Political races and man-eating grizzly bears may not be traditional comedic fodder, but this weekend, Brownbrokers' MiniMusical Festival — taking place at the Underground — turns tradition on its head in two 15-minute musicals, "Second Lady" and "Grizzly Man."
"Second Lady" tells the story of how Sen. Mike Straight and his wife find themselves while attempting to maintain "American" values. Sam Rosenfeld '12 co-wrote the script and the music with Carolina Barry Laso '13 and Phoebe Nir '14. Michael Gale '14, who plays Mike Straight, said his character was "sure of himself, and cocky" but with the "folksiness of Sarah Palin." He said he had enjoyed doing a 15-minute musical because it was "not a huge commitment, but you still get to see a good product."
The point of the musical was to show "the absurdity of American politics" with "lots of little puns," Rosenfeld said. Director Emily Kassie '14 praised the writing, saying it was "hilarious and poignant at the same time." She said directing a 15-minute musical is fun, but "puts on a lot of pressure." The short three-week production time meant the cast and crew stayed excited about the process.
Rosenfeld said the first version of "Second Lady" was finished in a week for TAPS 0960A: "Musical Theatre Songwriting" — a class in which both mini-musicals were developed — and they started reworking it into a mini-musical about three weeks ago.
The end result is a production full of twists and turns, with a comic approach to serious issues.
"Grizzly Man" was inspired by the documentary of the same name about bear activist and enthusiast Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell spent 13 summers living among grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness and was eventually killed by them. It was co-written by Laso, Rosenfeld and Alex Yuly '12, a Herald editorial cartoonist.
Director Sam Koplewicz '11, a film enthusiast, has introduced a multimedia element to the production, interspersing documentary footage with the music of the production.
Caroline Martin '11 uses her opera vocal training to play Treadwell, and called getting into the role "a really fun process." Her alto voice is actually not far from a man's, so "it's worked out," she said. Martin is a member of the improvisational comedy group Starla and Sons, and improvises throughout the musical. "I get scared when I'm really cemented to the script," she explained.
"Caroline is an exceptionally talented actress," Koplewicz said. "She's not only not white, but also doesn't have a penis" — which might make connecting her to footage of Treadwell difficult at first, but her acting ability overcomes this discrepancy.
Five students play bears — complete with ears — reflecting the way Treadwell toed the line between the human and animal worlds. Bear Jennifer Molyneaux '11 said the five actors "got into things that felt bearish." During rehearsal they would "pull up random bear videos and actually mimic it."
Yuly said that when co-writer Sam Yambrovich '12 suggested writing a song about the documentary, "something about the idea resonated with all of us."
As Koplewicz explained, the original documentary is "so over the top that it's almost waiting to be a musical."
It's "great that Brownbrokers gave us the chance," Rosenfeld said.
Last year, Brownbrokers presented seven mini-musicals. Board member Alp Ozcelik '13 explained that "producing seven meant we couldn't pay attention to every musical equally," so they planned to produce fewer this year. They were pleased to receive just two submissions, and "liked them both."
It is "supposed to be just fun" rather than stressful, he said.
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Sam Yambrovich '12. The Herald regrets the error.