"The Boy Friend" Helps Celebrate FSU Sesquicentennial

Sunday, October 11, 2015

In celebration of Fairmont State University’s Sesquicentennial this year, the FSU Theatre Program is presenting a season of plays taken from the Masquers history.

The first show of the 2015-2016 season is “The Boy Friend,” first produced at Fairmont State in 1959 and directed by Jo Ann Lough.

“The Boy Friend” will be performed in the Wallman Hall Theatre on Oct. 16, 17, 22, 23, and 24 at 7:30 p.m. and on Oct. 18 at 2 p.m. On closing night, Saturday, Oct. 24, the Theatre Program will honor Jo Ann Lough with a reception in the Wallman Hall Tower Room at 6 p.m.  The reception is open to the public. Tickets for “The Boy Friend” can be purchased by calling the box office at (304) 367-4240.

The cast will perform a selection from the show at the 100th Birthday Celebration for Hardway Hall at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 15.

The director of the current production, Dr. Susan Cato-Chapman, sat down with Lough, professor emerita and local historian, in her home in Fairmont and asked her to reminisce about “The Boy Friend.” 

“I remember seeing it in New York,” Lough said. “I thought to myself, that’s a little stage and we have a little stage. At that time all of the plays were in the Hardway Building.  Wallman Hall was not finished. Our stage was only 12 by 24. And I really liked the show. It was funny, a spoof on 1920s musicals. I didn’t know how much our audience would know about 1920s musicals, but I thought the show could stand on its own. ” 

Lough went on to provide specific details about the show including the names of cast members and the number of instruments used in the pit. “I had to have a banjo,” said Lough. “I wanted that funny sound. We found a banjo player; he was a student. It makes me laugh just to think about it.”

“She’s sharp," Cato-Chapman said of Lough. “One thing struck me among all the things she said: keep it simple. That’s what this show needs. It just needs to be simple and fun.” 

Cato-Chapman, Temporary Assistant Professor of Theatre, teaches Acting and Directing.  This is her second time directing for the Wallman Hall stage. She directed Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” in the spring of 2015.  Jo Ann Lough taught Acting and Directing in addition to speech courses during her 55 years at Fairmont State. She directed more than 70 plays and was instrumental in starting the Town & Gown Theatre. Lough retired in 1997.

“The Boy Friend,” written by Sandy Wilson, opened in London in 1954 and then on Broadway in 1955. The show was Julie Andrews’s introduction to the American stage. The show is about Polly Browne (played in the current production by Shannon Yost) who is desperate for a boyfriend. It is set in a boarding school run by Madam Dubonnett (Dani DeVito) in the south of France. A case of mistaken identity is central to this fast-paced story that features the musical numbers “Won’t You Charleston with Me” and “The Riviera.”

Plays were presented as a part of Fairmont State campus life as early as 1921. A faculty director was hired in 1923, and that year the Masquers organization was formed. The organization was charged with presenting a season of plays for the campus and the community.  In 1925, Alpha Psi Omega was formed under the direction of Dr. Paul Opp. This national organization now includes members from more than 600 colleges and universities. 

In keeping with the Sesquicentennial Celebration, the second production of the fall semester will be a salute to Masquers and Town & Gown productions. It will include scenes and musical numbers from plays performed in each decade beginning with the 1920s. This limited-run production will feature current and former students, faculty and Town & Gown performers. The spring productions are “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde and “The Madwoman of Chaillot” by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux. For additional information about the Theatre Program at Fairmont State University, contact Dr. John O’Connor at (304) 367-4817

About the photos:

Jo Ann Lough is seated on the far left.

This photo is from the 1959 production of “The Boy Friend” at Fairmont State.