Fall musical ‘Tintypes’ coming to MDIHS stage

Mount Desert Island High School’s production of “Tintypes” opens on Nov. 14. The show features American popular music and historical events from 1890 to 1910. PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

Mount Desert Island High School’s production of “Tintypes” opens on Nov. 14. The show features American popular music and historical events from 1890 to 1910. PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

President Theodore Roosevelt and political activist Emma Goldman are having an argument on the Higgins-Demas stage at Mount Desert High School in Bar Harbor. She is stridently telling him that if he doesn’t do something to correct an economy where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the people are going to revolt.

He counters that the economy in general is actually improving, but because so many people are prospering, the contrast seems starker. Hmm, sounds strangely familiar.

Then waving his walking cane, Teddy suggests she speak softly and carry a big stick. Suddenly, actors Lucas Wood and Mary Paola break into a love song and the cane becomes a prop in a cute jazz dance and duet.

What the …?

Anyone familiar with musicals knows that from time to time the characters break into song. But usually – at least since Rogers and Hammerstein redefined the genre in the 1950s – there is something that connects the song to the story at hand.

“‘Tintypes’ is really more of a Musical Revue than a play,” says Frank Bachman, who is directing this annual fall musical. It opens Friday, Nov 14. “It’s a series of vignettes about what was happening in this country between 1890 and 1910, with songs that were popular during those 20 years.”

He says he has known about the show since it was first produced on Broadway in the 1980s and felt this was a good time for MDI High School to take it on.

“I wanted to do something very different from last year’s ‘The Wiz'” he says. “We have a lot of great voices this year, so I wanted to give them all a chance to shine.”

With some 28 musical number ranging from “Shortnin’ Bread” to “America the Beautiful” in the first act alone, he has certainly accomplished that goal.

And he’s right about those voices. The Teddy and Emma duet may be improbable, but it is also adorable with both actors revealing their talents with their strong characterizations, tuneful voices and dance abilities picking up new steps swiftly as Bachman changes and polishes the routine.

Later, sophomore Thistle Swann rehearses another romantic number about kisses in the perfectly pitched, tremulous soprano of an old-fashioned Disney princess.

Oh, but there is at least one belter in the mix. Abby Kelley projects her bluesy torch song to the back seats and beyond, making one hope that perhaps they won’t have to use amplification for this show.

The first act rehearsal ends with the chorus number “I’m Gonna Live ’til I Die.” It is so powerful and fun you can see Bachman just sitting in the front row, his hands locked behind his head drinking it all in and enjoying it immensely.

“Yes,” he admits. “Sometimes I don’t bother to stop them to make blocking changes just because they sound so great.”

While all this is going on, costume designer Marilee Marchese is busy over in a corner of the theater, cutting a piece of black rubber mesh into little rectangles. She says she is making rollers for the chignon “Gibson Girl” hairdos the women will be wearing.

“The ones you buy these days are bright colors. Since these will be staying in to give the hair volume, we can’t have hot pink rollers peeking out.”

A crew of parents and other volunteers is expected later in the afternoon to practice creating the chignons and to see if the handmade rollers actually work.

Bachman calls from the stage, “Marilee, I’ll need a long police officer’s coat for Emerson,” he says indicating one of his actors on stage.

“Okay,” she responds as simply as if he’d asked her to construct him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

In terms of costuming, “Tintypes” is a relative cinch for Marchese – no flying monkeys, pirate queens or purple witches.

I guess the big challenge here is to come up with costumes that will represent several different classes of people, from the immigrants newly arrived in America, to vaudeville performers, to the upper crust with very little time for costume changes. And Frank wants the girls to be “pretty” too.

“Lucas will have to be a Panama Canal laborer in Teddy Roosevelt gaiters. So some suspension of disbelief will be required.”

All those with a love for some great old songs, an interest in a little American history and the desire to be well entertained for a couple of hours by our talented MDI teenagers will love this show.

The show will be performed two weekends, Nov. 14-16 and Nov. 21-22. Evening performances are set for 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday of both weekends, while 2 p.m. matinees are set for Sunday the first weekend, but Saturday the second weekend.

Reserved seat tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and seniors, and may be purchased at the door one hour before curtain or at the box office from 4-6 p.m. on the following days: Tuesday, Nov. 4; Wednesday, Nov. 5; Thursday, Nov. 6; Monday, Nov. 10; Wednesday, Nov. 12; and Thursday, Nov. 13.

Visit www.mdidrama.org.

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