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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Falling in Love With The 40s: A Dramaturg’s Perspective on A WONDERFUL NOISE

Graduate Student, Alix Rosenfeld, is completing her thesis as the dramaturg for A Wonderful Noise. We are lucky enough to have the inside scoop of her process working on this Philadelphia premiere which will transport audiences to the 1940s. Check out this excerpt of Alix's thesis proposal and learn more about this fantastic musical comedy by Villanova's very own Michael Hollinger, who serves as the Associate Artistic Director for Villanova Theatre. 

I first fell in love with this musical when “Chit Chat” was sung at the season selection announcement last spring. The song is incredibly entertaining, rich, and comical—truly a knockout number. It is a song that is pure joy, but it also acts as a time machine, propelling us back into another era that initially feels foreign, but actually sits comfortably in our cores. After my first encounter with the music and the script, I found that this holds true from beginning to end. The audience is transported to 1941 St. Louis with all of the innocence that accompanies a bygone era, and that feeling is reinforced masterfully by the music, the words, and the character relationships created by Michael Hollinger and Vance Lehmkuhl. In this musical we get the opportunity to be enchanted as we leave the modern world behind yet somehow land in a place that feels like home.

Though 1941 seems like a fragment of the past that we have forgotten, the brilliance of this piece is its ability to live in that past but still reach forward in time and speak to issues that affect us today. That is where its power lies: comedy and guilelessness charge forward throughout, but the threat of war bubbles almost imperceptibly under the surface. A Wonderful Noise packs a very unexpected punch, and it is the effect of the war that keeps it from simply being an evening of camp and good times. Instead, it is a wonderful blend of witty hijinks, heartfelt emotions, and just enough solemnity, working in harmony to create a beautiful, well-rounded experience for the audience.

Throughout the research process, I’ve continued to discover avenues into this musical that strengthen my connection to it. As a woman, I find Mae’s (and the rest of the quartet’s) determination to create more equal opportunities for women incredibly inspiring. Despite it being nearly seventy-five years later, we still live in a society where women have to fight for equality, and the quartet’s struggles for recognition represent this conflict on a small yet meaningful scale. In this vein, I also can’t help but note that our production is incredibly timely. The presidential primaries will be just days away from opening night, and with one very serious female contender for the democratic nomination, it’s exciting (and oddly prescient) to have references to a woman in the white house in the song “Give a Girl a Chance.” And while I don’t necessarily have a strong connection to the male quartet’s feelings of brotherhood and “esprit de corps,” I think we all can understand the desire to maintain a legacy put in place by one’s forefathers and a need for adventure. In this musical, there truly is something for everyone.

In this way and many more, A Wonderful Noise is extraordinary. Hollinger and Lehmkuhl have tapped into a remarkable ability to take the universal and distill these big ideas into a heartwarming and enjoyable story. Because of its universality, it transcends its very specific snapshot of time and breaks open issues that we contend with today, such as immigration, otherness, equality, war, and patriotism, to name a few. If asked, “why this play now,” I think the only answer is perhaps the most obvious: we need this piece. Recently we have been plagued with bombings and other acts of terrorism, people being displaced from their homes, and other heart-heavy events that could easily bog us down and make us lose our humanity. A Wonderful Noise reminds us, specifically in the song “Out of the Blue,” that through these atrocities we can still find camaraderie and strength despite adversity. 

Villanova Theatre's production of A Wonderful Noise runs February 9-21. Get your tickets at or call us at 610-519-7474.

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