Many a tear is shed on the docks of the Old World as loved ones board ships for the new. Spurred on by the hope of a land of equal opportunity, most find only hostility and prejudice. But are these the mean streets of New York in the 1860s, or Douglas, Arizona, today?
Most of us have felt what it's like to be the new kid in town -- usually it isn't any fun at all -- so why is it we are so quick to forget? This is the question explored and answered at the Arizona première of Irish Annie at Mesa Youtheatre. This rather epic play by F. Scott Regan follows several generations of Irish Americans, from persecuted immigrants to persecuting citizens fearful of the "new" immigrants moving into their neighborhoods.
This seemingly heavy subject matter is balanced by the lively use of traditional Irish folk music and dances. The show's musical director, Stefan Dolak, a self-proclaimed expert in "early" music, has not only arranged all the tunes in the show, but has actually constructed most of the instruments, as well. "To get your hands on these types of instruments costs huge amounts of cash," Stefan confided. "I started building the instruments to save money."
The onstage ensemble, made up of some of the members of Stefan's own medieval music group, Bartholomew Faire, will be performing on mandolins and Irish harps that he constructed. You may have heard the music Stefan arranged and composed for Arizona Theatre Company's recent production of As You Like It.
While the band plays on, the 16-member cast will be leaping about in traditional Irish step dances choreographed by movement director Kirsta Murphy. Director Julie Holston told me, "The image that stuck with me most while I was doing research for the play was the picture of all those immigrants packed together in ships." So she wanted to get that same feeling on stage. "The show was originally done with seven actors doubling many roles, but I wanted to have people for the crowds." The choreography and music give the large young cast a sense of the time and character of the show.