Tomorrow, the mystery-drama-musical “Picnic at Hanging Rock” will open in the Allred Theater, located in the Val A. Browning Center on Weber State University’s main campus.
The musical is set in Victoria, Australia, at the beginning of the 20th century. The plot centers on the disappearance of two students from Appleyard College while they are on a picnic near Hanging Rock. After the women’s disappearance, the musical changes its focus to the small community they lived in and how it copes with their disappearance.
While the original story is a work of fiction, Hanging Rock is an actual geological formation found near Victoria.
“Most people look at this story and think, ‘Oh, this is a story about girls that go missing, it’s a mystery’, but the more I got to know the show, the more I realized the story is about loss and how humans deal with loss,” said Mandee Shaffer, a WSU student who plays the role of Miss McCraw, one of the teachers at Appleyard College.
While the musical is described as a mystery, it contains elements of human interaction and a focus on how people handle tragedy and loss differently.
“(The musical) shows what people . . . do in stressful situations,” said Alice Gittins, a senior in the musical theater program who plays Mrs. Appleyard, the mistress of Appleyard College. “(There are) those that will be hopeful, those that will stick by the book, and those that will give up.”
In addition to the drama and mystery, the crew paid attention to historical costume detail and the artistry involved in the music.
“We dressed (the actors) all head to toe,” said Jean-Louise England, costume studio manager at WSU and the costume designer for “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” “Everything . . . is period, whether we see it or not.”
A typical female cast member wears six layers of clothing to stay true to the period and culture of the source material.
“’Picnic At Hanging Rock’ is rather Victorian with manners and expectations,” Gittins said.”We are wearing corsets, making sure we are standing up straight, shoulders back. If your scenes are outdoors, you are supposed to be wearing gloves.”
Costume designer England said she made a priority of staying true to the source period.
“We want (the actors) to appear as real people of the time period,” she said. “I did a lot of research on old paintings and photographs.”
The music of the production also plays a big role in the overall tone of the story. Two pianos and a didgeridoo, a wind instrument native to Australia, will accompany the vocalists.
“The music itself is a character,” Shaffer said. “The music itself tells a story. The music is stunning and the emotion is really beautiful and pure.”
England commended the music and the performances. “The music is intricate and hard,” she said. “It’s haunting and mysterious and unique. It’s artwork on stage.”
Shaffer also said she hoped people will take the opportunity to come see the show.
“It’s unlike any show I’ve ever worked on, and it probably is going to be unlike any show (audiences) ever get a chance to see,” she said.
The performances of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” will be from tomorrow to March 1 and March 4-8 with a matinee on March 8. Evening performances will begin at 7:30 p.m., and the matinee will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are $9-$12 and can be purchased at www.weberstatetickets.com or at the Browning Center box office prior to the performance.