'When in Rome': don't ever underestimate anyone

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Jared Lussier raises his hands, singing in rehearsal beside his twin brother, John. As lead characters, the peasant thieves enliven When in Rome onstage at Berne-Knox-Westerlo

BERNE — When in Rome, performed by the Hilltowns Players this weekend, makes the bizarre world of Ancient Rome even moreso with modern references and musical numbers.

Following its title, the musical comedy dresses its actors in togas and sandals, and is centered around the brutal concept of a gladiator fight determining a marriage, but the characters take the liberty of breaking from the trappings of their historical setting.

Peasants Minimus and Gladius, played by Berne-Knox-Westerlo juniors John and Jared Lussier, find ways to enter the Princess’s inner circle and end up becoming part of her struggle to determine her own future. Senator Altilis is meanwhile attempting to seal the Princess’s fate by fixing the gladiator games, the victor of which she is supposed to marry if she can’t find a proper husband on her own.

“It’s the fish-out-of-water love story,” said Richard Bartley, the stage director.

Jared Lussier’s character, Gladius, is attracted to the Princess, despite being born to very different circumstances.

“Don’t ever underestimate the power of love, and don’t ever underestimate the underdog,” he said of the story.

The Lussier twins have clean and relaxed singing voices, which they have rehearsed over years as an Everly Brothers tribute vocal duo. They have also sung the national anthem at school assemblies and sports games.

Since they were kids, the Lussiers have performed in several musicals — Beulah-by-the-Sea, The King and I, Hankerin’ Hillbillies, and Bah Humbug! — produced by the Hilltowns Players, which is putting on When in Rome with more than 30 actors. This is their first time as lead characters, having appeared in walk-on roles or with just a few lines.

As brothers, they say their transactions on stage, both physically and conversationally, are smoother.

“We know how to bicker,” said John.

“Yea, twins are prone to do that,” Jared added.

Playing at rehearsal, Anna Mattia Lefkaditis, observed by sister cast members, dances and twirls across the stage, as she does in When in Rome, a musical in the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Auditorium this weekend. The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

 

With invariable comparisons to family, the Hilltowns Players has a custom of accepting people who want to perform and the cast members of different skillsets and levels try to lift each other up.

“They have opportunities that they do not get elsewhere,” said Bartley. “We have had a policy of guaranteed auditions. If you come and audition, you’re in the play.”

All seven of the Lefkaditises — most of them acting for the first time in last year’s production — have parts in When in Rome. The youngest, 4-year-old Anna Mattia, runs and dances with the other peasant children. And she follows a cha-cha train led by BKW sophomore Alyssa Gaige, whose powered wheelchair is transformed into a chariot as she takes on the part of a Roman citizen. In another scene, Gaige sells Princess bobbleheads as a vendor.

“We sing the songs together in the car, we rehearse together,” said Anna Maria Lefkaditis. She spoke of the pleasure in watching her children flower as actors, developing their characters’ personalities. She said acting wasn’t a natural path for her, but she executes vocal and physical demands of her character, the Princess’s maid, with energy.

Mrs. Lefkaditis sings alongside sophomore Kristen Norray, who says donning her golden toga helps to put her into character as the Princess.

A princess of her own will, Kristen Norray plays the part of resisting suitors and a conniving senator in When in Rome, performed by the Hilltowns Players at Berne-Knox-Westerlo this weekend. The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

 

“She doesn’t want to be like everyone else,” Norray said of the Princess. Like the Lussiers, this is Norray’s first lead role, having performed with her family members in past productions.

“Not everyone’s good in sports…” she said, “but there’re so many different aspects of the musical you could be good at that, when it all comes together, it’s for this one production.”

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The Hilltowns Players will perform When in Rome in the Berne-Knox-Westerlo secondary-school auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 21 and 22, and at 3 p.m. on Nov. 23. Tickets are $10 for adults; $7 for elders; veterans, and teens; and $6 for children aged 12 and under. When in Rome was written by Martin A. Follose, with music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur.

More Hilltowns News

  • Berne’s town attorney Javid Afzali informed the town board at its July 22 meeting that the controversial Switzkill Farm property may have been acquired illegally because the 2014 town board did not allow for a permissive referendum following the purchase authorization. Then-supervisor Kevin Crosier tells The Enterprise that no referendum was required.

  • Rensselaerville resident Sarah Gordon is calling on local businesses to take a stand against racism by pledging — on a public, digital spreadsheet — to call out racist behavior that occurs on professional property and to denounce the slogan “all lives matter,” which exists to diminish the anti-racist “Black lives matter” slogan. 

  • The Berne Town Board has spent more than $15,000 on investigations according to documents received by The Enterprise through a Freedom of Information Law request. All the investigations appear to have been of Democratic town board members. One recently led to a censure by partisan vote; the others were unsubstantiated.

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