Jason Knight stands in front of 10 underclassmen in a studio on the third floor of the Colonial Theatre on a Sunday evening in mid-February. The attentive audience listens to the senior marketing communication major as he hashes out stage directives. They are cast members of a new on-campus musical, Little Miss Fix-It, which begins Feb. 23 in the Cabaret.
A musical en route to the big leagues (Broadway, namely) must first undergo a tedious metamorphosis commonly referred to as the "workshop" stage. After Fix-It leaves Emerson's grasp, it may bounce between theatre companies for any number of years, subject to editing along the way, before it takes the professional stage.
The 'Little Miss Lead' of the production is freshman Vanessa Moyen. At eighteen years old, she is the first actress to assume the role of Nan, the garrulous 12 year-old bent on fixing the problems of the world.
Moyen, of San Jose, California, delights in creating a character all her own. She describes the plot as a "coming-of-age story" dealing with the kinds of things "musicals generally brush over."
Set in modern day New York City, Little Miss Fix-it follows the plight of Moyen's character, Nan, as she attempts to remedy her parents' divorce and her pal's leukemia, all the while avoiding how these heavy issues affect her personally. The world's a scary place for the 12-year-old. In NYC, it's even scarier.
Nan is only one of the quirky, endearing characters featured in the production. Sophomore screenwriting major Ashley Whiting is hilarious in her portrayal of school teacher Mrs. Hallway. Nan's schoolmates Cary, Taylor, and Travis (Chloe Marcotte, Hannah Yang, and Anthony Jackson) are perfect tween stereotypes in the classroom. An adorably stubborn chemistry develops between Nan (Moyen) and David (Pfeil) as they fight illness and domestic issues with their blossoming friendship.
At present, Little Miss Fix-it is no more than a ten person, eighteen song script that has never been performed for the public. From day to day, there is a chance that a character's entire monologue might be axed and a song added. The show is constantly exposed to edits, cuts, re-writes and add-ins. New York University's Graduate Composition Program is a division of its prominent music department, and the source of Emerson's latest show. The program's concentration includes the pursuit of a Bachelor's, Master's, or Ph. D within the fields of traditional, computer interactive, film and musical theatre composition, respectively.
Works of NYU composition students are read regularly by acclaimed performance groups across the United States. Emerson's Musical Theater Society, aware of the program's prestige among the musical theatre community, made an inquiry about new material available to "workshop" during the fall of 2007. NYU grads Kirsten Guenther and Joy Son offered up their baby, Little Miss Fix-It.
Freshman producer Ross Weiner is a product of the show's boundless hands-on opportunities for young Emerson artists. A seemingly advanced position for an underclassman, Weiner is one of many hardworking freshman dedicated to the musical.
In fact, the ten-person cast is entirely composed of underclassmen: seven freshman and three sophomores.
Although Knight and crew hold the reigns, they are ultimately bringing life to an otherwise dormant script. The lyrics or bits of dialogue inserted by the Emerson production could sustain the test of time should the show hit it big. Cast member and musical theatre major Blake Pfeil compliments the process.
"The workshop process is extremely helpful for the composers because it shows them what's working and what's not."
MTS provides such opportunities for non-theatre majors. The society's mission statement extends membership to any and all corners of the Emerson community.
Though Emerson's musical theatre program is a successful vehicle for those breaking into the business, many students pursue musical theatre as a secondary "creative outlet," according to Knight. MTS is one of Emerson's many student-run organizations and assembles annually to select and produce a spring and fall musical.
The choice is usually a reliable standard, like Cabaret, which was performed in the fall of 2006. This year, however, Knight and the MTS board members decided to opt for something off the beaten path.
Little Miss Fix-it will play on, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23-24 in the Cabaret in the basement of the Little Building. To purchase tickets, send an e-mail request to email@example.com. Following the Sunday matinee showing, Fix-it authors Guenther and Son will host an informal talk-back for audience and cast members.