STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Villanova Theatre hopes that “A Wonderful Noise” makes for a wonderful night. It’s the next show on stage there, running Feb. 9 through 21.
The show focuses on two barbershop quartets – one male, one female – with different goals at a national competition. The guys, who are from rural Missouri, hope to make their mark in that musical world. The girls, who are from Philadelphia, plan to prove to all that women can do anything men can do, and better.
Writer Michael Hollinger, who grew up in York and lives in Elkins Park, said in an email interview that the idea for the story came from his wife’s tale about a childhood friend whose parents met at a barbershop competition.
“I was struck by the charm and musical possibilities of such a setting,” he said.
The themes he and co-writer Vance Lehmkuhl wanted to touch on: how individual desires must be sublimated to the needs of a larger endeavor in order to accomplish something extraordinary; how men and women relate and what opportunities are afforded to each group during a particular time in American history; and what it’s like for young people considering their place and purpose in the world and for a nation moving irrevocably from an agricultural past to a technological future as a global power, he said.
Laura Barron, who’s from Grove City, Pa. and now lives in Ardmore, plays Mae, the leader of the girl’s quartet.
“She’s an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to follow her dreams, even when that pursuit involves leaving the man she loves and fighting against society’s pressures on women in 1941,” Barron said in an email interview.
“She’s a girl on a mission with something to prove.”
Barron relates to Mae because “I’m similarly driven and passionate in pursuing my dreams. And she loves music and singing,” she said. “Mae is courageous to pursue the life she does in 1941. I would hope I can be just as courageous even though the struggles might not be the same as those she faced.”
Barron, who’s a first-year graduate assistant in the costume shop while pursuing a Masters in Theatre degree, has traveled doing children’s theater and studied musical theater as an undergrad. She’s impressed with the writing of this show.
“The book is definitely original, smart, witty, heartwarming, fun, and a blast to delve into as an actor,” she said. “The comedy ranges from slapstick, to quick and witty, to a little bawdy, so there is really something for everyone.”
Chris Monaco, who was born in Bryn Mawr and lives in Wallingford, plays Chip, the lead in the male barbershop group. He came up with the barbershop group idea because he loves music and “singing is his life,” Monaco said in an email interview. “He’s determined to lead his fellow singers to success. He’s driven, passionate, and occasionally stubborn, but deep down he’s got all this fire because he loves what he does.”
Monaco relates to Chip in some ways, but not others.
“Chip and I share a passion for music, a love for our close friends, and the stubborn streak,” he said. “Where he’s different from me: Chip has a chip on his shoulder, no pun intended, because he’s last in line for the draft, and he wants to be part of the war effort. He’s also more headstrong and brash than myself.”
Chip loves to perform, and so does Monaco. He hopes to make acting his full-time career after earning his Masters in Theatre.
“I was born with the urge to act. I’ve been doing theater as long as I can remember,” he said. “The future is wide open, but ideally I’d like to continue doing theater professionally for the rest of my life.”
Hollinger, who earned a Masters in Theatre from Villanova, has been lucky enough to make the arts his career. And Villanova helped to make it happen.
“Villanova’s comprehensive graduate program, which trains students both broadly and deeply in the study of dramatic texts, and also gives them hands-on experience in all areas of theatrical practice, suited me very well,” he said, “and gave me the tools I needed to become a literary manager at Philadelphia Festival Theatre and the Wilma Theater for the next eight years and a playwright for the next 27… and counting.”
He’s looking forward to seeing the Philadelphia premiere of “A Wonderful Noise” at his alma mater, with acting scholars who love the craft, the school, and the theater program as much as he does.
Monaco is sure the audience will have a ‘wonderful’ time.
“The musical is a comedy,” he said, “filled to the brim with colorful characters and wonderful music.”