Musical delves into seedier side of ‘Life’

Abbie Vansickle

The dark side of New York City will come alive this weekend as Arts Alliance presents the Tony Award-winning musical “The Life.”

With a cast of characters that includes prostitutes, pimps and a pretty 19-year-old girl fresh off the bus from Duluth, Minn., the show draws the audience into this world of complex relationships and loyalties through music and dance.

The score, which was composed by Broadway legend Cy Coleman, is a mix of gospel, blues and rock, said Speech sophomore Liz Clinard. This atypical music theater sound gives the show a different feeling from others that she has worked on. The theme makes it more of a challenge, she said.

“The subject matter is a lot more controversial than most other shows because it deals with sex, drugs and death,” she said. “It was important to make these real people and not caricatures.”

The show centers around the character of Queen (Speech junior Nicole Grothues), a street-wise woman who has prostituted for several years. Queen works to support Fleetwood, a Vietnam veteran. Finally, Queen saves enough money to pay for their way to a better life. However, upon returning to her hotel room, she finds Fleetwood has taken most of the money to pay off his drug debts.

This is a harsh world, a world where everyone is battling for survival. As the pimp Jojo (Speech sophomore Jesse Manocherian) sings, “Use every friend as a means to an end / Pick up the knack to stab in the back.”

“It makes you ask yourself how far would you go to get something you want,” said director and Speech junior Erica Schwartz. “We all have good and evil within ourselves.”

Schwartz encouraged cast members to research the people they were portraying, including Vietnam veterans and drug addicts.

This in-depth research makes the show more believable and gives the actors a chance to immerse themselves in their roles, said Speech junior Matt Carlson, who plays Fleetwood.

“It’s a darker musical, so it has the opportunity for much meatier parts,” he said. “I learned how to snort as well as watching Vietnam films like ‘Deerhunter’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’ for my role.”

Grothues agreed that the subject matter sets the show apart, but she said the characters in “The Life” are not so different from college students and other audience members as it might seem.

“People really are the same everywhere,” she said. “The same things make them happy. You can really connect with any human being.”nyou