Milton Presents Archy and Mehitabel
Archy is a sensitive cockroach who spends his evenings writing poetry; Mehitabel, a street-savvy alley cat who claims to have been Cleopatra in a past life. They are a pair of unlikely friends facing the grit and temptations of city living. Darlene Anastas, performing arts faculty member and director of this year’s musical, describes their story as “charming. The story is about friendship, through the good and the bad, which is how friendships go.”
Written by Joe Darion and Mel Brooks, Archy and Mehitabel is based on a series of stories penned by New York Evening Sun writer Don Marquis in the 1910s and ’20s. Originally staged in the 1950s as Shinbone Alley, the play is “rarely done,” Dar says. “I’ve wanted to produce this play for a very long time. The department has wanted to experiment with both large and small musicals. (I don’t think there is such a thing as a small musical, but that’s my opinion.) With Archy and Mehitabelwe have a more modest-sized cast, smaller dance numbers, simpler music.”
When it comes to set design, however, small is not the word. Performing arts faculty member Shane Fuller is designing the show’s set that includes an out-of-scale collection of fixtures and detritus fitting of small creatures on the wrong side of the tracks. The graffitied fence sets the scale alongside an oversized pizza box, a seemingly giant trash heap, and a typewriter whose berth could house the entire cast. “Archy’s typewriter was modeled after the typewriter that I wrote my master’s thesis on—a good old Smith Corona,” Dar laughs.
The costumes are subtle, revealing the characters’ animal characteristics through inference—“the characters are really humans who happen to be animals,” Dar explains. Cockroaches, cats, lightning bugs, ladybugs, moths, the token human—these are our critters of the night.
“This show stretches the imagination,” Dar says. “It has a vaudeville feel about it, with very early Mel Brooks humor. The music is jazzy, but with tight harmony.”
With only 28 days of rehearsal, the students engaged in “character development on the fly,” Dar says. The title characters will be ably acted by veterans to Milton’s stage: Grant Jones (I) is Archy, and Amelia Whalen (I) will play Mehitabel. The students will face new elements in the soft shoe dancing and in several encores that are part of the show.
“I don’t like to pick the norm,” Dar says. “I look for something relevant that has a good story, and this has both—it’s about friendship, society, and the choices one makes. I want the audience to walk away having enjoyed it, or learned something. Hopefully both.”
Archy, Mehitabel and friends will take the stage in Ruth King Theatre on Thursday, November 5 and Friday, November 6 at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday, November 7 at 7 p.m.