Student musical embraces over-the-hill enthusiasts

This theater review will not be like other theater reviews. Average theater reviews describe average performances, but this was not an average performance. Betty White: The Musical, a show that was student-written, student-directed and performed by Immediate Theatre, was by far one of the best theater performances of this entire year. While I was initially skeptical of the use of Greylock dining hall as a performance space, the semi-natural lighting and brick backdrop created an intimate and fresh setting that accompanied the musical perfectly. For being a relatively new group at the College, Immediate Theatre has made huge strides with this show and has again made use of a unique space on campus. Pig roast or no pig roast, Betty White is what happened this weekend.
The audience was escorted by a naive Nurse Cassie, played by Anna Heffernan ’12, into Oceanside Gardens Assisted Living Facility, where the 757th meeting of the Betty White Fan Club was in session. The six elderly people who made up the group all had their own personalities and all loved Betty White for unique reasons. The plot of the musical centered on White coming to visit the fan club in person. While White is now the same age as her over-the-hill enthusiasts, the fan club reflects on her younger years as they await her arrival, using stories of White’s past to parallel stories of their own. While all of the performers did a fabulous job singing and portraying their characters, it is also important to recognize both accompanists, Henry Su ’13 and Daniel Schreiner ’14, who played small but essential roles in creating the atmosphere of the musical by playing the piano during both songs and dialogue.
When the group finds out that Nurse Cassie doesn’t know who White is, the first flashback begins as the group acts out White’s breakout performance as the “Better than Butter Parkay” spokesgirl. Although the characters are old – Chris Gay ’13 as Fletcher jokes to Nurse Cassie, “You think I’ve forgotten, haven’t you … where was I going with this?” – the group always does manage to fight off sleep and forgetfulness to remember the great stories of White. Director Margy Love ’12 made great use of the area in front of the stage as a space for memories and thoughts to materialize. On the stage the characters were in the nursing home, but in front of the stage all of the characters, including White, were young and agile again as they remembered or commented on events of the past. Sarah Sanders ’14 twirled into this magical realm as the young White, whose “can-do attitude” rolled out the carpet of media before her feet. Sanders, like White, proved to be an extremely versatile actress, dancer and singer and really did the part justice by portraying with passion both the on-camera and off-camera White personalities.
Following White through the failure of her first marriage, the first emotional moment of the show was transformed from melancholy to triumphant. because, in the words of White’s parents, “She’s still working”: If her husband couldn’t handle her success, then he wasn’t the right man for her. It turns out they were right, and her greatest love story was yet to come, depicted in one of my favorite numbers in the show. “The Yes of It All” described White’s romance with Password host Allen Ludden, portrayed by Taylor Halperin ’14. Ludden told White, soon after declaring his love for her, “We’ll do dinner first … before you marry me.” Halperin’s voice was perfect for the song and a great way to end the first act.
While there was no intermission, the first and second acts were separated by a hysterical, though slightly dark, scene that introduced some of the more sensitive songs of the show. Despite Nurse Cassie’s initial claims that Su’s sudden faint onto the piano was “just the narcolepsy,” it turns out that his character had actually died and was soon replaced. While his limp body being dragged off-stage was pretty comical – in the words of Gay and Julia Juster ’14, “It’s the circle of life … and we had Jell-O this morning!” – the reality of mortality turned out to be an issue that many of the characters were dealing with. The otherwise silent Sarah Freymiller ’13, who played Irma, finally explained in a heart-wrenching and sincere song titled “Too Many Words” that she had “stopped speaking after David [her husband] died,” but was inspired by White and her ability to keep living even after her beloved Ludden had died as well. While the other members of the cast were brilliant and unbelievably funny, I have to give Freymiller my vote for favorite role. Not only did I laugh at nearly every speechless thing she did, her simple eloquence in her song brought me to tears – twice.
Despite the show’s more emotional moments, Holly Fisher ’13 in “Waiting for the Mailman,” Justine Neubarth ’13 in “The Golden Age,” and Juster in “Badass Betty” kept the storyline – and the laughter – rolling throughout the entire show. When White finally arrived in the flesh, everyone at Oceanside Gardens, including Nurse Cassie, sang the closing number, “That’s How I Know Betty.” Freymiller ended with, “I know Betty … and that’s all I have to say.” I would like to think that we all know Betty now, and we’re all a little better off because of it.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *