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Southeast to host first fully developed showing of 'An American Hero'
What does it mean to become a hero?
It's a heavy question, and one that doesn't have an easy answer.
It's also the subject of "An American Hero," a musical drama opening Wednesday at Southeast Missouri State University's Bedell Performance Hall at the River Campus, 518 S. Fountain St. in Cape Girardeau.
In the story, an optimistic Irish immigrant, Thomas O'Brien, joins the American armed forces to fight in World War II. He's part of the D-Day landing, and after his return, he becomes the reluctant recipient of the Medal of Honor.
But more than that, the story is about each character's emotional journey, said director Michael McIntosh, assistant professor of musical theater, directing and acting at Southeast.
"What gets me is, it's about everyone becoming a hero, but what does that mean? How does that affect their lives?" McIntosh said.
One character comes back changed, McIntosh said, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. What a difference that makes in his own life and the lives of those around him is poignant, McIntosh said, and this production is a great vehicle for exploring that issue and others surrounding war and fighters.
It's been a great experience working with this particular production, McIntosh said, notably because "An American Hero" was written as a collaborative effort between Southeast professor Kenn Stilson, who wrote the book or dialogue for the musical, and former Southeast student Cody Cole, who wrote the music.
They've been working on the musical for about two and a half years, Stilson said in August, "and it is still a work in progress."
The musical was staged as a dramatic reading by an off-off-Broadway production company in New York last year, but this is the first time the production will be staged as a fully choreographed, fully orchestrated piece, said Adam Schween, who portrays lead character and titular hero Thomas O'Brien.
Schween stepped into the role last week, when the original O'Brien, Jose Alpizar, broke his leg.
While he's enjoying the experience, Schween said the accent was a struggle to pin down.
Southeast professors Bart Williams and Roxanne Wellington have been working with the entire cast to bring their accents into focus, Schween said.
"I'm beyond excited," Schween added. "It's so cool, being part of something that's never been seen before."
Rehearsals began with the new semester, on Aug. 21, McIntosh said.
"We did the music first, then read throughs; we talked characters," he said.
And in a bid for authenticity, McIntosh said he took authentic World War II weapons to a firing range and trained cast members on how to use them properly.
"And we recreate D-Day onstage," McIntosh said. "You'll have to see it to know how we accomplish it."
There will be special effects, he added. Smoke, light and sound effects will be used, but the experience is important to understand O'Brien's journey.
The musical drama runs two hours, including intermission, and has adult themes roughly equivalent to a PG-13 rating, he said.
"We have a super-talented cast," which includes 24 people, McIntosh said. "We're lucky."
McIntosh said he and the cast worked with Stilson to workshop some scenes that just weren't coming together the way they needed to onstage, which happens with any new work he said.
"We're excited about it," McIntosh said. "It'll be up there with all the rest of the Conservatory of Theatre and Dance's productions."
Performances will be Wednesday through Oct. 1. Tickets are available online at rivercampus.org or by calling the River Campus box office at (573) 651-2265.
Bedell Performance Hall, Cape Girardeau, Mo.