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KSU + Musical Theatre Project = “Babes in Arms”

Roy Berko

(member, Cleveland Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association)

There’s a new couple in town.  The musical Theatre Project and Kent State’s Musical Theatre program are joining forces to do a staged reading/sing-through of the musical “Babes in Arms.”

People familiar with “Babes in Arms” usually think of it as the “hey let’s us kids, put on a play.”  The 1939 wholesome movie starred Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  What might surprises many is that a 1937 theatre version preceded the film.

To add to the surprise, the original play had political overtones which delved into the concept of Nietzscheism, had a Communist character, and showcased two African-American youths who were victims of racism.   The play was redone in 1959 and was, as the publicity heralded, a “sanitized, depoliticized rewrite.” The script was again adapted in 1999 by John Guare.

The score includes such classics as “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Johnny One Note,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” and “My Funny Valentine.”

An interview with Terri Kent, chair of the musical theatre program at Kent State shared some interesting information about the “Babes in Arms” production and the KSU program.

Kent State got involved in this project when Terri was contacted by Bill Rudman, Artistic Director of the musical Theatre Project.  The duo discussed several shows and honed in on “Babes In Arms” because many of the roles are populated by characters the ages of the University’s student body.  Besides the age parallel, Kent liked the idea that the show was set in the mid-thirties and “allows students to gain an understanding of the society of that time.”

Though Kent and Rudman had never worked together, she knew his work and “admires him as a musical theatre historian.”

The twelve students selected for the production tried out in three days of auditions which the KSU musical theatre program holds for all their main stage shows.  In addition to the students, four adults were cast to play the “mature” members of the story.  These are MaryAnn Black, Ron Thomas, Rudman and Kent.  The cast will be supported by musical director, Nancy Maier.

Kent has 85 musical theatre students.  This addition to the regular on-campus productions, and Porthouse Theatre’s summer program, the MTP involvement gives the future “professional theatre stars” a chance for more roles.  KSU grads have gone on to star on and off-Broadway, in cruise ship productions, work at such entertainment venues as Disneyworld, and have become school and college drama teachers and professors.

One of the emerging aspects of the KSU theatre offerings is the Returning Professional Program, in which college graduates, who have been involved in theatre productions, return to campus to finish their advanced degree. Ken Howard, Broadway  (“1776,” “Promises, Promises,” and “See Saw”), film (“The Country Girl,” “Strange Interlude, and “J. Edgar” and television  (“The White Shadow” and “The Thornbirds”), who went on to be president of the Screen Actors Guild, was the first participant in the degree program.  Graduates include Cleveland area performers Tracy Patterson, Greg Violand, and Mark Moritz.  Paul Floriano is now a student.

Kent is looking forward to staging the first student production of the new musical, “My Heart Is The Drum,” in February, 2015.    The show, which has an all Black cast, takes place in Ghana, and centers on Efua Kuti who flees her village when she is forced to marry, but wants to get an education.  It is filled with driving rhythms and rich vocal harmonies.

“Babes In Arms” will be presented on September 18 @ Beck Center for the Arts, 8 PM and September 21 @ Stump Theatre, Kent State University, 2 PM.  For tickets call (Beck) 216-521-2540 X10 or visit or KSU 330-672-2787, http://www.kent/edu/artscollege/


(Thanks to Bill Rudman and Terri Kent for their input on this article)