Students turn tragedy into musical ‘Antigone & the King’

Many American college students would be happy to leave engagement with the Greek tragedy “Antigone” in the dust after the test. However, the study of Sophocles’ ancient tale of justice, fate and ultimate allegiance inspired a pair of Grove City College seniors to spend years working on an original musical adaptation.

That work comes to fruition next week when “Antigone & the King” by Noah Gould ’20 and Micah Mooney ’20 debuts in the Little Theatre of the Pew Fine Arts Center.

The first full-length student-produced musical ever staged on campus opens Thursday, Jan. 30 and runs through Saturday, Feb. 1, nightly at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. The show is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To reserve a ticket, contact antigoneandtheking@gmail.com. There will be a "talk-back" session with the students involved in the show in the theater after the Thursday and Saturday evening shows.

The Friday and Saturday shows are already “sold out,” but those in the standby line will be admitted 10 minutes before each show.

“Antigone & the King” features 16 songs written by Mooney, a music major from Sellersville, Pa., and Gould, an economics major from Granby, Mass. Mooney naturally handled the bulk of the music and Gould most of the lyrics, though both describe the writing as collaborative. Their work tells the story of Antigone’s defiance of King Creon’s decree that her rebel brother’s body be left unburied, a great dishonor to the Greeks circa 400 B.C.

“It really is a great story,” Mooney said. But, like most Greek theater, it lacks on-stage action and the emotional heart that modern audiences expect, especially in a musical. Mooney and Gould’s retelling is emotionally heavy while retaining the “spirit of the original.” That included expanding the roles of some characters, bringing new parts of the story to the stage and giving the audience some context that is assumed in the original, they said.

The pair have been working on the musical since they were sophomores. It was not just an academic exercise, though they each earned an independent study credit as they pursued their goal of actually putting on the show. “We wanted to see it in some capacity, we wanted a full production,” Mooney said.

They decided last year that they would put the show on this spring. In May they auditioned actors and made their choices for the musical’s nine roles. This fall they held rehearsals with the actors and student musicians on piano, violin and cello. Some of the songs were – and still are – being fine-tuned. Three weeks ago, they started blocking the play on the stage. A week before the opening, they were changing some lyrics. The cast and crew, none of whom is getting academic credit, has taken it all in stride.

“We’re impressed by how much passion they’ve put in,” Gould said of his fellow students, including director Anna Porter ’21, who deserves much credit for bringing “Antigone & The King” to the stage, despite the fact that she was studying abroad and not even on campus this fall. “She took the reins and got excited,” Mooney said.

Porter played a key role putting together the set, blocking scenes, costuming the cast and raising the bar far above the staged readings that usually mark the end point of student-penned plays. Getting past that was very important for Mooney and Gould and they are confident that audiences will appreciate the final product.

“When someone hears ‘student,’ the expectation maybe isn’t that high,” Mooney said. “A lot of people are going to be surprised by this show.”

Dr. Andrew J. Harvey, professor of English and advisor for the musical, agrees. “I would not be surprised if this is not the last we hear about this production. It is remarkably good, not lacking a spark of genius, and has genuine potential to be performed elsewhere,” Harvey said.

For the most part, Mooney and Gould worked on the musical in their spare time, something that is precious to all college students and perhaps more so for Trustee Scholars at Grove City College. Both men part of the elite program, which provides generous scholarships and additional opportunities for research and study for top students. Their work on “Antigone & the King” comes directly from the program’s encouragement of cross-disciplinary collaboration, Gould said.

“When the College started the Trustee Scholars Program, this is exactly the sort of leadership and initiative we hoped for and encouraged, and I am glad that the College has supported this project so completely,” Harvey said.

“Antigone & the King” is being presented by Grove City College’s theater honorary Tau Alpha Pi, which provided access to sets, props, and costumes.

Mooney and Gould noted the contributions of Lauren Tebben ’20, who was initially involved in the writing, and cited the assistance throughout the process of several professors, including Harvey, Dr. Eric A. Potter, a professor of English who introduced them to “Antigone,” and Dr. Joseph Hasper, a music professor who teaches composition.

“When they first approached me about the project, I thought the idea of a musical based on Antigone was crazy and fun and therefore worth attempting,” Potter said. “They were good at mining the play for possibilities of character and situation, and they found opportunities for humor without losing some of the serious concerns of the original.”

Hasper, who worked with Mooney on the music in an independent study course in composition, said the experience of taking a musical from concept to production is “incredibly invaluable” for a composer.

“Composing the music for an entire musical is a big project in itself, but taking it to production forces the composer to deal with a host of other problems that have little to do with the process of composition … There is no classroom that can teach these myriad skills as well as actually doing it,” Hasper said.

(Editor's note: There will be a "talk-back" session with the students involved in the show in the theater after the Friday and Saturday evening shows.)

Students turn tragedy into musical ‘Antigone & the King’

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