A musical comedy that was the late great actress Debbie Reynolds’ debut on Broadway will make its way to the stage at Honeoye Falls-Lima’s District Auditorium when the HF-L High School students present Irene as the spring musical March 22-24.
About 40 students onstage and another 25-30 backstage are eagerly working to bring this charming piece of musical theater to HF-L audiences.
“The kids did not know anything about the show and had some questions at first,” artistic director John Hennessey said. “We told them ‘you didn’t know anything about last year’s show The Pajama Game but did you have fun with it?’ They said yes and we told them they would have fun and love this show as well. In fact, some of the students were watching the film The Great Gatsby in a class and heard the song Alice Blue Gown in the background and looked at each other because they recognized that song as being in our show.”
Irene was originally produced on Broadway in 1919 and told the story of Irish lass Irene O’Dare, an upholsterer’s assistant sent to a Long Island mansion to mend some cushions. There, she meets the instantly smitten Donald Marshall who persuades his friend, a male couturier known as Madame Lucy to hire Irene to pose as a socialite and show off his latest creations. Although her humble working class origin is revealed, she makes a hit at an elegant party wearing a beautiful gown and ends up in Marshall’s arms.
The show was revived in 1973 with Irene’s occupation changed to that of helping her widowed mother in a little music shop in New York City. A spunky gal, Irene is a believer in women’s lib before the term was even invented as she wants to be a successful business woman, going against all tradition. With that intention, she installs the first telephone in the neighborhood in the music shop and the first time it rings, she is asked to tune pianos at a swanky Long Island mansion where she meets young tycoon Donald Marshall. Irene is attracted to Marshall despite his aloofness while he is intrigued by this gal who is so unlike the society girls his mother has been pushing at him, particularly after she describes an adventure she had wearing her favorite dress – her Alice Blue Gown. Marshall’s scatter-brained cousin Ozzie arrives at the mansion with a crazy idea- opening a dress salon to be run by a wild eccentric who calls himself Madame Lucy. Marshall agrees to finance the shop on the condition that Irene takes charge of the business. She is a great success and some of her friends from her old neighborhood are taken on at the salon as models under the tutelage of Madame Lucy. It is then arranged that some of Madame Lucy’s fashions are to be introduced at a fancy society ball. To impress the socialites at the ball, Irene is announced as Contessa Irena O’Dari. She charms everyone at the ball, but when Marshall insists she continue to play the role for business purposes, she balks and tells him she will not live a lie for him or anyone else. Her old neighborhood friends cheer her up and at a party at the Marshall house, Marshall confesses his love for Irene. At the same time, Mrs. O’Dare (Irene’s mother) meets the man who was a long-lost love of hers – none other than Madame Lucy.
The 1973 revival, which is what the HF-L students are performing, marked the Broadway debut of Reynolds, by then a movie star thanks to several MGM movies. A fun little fact of that 1973 show was that Reynolds’ daughter, the late Carrie Fisher, was in the ensemble.
“It was the only time that they appeared together on Broadway,” Hennessey said.
The director of the 1973 version was Gower Champion, whom older adults may remember from the 1951 movie Showboat in which he danced with then-wife Marge Champion. Gower Champion went on from that movie to a distinguished career on Broadway as both a director and choreographer in shows such as Bye Bye Birdie, Hello Dolly and 42nd Street (his final show as he died the day that musical opened on Broadway).
Well-known songs from Irene include Alice Blue Gown, You Made Me Love You, I’m Always Chasing Rainbows and the title song.
The choreography for the show is varied. Students have learned to perform all kinds of dance such as an Irish jig, tap dance, the tango and the waltz, to name a few.
“The kids have really enjoyed the challenge of learning the different types of dance,” Hennessey said. “I’ve enjoyed introducing the kids to a show they did not know and seeing them grow in their characters.”
The students will present the show following the annual Senior Citizens’ Luncheon on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. The lunch will feature fresh green salad with dressing, lasagna with meat sauce, seasoned green beans, warm dinner roll with butter, apple crisp with whipped cream, coffee, tea, milk or water. The lunch will be at 1 p.m. in the Middle School cafeteria with a matinee performance of the show directly following in the District Auditorium. The cost is $4; please contact Kellie Geiger at 624-7044 for reservations by Friday, March 16.
HF-L will present Irene March 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and March 24 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the District Auditorium, 619 Quaker Meeting House Road. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students. You can purchase tickets online at www.seatyourself.biz/HFLCSD or email the box office at HFLBOXOFFICE@gmail.com.
Coming Next Week:
Meet the Cast of Irene