When USM's Sam Allen takes the stage as Alexander Throttlebottom — the hapless vice president in the 86-year-old musical satire "Of Thee I Sing" — there are no hidden messages about fake news or border walls.
The breezy, often-funny School of Music show has little time for contemporary asides. Nor is there any need. The musical — which premiered during the Hoover Administration — features beauty contestants vying for the attention of the president to be, backroom hand-wringing over optics and an impeachment proceeding.
It's the cast's job to feel real, Allen said.
"The theater has a connection to audiences that TV and online videos don't," said Allen,whose squeaky-voiced Throttlebottom spends much of the first act reminding politicians and reporters that he's the nominee for vice president. "There's something about the audience being in the same space as the actors. There's nothing in between us."
If the connection is strong, the show works, he said.
The show has worked since it debuted on Broadway, winning musical theater's first Pulitzer. It features music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. The book was by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind.
The USM production was directed by Edward Reichert with music direction by Kellie Moody.
The story follows John P. Wintergreen's (Sean Arsenault) campaign for president with the slogan "Put Love In The White House." Politicos decide Wintergreen ought to marry the winner of a beauty contest. But, instead of falling for beauty queen Diana Deveraux (Rachel Shukan), Wintergreen falls in love with Mary Turner (Meg Ward).
"She is supposed to characterize the typical American woman, and she's the prime example of what you want in a wife in the 1930s," Ward said of her character. "She can cook. She can sew. She's sweet and kind and modest."
Like Allen, she didn't look to current political figures as a model for her character. She looked inward and built on her own shyness and modesty.
"The core of acting really comes from finding that character within yourself," she said.
The show boasted a large cast, demonstrating the strength of the School's musical theatre program, including:
John P. Wintergreen: Sean Arsenault of Scarborough
Mary Turner: Meg Ward of Bangor
Alexander Throttlebottom: Sam Allen of Harpswell
Diana Devereaux: Rachel Shukan of Woburn, Mass
The French Ambassador: Chris Figaratto of Portland
Matthew Arnold Fulton: Ben Walker-Dubay of Kennebunkport
Louis Lippman: Garrett Moyer of Ellsworth
Francis Gilhooley: Keegan Perry of Westbrook
Senator Robert E. Lyons: Scotty Venable of Lewiston
Senator Carver Jones: Ian Yarnall of Newport, VT
Sam Jenkins: Andrew Carney of Millinocket
Miss Benson: Jackie Condon of Houlton
Ensemble (playing various roles); Arianna Angelone of Methuen, Mass; Meg Mayfield of Marlborough, Mass; Thomas McLaughlin of Freeport; Miles Obrey of Gorham; Victoria Stackpole of Biddeford; and Abby White of Dalton, Mass.
"Of Thee I Sing" was presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC.