Fall play Preview: “The Scoundrel’s Secret or Railroaded by a Rogue”

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Hannon Theater is excited to unveil the upcoming fall play, “The Scoundrel’s Secret or Railroaded by a Rogue,” a melodrama written and directed by Walter Wolfe and based on the classic play “Under the Gaslight.”

“Melodrama came from Europe as a high art. They used to do poetry and accompany the play with music. When it came to America, it became a popular art,” said fine arts teacher Steven Speciale, the production’s music coordinator. 

Speciale added, “This play is one that set the standard for what melodrama is, so things like being tied to a train track started with this play.” Both Steven Speciale and the choreographer, English teacher Daniel Robles, prefer not to reveal the plot of the play.

In lieu of explaining every twist and turn, Robles described the play’s core elements. “It is really about mistaken identities, secret plots that get unraveled or solved and colorful characters. It’s really about the over-the-top characters and their role in the plot. We all know how the plot ends: The hero and the heroine win and get together. That’s not a surprise, but each scene is very fun and very funny.”

The directors, cast and crew have painstakingly worked to keep the piece historically accurate. The play dates back to 1868, but the set is being updated to fit modern shows and audience. In the 1860s, set changes would be covered up by olios, or musical acts. “The Scoundrel’s Secret” will feature olios of its own.

Robles explained, “Originally, olios were used for set changes and costume changes. Olios were like a commercial without the idea of selling something, but rather to entertain the masses.”

Speciale added, “The olios are non-sequitur musical presentations. They have nothing to do with the story.”

Another detail added for historical accuracy is the use of cards with reactions on them, which draw audience participation.

Robles said, “We are going to have two people, one on each side of the stage, holding up signs that tell the audience to sigh or to boo because that was the custom, and the audience  was very vocal. It is almost like the applause sign in a live studio taping.” 

As is customary for the fall play, Steven Speciale will write music to accompany the scenes.

Speciale is excited to reveal his original score for the play: “It is planned with the text, but the piano is basically a character in this play. The piano accentuates the action in a kind of stylized and improvised way. I will plan the basics, but it will be improvised and highly stylized with all of the characters having themes.”

Due to the genre of the play, the actors will perform in an unconventional style. Eccentricities are to include conversations between characters while both characters face the crowd and pause for dramatic effect. This traditional melodramatic style hopes to draw the audience in and transport them back to the play’s time period.

“Students are really embracing the style. It takes commitment and bravery to cross that line of what is comfortable and what is normal and to just be goofy and outlandish. The actors really commit to the persona,” said Robles.

The student actors are deep in play rehearsal, especially junior Ben Staudt, who is playing Rayford Radcliffe, a confused, befuddled hero.

On behalf of the cast, Staudt said, “The play is going really well. We are getting through all of our scenes really quickly, so that leaves us with more time to practice and perfect our scenes. I think it is going to turn out great.” 

In addition, the stage crew is working on setting the authentic scene for the show. 

Master carpenter, senior Jacob Lantin, described the stage: “The stage itself is planned to be a large, flat wooden facade meant to resemble an 1860s opera house. The set definitely diverges from the more open and spacious sets we are used to, but we look forward to the opportunity.”

Robles, anticipating an outstanding show, explained, “I am looking forward to when it all comes together with the music and the olios. It is a great show, but when it all comes together, it is going to be magic. If it is done well, the play will take your breath away. It should be electric.” 

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