No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Rock Holliday’
No Refund Theatre returns again with another production in its spring catalog. This week, the organization presents “Rock Holliday”.
Directed by fourth-year students Julie Byrne and Madison Colantrello, Rock Holliday tells the story of Doc Holliday, a man haunted by the loss of both parents and the ever-changing chaos of the Old Wild West. Written by Tyler McClellan and focused on the real-life Shootout at the O.K. Corral, the musical centers around this troubled dentist, his distant wife, and a chorus of cowboys in the town of Tombstone, Arizona. As crime runs rampant and the death toll rises, the dramedy finds a careful balance between comedy and tragedy while also discovering meaning in an overarching lesson: While no one lives forever, the legacy we leave lasts far beyond a single man’s lifetime.
From the very beginning, director Julie Byrne was committed to bringing the production to Penn State. As a student in high school, Byrne was involved in the first and only production of the show at the time. Written by a friend of Byrne at Central Bucks High School East, Rock Holliday was performed just once before coming to the No Refund Theatre stage.
“I’ve always wanted to direct an NRT show, and it was always in the back of my head,” said the director. “Slowly but surely, it suddenly just started becoming that more and more people know Rock Holiday.”
As the current Thespians president and a member of No Refund Theatre since her freshman year, Byrne has done countless productions at University Park, yet this show holds a special place as an homage to a running joke between friends. Originally talked about as lighthearted fun, this culmination of the actual production allowed the director freedom to make the work her own, with the blessing of the original writer.
“He gave me complete creative control to change or edit anything I wanted in the show,” said Byrne. ”That is really cool from a directing standpoint.”
Within this creative freedom, the directors adapted the original work for the Penn State audience. Incorporating details such as small script edits, meaning behind costuming, and lighting schemes on an elaborate set, Byrne furthered the original concept in a different light.
One such example includes a stark contrast in costuming between the lead role of Doc Holliday and his wife, Kate Holliday. Symbolizing their divide as a couple, Doc Holliday is dressed in red and black, while Kate dons blue and white, the inverse of these colors displayed as she represents his exact opposite.
Within the nature of the production as the second-ever performance of Rock Holliday, another aspect of both creative freedom and challenge arose: crafting original choreography. For assistant director and choreographer Peyton Thiem, the sky was the limit.
“Usually when you choreograph, you can look at some inspiration,“ said Thiem. “But, I didn’t have a lot of that, so it was a lot of just me listening to the music.”
Listening and learning to create her own style, Thiem capitalized on choreographing original combinations, which stands out as a key aspect of the production as a musical on the NRT stage.
In another creative aspect on stage, the production includes unique visual aspects of set and lighting design. With a full-stage set centered around two saloon doors selected and transported by Byrne herself, the setting also lights up in tandem with the highs and lows of the show.
“I knew how powerful lighting could be and how it can really affect a show,” said Byrne. “It’s been a lot of fun just designing the little things.”
Utilizing small aspects such as detailed costuming, engaging lighting design, and sound effects, Rock Holliday came to life on the No Refund Theatre stage, also unique in its role as a musical with an original score. Historically, the organization mainly produces plays, but producing Rock Holliday also allowed another opportunity: the chance to record an entire cast album.
“One of the things that I brought to the table was that I would be able to make a soundtrack for the entire show,” said assistant director Brandon Fean.
Within a busy schedule before graduation, Fean found time to record individual cast members and edit each song to create an original cast recording.
“I did manage to figure it all out and get it out, which was super exciting,” said Fean.
In the excitement, second-year Jacob Malizio also explained his philosophy and joy for the opportunity to record an original cast album.
‘The first song is called ‘None Of Us are gonna live forever,’ and they ask, ‘what’s gonna be on your tombstone?’” said Malizio. “It’s a show about legacy and reputation, and how the town of Tombstone perceives each character.”
Comparing themes of legacy, Malizio found similarities between the messages of Rock Holliday and the current NRT production process.
“Theatre is fleeting,” he said. “Once it happens, it’s gone. But a cast album is forever.”
In response to the opportunity to record the cast album, fourth-year student Jack Hemhauser explained just what made the entire process the most enjoyable.
“It really is the people who make stuff like this,” said Jack Hemhauser. Playing the lead protagonist of Doc Holliday, Hemhauser explained his process for playing the role, which was challenging in its demands as both bonded in the present yet haunted by the past.
“He’s very scarred by his past,” said Hemhauser. “But one interesting aspect about the character is that one thing he doesn’t lose is his sense of friendship. For as mean and as spiteful and gritty and horrible he can be, he really latches on to this sense of friendship, and [with his friends,] they stand together till the death.”
In a similar fashion to themes of friendship onstage, Hemhauser elaborated on a special moment present within a true high point of the show: a production number featuring four male leads teasing Doc Holliday in jest as lifelong buddies.
“The three of them are, in real life, are some of my best friends here,” he said. “So, this show just kind of feels like a culmination of how close and how much we’ve worked together, and it’s just been so much fun.”
Playing the role of Wyatt Earp in this scene as well, third-year student Will Lehmann attributed much of the comfortability between the cast to the friendly environment created by the production team from the beginning. Echoing similar sentiments, Lehmann explained the experience as joyful within bonds formed, a classic differentiator of the organization in which the inclusive nature of No Refund Theatre shines.
“The cast was really cool because there were a lot of people that I had met before and had already established friendships with,” he said. “Everybody was just awesome and amazing to work with, and just fun people to be around anyway.”
Working with the cast in this productive, comfortable capacity, fourth-year student and director Madison Colantrello photographed and edited images of the cast in old western style, furthering the overarching theme of the show. As the director, she also helped foster comfortability for the cast and reflected on the results so present right before the curtain rises.
“You could see by the time tech week came around that everybody loved everybody,” she said. “It was so relaxed because everyone was like ‘we’re here to do a show that we love.”
While friendships formed supported the cast through the process, challenges appeared during the last week of production. As multiple roles were replaced due to illness, quick changes were needed to adapt the show and ensure it go on.
Speaking on the last-minute fulfillment of the role of Kate Holliday by director Julie Byrne, Jack Hemhauser explained the emotions behind missing a member of the family right before opening night.
“It’s unfortunate that that character dynamic between me and Gabby, we never really got to see. We had worked so much on our character dynamic,” he said. “She’s on the soundtrack, she’s on the program. It’s super unfortunate circumstances, but Gabby will always be Kate.”
While disappointed at the last-minute loss of cast members, both director Julie Byrne and assistant director Peyton Thiem stepped into the production to allow Rock Holliday its opening night.
“At this point, ‘the show must go on,’” said Hemhauser, “and Julie embodied that and just crushed it.”
While overcoming last-minute challenges, Byrne remains focused on the excitement of the opening night. As a fourth-year student surrounded by a community she’s acted with for the past four years, Byrne concluded a final message of thanks for her cast in her last directorial debut.
“I am so unbelievably proud of this cast, and all of the challenges they’ve had to overcome. They’ve hit every stride and surpassed my expectations, and then some,” she said.
Rock Holliday rolls into town at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 14. Additional shows will follow at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 15, and Saturday, April 16. As always, all tickets are free of charge. A trigger warning is emphasized for language, violence, and loud noises.
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