HMTC and HMDC host Sophisticated Ladies Open House

Eddie Jin, Staff Writer

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For the first time, the Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC) and Horace Mann Dance Companies (HMDC) held an Open House to introduce their spring production Sophisticated Ladies, a musical revue of Duke Ellington’s music.

The Open House ran from 3:20 to 5:00 p.m. yesterday, featuring sing-alongs and discussions with two members of the show’s original Broadway cast: Adrian Bailey and Leslie Dockery. The event included a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, an audience Q&A session, and a short dance combination.

Since Sophisticated Ladies originally had a cast that was predominantly people of color, HMTC and HMDC leaders have been approaching the event cautiously, HMDC co-President Allison DeRose (12) said.

To open discussion and raise awareness, company leadership decided to hold an Open House, HMTC co-President Ben Rosenbaum (12) said. DeRose, along with HMDC and HMTC leadership had been planning the Open House since the week before winter break, she said.

The early planning is to “address these [controversial] issues before the production,” Rosenbaum said.

The clubs’ leadership met with the Office for Identity, Culture, and Institutional Equity (ICIE) in order to discuss certain scenes, increase diversity, motivate people to join the show, and run it without a majority people of color cast, DeRose said.

“I don’t think that theater and dance properly represent how diverse the HM student body is. All the club co-presidents and leaders have been working on that; trying to increase diversity. Since the original cast is so diverse, I hope that our cast is a good representation of the forward thinking of the original show,” DeRose said. 

Head of the Theatre and Dance Department Alison Kolinski has a positive outlook on these discussions, she said.

“Theater is meant to invoke discussion. It’s meant to make you think, and it’s good that we are,” Kolinski said.

Nonetheless, the production is open to all members of the school. The libretto explicitly states that the cast should be racially mixed and extend to “anyone and everyone who ‘Rocks to the Beat of the Duke,’” Kolinski said.

Though it involves complex concepts such as race, Sophisticated Ladies was chosen primarily for the artistic aspects, Kolinski said.

The production covers many distinct genres of dance including ballroom, tap, ballet, and lyrical.

Every four years, the HMDC organizes a main stage dance concert and one was planned for 2019, but Kolinski and DiRenzo decided to hold a joint production with actors and dancers alike, dance teacher Denise DiRenzo said.

“Duke Ellington music… you don’t understand how special that music is,” Bailey said. “If I had a time machine and could go back and do this show, I would.” 

The Open House provided an opportunity for prospective performers to get advice from original cast members.

“The only person you can be is you. Your competition not only in the performing world but in life is you,” Bailey said.