Going Out for Bob Oates 146 s finale Both disturbing and uplifting Steel Pier fills the Guilderland stage with dance and drama

Going Out for Bob Oates’s finale
Both disturbing and uplifting,
Steel Pier fills the Guilderland stage with dance and drama


GUILDERLAND — Second chances are there for the taking — if you believe in yourself enough to grasp them.

That’s the message of Steel Pier, a musical set in Depression-era Atlantic City.

The show, which ran for just two months on Broadway, in 1997, is coming this weekend to the Guilderland High School stage.
"We’re the first group in the area to tackle it," said Director Andy Maycock, a high-school English teacher.

The book is by David Thompson, the music by John Kander, the lyrics by Fred Ebb.

Kander and Ebb also created Cabaret and Chicago; this show has that same larger-than-life feel, coming from the pain of the down-and-out and desperate.
"It’s a difficult show to tackle...There’s a lot of dance. The harmonies are tricky," Maycock writes in his director’s notes.

So why did he choose it, especially for high school players.
"It’s Bob Oates’s last year," said Maycock, referring to the Guilderland Players’ long-time choreographer, who is also a physical- education teacher and the high-school’s cross-country coach.
"We decided to tackle a really big dance show for him to go out on," said Maycock.

Steel Pier is all about dance. The story centers on a 1933 dance marathon, where contestants compete for big prize money.
"Characters show their true colors in a short period of time because they get so little rest," says Maycock.

The band, liberated from the pit, serves as a character itself. The musicians sit on stage, at the back of a dance-hall set, playing bluesy, jazzy, and big-brass tunes.

Besides the marathon dancing, Oates has choreographed some stunning full-stage numbers. In one, 16 girls in short, white sailor dresses with middy collars tap-dance on two different levels, when, suddenly, a chorus of fly-boys pops up from front of the center stage, singing.
"Bob Oates has pulled out all the stops," said Maycock. "We’re marveling at how spectacular it is."
"Mr. Oates is really great at teaching people how to become a dancer," said Zack Tolmie, who plays the leading man. "Some people, at the beginning, couldn’t even keep a beat and, now," he said, referring to four months of rehearsal, "it looks like you’ve been dancing all your life."
"He does it in a fun way," said junior Alyson Lange, the leading lady.
"Even when the going is tough," added Kousha Navidar, another principal player.
"Every week," Maycock continues in his notes, "we’ve agreed this show is bigger than we imagined. More dancing. More music. More scenery. More technical tricks to work out.
"And every week, we’re impressed that our cast, our stage crew, and our orchestra rise to the challenge.
"These are remarkable students with remarkable energy and determination. The singers have learned to dance and the dancers have learned to sing. And along the way, they’ve put on one remarkably difficult show."

The story
"The story follows a stunt pilot named Bill, who has won a raffle to dance with Rita, a woman who gave Charles Lindbergh a kiss when he landed," says Maycock. "Rita is a little bit of a has-been. Bill falls in love with her...The whole play is about second chances."
Rita, though, is secretly married to Mick, who has been fixing dance marathons so Rita wins. "Rita’s really sick of the game. Mick is a master manipulator," said Maycock.

She longs to go home and Mick lets her think the Atlantic City marathon is her last, when he’s really already promoting the next one in St. Louis.
"We see how mean and evil Mick is, how sweet and lovely Rita is," said Maycock. "Is she going to stand up to him" That becomes the question."

The players

The cast is up to the task of a difficult play.

Zack Tolmie, a junior who plays the part of the stunt pilot, Bill Kelly, has been in a number of Guilderland Players’ productions since he was a freshman.

His favorite part was as Officer O’Hara in Arsenic and Old Lace. He spent eight weeks mastering an Irish accent, which he can still slip into.

He plays his Steel Pier part straight — with convincing sincerity despite a difficult ambiguity, not fully revealed until the end of the play. He manages to finesse the part of a character who is, quite literally, too good to be true.
"He’s a character who’s always happy, optimistic," said Tolmie. "He really wants Rita to fall in love with him, but he still feels a lot of pain."

Tolmie found the most challenging part of this show to be playing authentically in the 1930’s setting.

Tolmie, who wants to go to New York University after high school, hasn’t decided yet if he will study medicine or theater.

Alyson Lange, who plays Rita Racine, is sure she wants to pursue a stage career. A junior, she’s been acting since she was five years old.
She considers the New York State Theatre Institute her "home base," having played a variety of parts there.
She even had a stint on Broadway in 2003, in the children’s ensemble for La Boheme. "I can’t even describe it," she said, calling it "the opportunity of a lifetime."
Lange has found being with The Guilderland Players to be "so much fun," she said. "I like acting with people my own age," she explained.

At the same time, her greatest challenge in playing Rita has been portraying someone in her thirties; she’s used to playing a part closer to her age.
How has she managed that"
"I’ve been to thousands of Broadway shows," said Lange. "I listen to how they sound; I see the way they act."
"She is just wonderful," Maycock says of Lange. "The script says Rita is the kind of person you fall in love with right away, and the audience will fall in love with Alyson.
"Her voice is sensitive. It’s trained — light sometimes, angry when it has to be," said the director.

Mick Hamilton, Rita’s husband, is played with verve by senior Kousha Navidar.
"I want to go back home," Lange says of her character. "I want to escape Mick. It hurts, the way he abuses me mentally and emotionally."
"He’s a stereotypical power-hungry man," said Navidar of the character he plays. "He’s just out for what he wants. He’s really a street rat at heart with a polished exterior."
"He brings an intensity to the stage," said Maycock of Navidar. "As the emcee, he’s charming, and then you start to see that’s a veneer. Kousha is the kind of guy where there’s never a dull moment. He’ll say, ‘I want to try this,’ and, nine times out of 10, it’s great."
Navidar is a senior who sees his future as wide open. He’ll attend college next year and names his fields of interest more rapidly than a reporter can write them down — English, law, music, art, architecture, math, and "maybe physics" among them.

He’s been acting since he had part in The Elephant’s Child as a first-grader at Guilderland Elementary School.

He’s most recently been in the Young Actors Guild at RPI and in Shakespearean plays directed by Michael Pipa at Guilderland High School.
To play Mick, he cut off his "luxurious hair," Navidar said. "You have to fit the part. Your hair always grows back," he added, with a shrug.
He likes playing the part because it’s "a complex role," Navidar said. He studied a number of plays in preparation, including the part of Scar in The Lion King.
"I looked at how he was manipulative," said Navidar. "It’s tough to be nice and angry at the same time."
The reason he likes acting, Navidar said, is, "It gives you the chance to do whatever you want...to take something and make it your own. It’s the culmination of so much hard work, and it’s a chance to express yourself."

The denouement

The characters show their depth and breadth in the final scenes.
"All my life I’ve been running in place...It cuts like a knife," Lange sings as she dances with mannequin-like figures, echoing the relentless, purposeless rhythms of running in place.

Her song sounds more like a sorrowful shout — straight from the gut, until finally she crumbles at the end.

Her hero, her pilot, Bill, gently helps her up.
A staged wedding at the marathon then elicits real emotions as would-be bride and groom, Rita and Bill, are allowed 15 minutes of privacy together in what Emcee Mick Hamilton calls their "honeymoon tent."
"Down at the end of the boardwalk," says a worldly Rita, "they marry off the midgets every Saturday night." When they pull the tent away, she says, "It’s very tawdry."
What follows, though, is anything but tawdry, as Bill sings to Rita, "First you dream, dream about remarkable things."

Close your eyes, urges the pilot, you can fly.
"Oh, my god, what’s the trick"" cries a realistic Rita when she opens her eyes.
There’s only one way to go — straight ahead, replies Bill. "First you dream," he repeats as the pair sings together in perfect harmony, "Off we go to the sky, straight ahead, you and I."

The dreamlike quality of their exchange is shattered as the tent comes down.
"Bingo! Bango! Bongo!" shouts the emcee. "The honeymoon’s over!"

The final showdown comes when Rita discovers Mick has booked her for another dance marathon.
"Why have you lied to me"" she asks her husband. "Everything you do is a lie."
"Living hand to mouth and pretending it’s fun, that’s a lie," spits back Mick. "St. Louis and a $5,000 cash prize — that’s real."
"I’m going home," retorts Rita, only to learn Mick sold their home a long time ago.
"Wake up!" he shouts and she is forced to return to the dance floor, but stands stock-still on the edge of the stage as he orders, "Everybody dance."
Is she going to stand up to him" Is she going to believe in herself enough to liberate her life"
As the director said: "That becomes the question."

***

Steel Pier opens on the Guilderland High School stage March 16 at 7 p.m. It plays on March 17 and 18 at 8 p.m., and again March 19 at 2 p.m.

Tickets cost $7. They are available at the high school in advance through Joan True, or at the door.

More Guilderland News

  • In a Jan. 5 letter to the Surface Transportation Board, village attorney Allyson Phillips writes that Altamont is opposed to CSX’s attempted acquisition of Pan Am Systems because the running of a 1.7-mile-long train twice per day over the Main Street railroad crossing would leave parts of the village inaccessible to emergency responders for as long as 10 minutes.  

  • The biggest factor in the revenue jump is the state’s commitment to make Foundation Aid to schools whole. “It looks like that three-year phase-in, at least from the governor’s perspective, is going to happen, so that’s tremendous news for our school district and school districts throughout the state,” Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for business, Neil Sanders, said on Tuesday.

  •  In those first 10 years, it seemed no one dared go above 30 miles per hour, “which we enjoyed, especially living on Main Street,” said Altamont resident Mya Sullivan, but over the past year, she has begun to see drivers flying down Route 146. 

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