Behind the scenes at the 100th Night Show
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 20, 2014) — I t was a marathon session lasting more than 10 hours as the afternoon rehearsal turned to an evening one, which then approached a late night wrap-up.
The cast and crew of the 100th Night Show has conducted these before but for the first time Tuesday they did it with the West Point Band providing orchestration during a full dress rehearsal.
With less than 72 hours until the show, a good amount of that time will be spent at Eisenhower Hall Theatre perfecting their performances, testing the audio, the lights and movements on and off stage. There’s no doubt that the show is a time-intensive labor of love for all those involved.
That’s why many months ago, Class of 2014 Cadets Jarvis Coburn and Peter Noreen decided to write original music and lyrics for the show.
In years past, the show has relied heavily on popular tunes to carry the lyrics. The extra work didn’t bother them at all.
“It was totally bizarre,” Noreen said. “Once we hit on the idea of original music it took, like, an hour to get 80 percent of it done, if you can believe that. That’s not to say we wouldn’t go back and spend hours jamming, and end up throwing up our hands with nothing to show.”
Noreen just got a keyboard in his barracks room last year, but actually composed the first song for the show before that.
“We started from the beginning, so the first song we wrote was about our experience freshman year,” he said.
Before West Point, Noreen had completed a year of schooling for theatre performance and Coburn was preparing to audition for conservatories to pursue a musical career.
“So in some alternate universe, this is what we would have been doing,” Noreen said.
This year’s show is called “An Unexpected Journey Line: Johnny’s B+ PL300 Project” and is produced by Class of 2014 Cadet Christian Herberger and directed by Class of 2014 Cadet Abigail McCauley.
Herberger said the process began last September when the directing staff expressed an interest to the class committee on leading the effort.
“But really it started much earlier when Abby and I worked every 100th Night Show since we were plebes,” he said.
Coburn and Noreen had already crafted a rough draft of the script before a writing team was recruited. Open auditions were held at the end of last semester, and the cast was assembled with a good assortment of talent—cadets with theater experience or performing with the Glee Club, and several of them assisted with the script writing as well, McCauley said.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s also an honor to be a part of the 100th Night Show,” McCauley said. “I think it’s one of the few things where we have complete control over from start to finish. To be a part of this creative process has been amazing.”
This ensemble has been working two, three, sometimes four days each week on the show, but McCauley said the energy has amped up considerably in the past two weeks.
“I think it’s become a lot more exciting for everyone now and you can feel that,” she said. “The experience has been eye-opening for me, as a director, to see all the pieces come together—from sets and props to bringing all the actors together.”
The cast of the 100th Night Show receive instruction from Eisenhower Hall Theatre staff on how to wear and use the microphones during rehearsals for the 100th Night Show Feb. 18.
Back when these cadets were still considered “New Cadets,” and had just completed Cadet Basic Training, they conducted a talent show the night before March Back. So in a sense, the class has come full circle from that bonding experience during summer training to the celebration of those bonds at 100th Night.
“I remember sitting there at Camp Buckner with my grandfather, who is a graduate from the Class of 1958, and apologizing,” Herberger said. “He looked at me and said ‘What are these young kids doing on stage nowadays? We didn’t do this when I was in basic.’”
The old grads did have the 100th Night Show though, a tradition that dates back to 1871.
The story told through this year’s 100th Night Show has a lot to do with relationships. Johnny, the title character played by Class of 2014 Cadet Michael Marino, deals with a long-distance girlfriend, his West Point mom and a slew of friendships forged from the fictional Chipmunk Company.
Though not written specifically for Marino, the directors said all along it was clear he would be the perfect Johnny.
“We knew pretty quickly he was the one,” McCauley said.
“I’ve known Mike for years. We knew he was a terrific performer so we weren’t surprised at all by his audition,” Noreen said.
100th Night Rehearsal Photos
To see a complete gallery of 100th Night Show rehearsal photos,
visit the USMA Flickr page at: www.flickr.com/photos/west_point/sets/72157641254674355/.
Class of 2014 Cadet Nick Clawson portrays Ranger Joe, the stereotypical “Hooah” cadet, part of Johnny’s circle of friends.
“He’s far from my own personality, so it was an enjoyable challenge for me to take from my own experiences here with people who do personify that type,” Clawson said.
Although he hasn’t had any theatre work since middle school, Clawson has a musical background and worked before with the West Point Band as a former head conductor for the West Point Spirit Band.
One of the bigger challenges, he said, was getting in all those rehearsals—especially at times when it looked like the academy was buried in snow.
“We probably didn’t get as much practice in as we wanted to because of that, so it’s been a very fast-moving process,” Clawson said. “A big challenge, but if there’s one thing that West Point teaches you is how to do something well and to do it fast.”
Class of 2014 Cadet Alexandra Efaw is cast as Smitty, a secondary love interest for the title character Johnny in the 100th Night Show. Cadets in this musical comedy rehearse dialogue, songs and choreography on stage at Eisenhower Hall Theatre in preparation for the opening night Feb. 21 and the performance for the Class of 2014 and invited guests Feb. 22.
Rehearsals for the 100th Night Show got a little more exciting Feb. 18 when the West Point Band joined the cast and crew for a full dress rehearsal. This year's show features all original music and lyrics and the non-commissioned officers of the West Point Band helped bring it to life.
The cast of the 100th Night Show will perform the musical comedy “An Unexpected Journeyline: Johnny’s B+ PL300 Project.” This year’s 100th Night Show features all original music and lyrics and will be performed at Eisenhower Hall Theatre Feb. 21-22.
100th Night Show History
The attention to orders proclaiming 100 days until graduation first occurred in 1871, and the tradition of a 100th Night performance began.
The graduating class presented a collection of skits that first year in the Cadet Mess Hall, titled “Nineteenth Century Brevities.” It was said to have resembled an English recitation.
Then in 1902, the show relocated to Cullum Hall and the Class of 1903 presented its first full-length musical comedy called “The Caprices of Cupid.” Since then the 100th Night Show has always been a musical comedy. Previous venues have included Cullum and South Auditorium before finding its home in Eisenhower Hall Theatre.
The show has become a humorous look at cadet life as seen through an assortment of characters along the way of the 47-month experience at West Point. The show is written, staged, choreographed and performed by cadets.
The cast and crew of the 100th Night Show conducted a full dress rehearsal Feb. 18 with orchestration from the West Point Band for the first time. Pictured, Class of 2014 Cadet Jarvis Coburn, writing director, consults with Sgt. Maj. Scott Arcangel, pianist and musical director for the Jazz Knights.
Clawson said it’s been a unique experience getting to perform original songs written and composed by his classmates.
“They definitely get in your head,” he said. “I’ll be singing them in the shower and listen to them while I work out. I think the songs make the show stand out a lot more because they’re catchy on their own merit as opposed to something Stephen Sondheim wrote or using a Disney song.”
“I hear the songs in my sleep now,” Herberger said. During the dress rehearsal Tuesday—when not on stage performing a bit part—Noreen and Coburn could often be seen hovering over the band pit talking with Sgt. Maj. Scott Arcangel, pianist and musical director for the Jazz Knights. As musicians, the cadets enjoyed collaborating with the non-commissioned officers who were able to bring the music to a whole new level.
“It’s incredible. I think actually the best part for me has been not only hear world-class musicians playing the music Jarvis and I kicked out but getting to work with them,” Noreen said. “Sgt. 1st Class Mike Reifenberg [lead alto saxophone and section leader with the Jazz Knights] did a lot for us. I could play the songs on a piano and if you gave me a year I might be able to orchestrate them, but I don’t know enough about that. He took time out of his schedule, worked over his Christmas break, and to see what he added to the music is amazing.”
When asked if any good scenes, character or jokes got the axe, Noreen was intrigued by the evolution of Smitty—a character that was original a male cadet but became a female cadet and second love interest for Johnny. That part went to Class of 2014 Cadet Alexandra Efaw.
“She’s the upperclassman who is mentoring him as a plebe. It doesn’t end great for them,” he said. “We turned the character into a girl because we had way too many guys. I mean West Point has a majority of them but we wanted to make sure we give the ladies the same opportunities in the show.”
That script change paid off because it broadened the story and further showcased the talent of this cast. Noreen said this has been the best experience he’s had at West Point.
“I wish I had a better way of saying it,” Noreen said. “It’s been a bit surprising. West Point can be a bit cliquey and at the end of this we’ll have a clique of our own.”
To put it another way, Noreen said it was an opportunity to meet classmates in an entirely different environment, thus getting new perspectives on people. “And it’s the talent we have here. I’m always shocked by the talent we have. Mike Marino, especially, has been the lead, and Alix Efaw—just phenomenal singers and performers.”
Like Herberger and McCauley, Class of 2015 Cadet Keith Miller is a veteran of 100th Night Shows. This year Miller, the cadet-in-charge of the Theater Arts Guild, serves as the lead technical director.
“I worked on the Class of 2012 100th Night Show as the lighting designer because I was the only one available who knew how to work a lighting system,” he said. “It’s been a recurring gig since then.”
Miller has stage experience also from high school but switched to the technical side there as well.
“We had no idea what we were doing but we figured it out. We read the manuals a lot,” Miller said.
Having worked with McCauley before at Eisenhower Hall Theatre, Miller takes his cues from the director but also has the freedom to offer suggestions on what lighting works best.
“The director has the final approving authority, but she has given me a lot of creative control over the lighting design,” he said.
Miller is mentoring Class of 2016 Cadet Alissah McGill as his assistant. He hopes to take the helm as director for the show next year.
Midway through Tuesday’s rehearsals, as they were learning from Ike Hall staff how to wear and use their microphones, the cadets received a visit from Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Richard Clarke. He wanted to tell the cadets to be as funny and creative as they want to be. Clarke also wanted to see who would be portraying him on stage.
Class of 2015 Cadet Oliver Matheson takes on the role of the commandant, in addition to other small roles. Matheson assisted on the writing staff but made his way into the cast filling in when others dropped out.
“I already knew the plot, the characters and everyone is super helpful but that’s kind of the way things have been running here,” Matheson said. “One person always steps up for another.”
Behind the scenes, Noreen likened it to a sports team training and practicing for the big game. It’s a lot of work but because it’s what they love what they’re doing, the long hours and late nights don’t matter. Saturday’s 100th Night performance is their “Army-Navy Game” equivalent—when they will perform in front of the Class of 2014, their guests and senior leaders from the academy and Army.
Noreen has no idea how his class will react to the 100th Night Show.
“That is the debate,” he said. “We talk about it all the time and we’re not really sure. Way back when we were far away from opening curtain we said we’d have such a refined machine and such a grand expression of art that even the biggest non-believer will be blown away.”
Realistically-speaking, though, Noreen said this isn’t Broadway. Still, they’re going to deliver a great product and given a captive audience they will be surprise them.
“We like to think we made this unique enough for everyone to enjoy and still resonate with the rest of our class,” Noreen said. “At the end of the day, if nobody else remembers this show I know this cast and crew will because of the time and effort everyone put into it.”
Herberger said, from what he has seen and what others have told him, this is the show that sets the bar for future 100th Night performances.
“This truly is something original that you will never see again,” Herberger said. “I have never known a 100th Night Show that had all original music with lyrics. There have been challenges along the way but this cast has worked together beautifully.”
The first performance of the 100th Night Show, open to the public, is scheduled 7:30 p.m. Friday at Eisenhower Hall Theatre. Tickets are available at the Eisenhower Hall Box Office. Saturday's show is for the Class of 2014 and invited guests.