Surfacing showcases stories of love, growth in its musical revue
Evangeline Von Houten said when she was a child she wanted to grow up to be Broadway star Bernadette Peters. The musical “Into the Woods” was her favorite version of a fairytale. On family vacations, she and her parents listened to “Pirates of Panzan” in the car.
Von Houten said her parents enrolled her in a children’s theatre program at 7 years old.
“I read the first Harry Potter book in the light booth during performances of ‘Gypsy,’” Von Houten said. “It’s just what my childhood was.”
Von Houten, senior English major, performed and worked in community theatre with her parents. Her background in community theatre drew her to Webster University’s Surfacing Theatre as a sophomore when she performed in the organization’s first musical revue.
Surfacing Theatre is an organization open to all students interested in theatre arts. The majority of Surfacing members are non-Conservatory majors.
“We wanted to give some talented, non-Conservatory students a chance to perform great music and hopefully fun scenes. And, I guess we wanted to show Webster what we could do (with the musical revue),” Von Houten said. “It’s a shame to let talent go to waste just because it’s not something someone wants to do with their lives. It’s the purpose of all community theater. Everyone have fun. The audience has a good time. And the performers get to perform. Everyone wins.”
Von Houten headed the script for Surfacing’s “New Music: A Musical Revue.” She collaborated closely with the artistic director, David Hupperts, a junior dramaturgy major. Hupperts was in charge of the song selection.
The music revue takes place in a small liberal arts college where Professor Chris (played by Catharine Goeke) teaches and mentors three students — Louise (played by Larissa White), Alex (played by Alex Glow) and Micah (played by Amanda Kocher). As she guides the trio through personal challenges, Professor Chris is reminded of her college years in the 1970s when she walked away from love. She is reunited with her old flame, Will (played by Ben Huntley), when he takes the job as choir director at the same college where Chris works.
Von Houten said she built the plot on the song, “I Can Give You the Starlight,” and in particular, the bridge of the song:
“When I was young,
My foolish fancies used to make a great mistake,
But now a little love,
A little living,
Has changed my ways and taught me,
And brought me,
The joy of giving.”
In this song, Von Houten said she was able to connect the parallel times of Young Chris (played by Cydney Lucio) and Will, and Professor Chris. In the 1970s, Will sings a song “I Can Give You the Starlight,” which in the plot, he wrote for Young Chris, but she is taken aback by his affection for her. Professor Chris joins in the song and remembers the moment she left Will. Von Houten said this scene was Chris’ moment of revelation of Chris’ current and past self.
With the conception of the main characters and a selection of songs, Von Houten said the plot “flowed naturally” after this scene was established.
“Building a plot for me is always the hardest part of writing. I can write scenes all day that go nowhere and dialogue is easy enough,” Von Houten said. “It’s just making it go somewhere is the tough part. (‘I Can Give You the Starlight’) kind of brought it all together.”
During the development of the main characters, Von Houten said she drew inspiration from what she knows — her own life experiences, people she knows, readings, etc. Her mother is a high school teacher, and her father is a college professor.
“So (Professor Chris) came very natural to me,” Von Houten said. “I’ve seen teachers work from the inside out, so I had that advantage when I was writing that character. Building characters that are our age (18-22) that go to a school that is similar to ours is pretty easy. You know, you look around.”
The characters Alex and Micah are best friends.
“(Alex) is the lovable slacker,” said Alex Glow, who played the character Alex. “Louise is like the ‘Hermione’ of the group.”
In the revue, Louise joins their group, and Alex and Louise kindle a romance — but with Micah’s help. When Louise and Alex become closer, Micah starts to feel alone which is showcased during Kocher’s performance of “Easy to be Hard” from the musical “Hair.”
“We needed someone there to push (Louise and Alex) to be together. But (Micah) had to be more than just a plot device, she had to be a person, which is how we came up with the ‘Easy to be Hard’ scene,” Von Houten said. “Then, what we realized is that we needed a charismatic misfit, which is easy enough when you’re surrounded by them.”
Glow said he appreciated the subtle humor Von Houten weaved into the script. A humorous part, he added, was when the character Nate, played by CJ Mertzlufft, said, “I’ll make sure to button my breaches,” after the song “Corrupt Bargain” from “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
“It’s a little known fact that Ben Franklin had sex with a lot, a lot of French mistresses and he wore breaches,” Glow said. “There’s just a lot of subtle humor she put in there. And she (Von Houten) likes to use big words, which I think she channels through Louise.”
For the character of Louise, Von Houten said she drew from herself.
“I caricatured certain aspects of myself in parts of the scenes I wrote with her,” Von Houten said. “The opening classroom scene (Louise reminds me of myself) because sometimes a person who cares a lot about school can go overboard.”
The creation of three very unique characters was purposeful.
“…All three characters were solidified through what they needed to be in relation to each other,” Von Houten said.