of that size, with a full two-story set, the balcony, beautiful costumes they are making, and full-stage combat with swords and rapiers,” Cooper said. It opens Dec. 2.
Ragtime was performed nine years ago at Liberty. Students will have a chance to showcase their musical talents in this dramatic show, which has won many Tony Awards. “It’s a riveting score, beautiful,” Cooper said. It also allows for a large cast, with 40 people. When theater students heard they had a chance to do Ragtime, “it was one of their favorites. … If you love musical theater, it’s probably in your top five,” she said. Performances begin Feb. 17.
The last two shows were pleasant surprises to the schedule. Liberty had tried to get The 39 Steps last year, but could not obtain a license. Based off an Alfred Hitchcock movie, “it’s a whodunit, but it’s also extremely comical,” Cooper said. The show opens March 23.
Peter Pan, the last show of the season, was a longshot – but worth the try, Cooper said. The show is on a national tour, which is hard to obtain a license to if there are plans for it to come anywhere near your area.
“Usually you don’t even try for national tour shows,” Cooper said. “We tried. We got it.”
It’s a show Liberty has never been able to do, but now can with the theater’s new fly system. Cooper herself will direct the large cast of 40. Twelve performances are planned, with opening night on April 13.
“I particularly enjoy fantasy. It’s infectious, you can’t help but get caught up in the magic,” she said.