‘Back to School with the Jersey Boys’

Production to be held this weekend

NEGAUNEE — When a great theatrical production hits the stage, the cast and crew make it all look effortless.

But behind the scenes, a lot of time and sweat are put into making the play or musical as perfect as possible.

That’s certainly the case for “Back to School with the Jersey Boys,” which is taking place this week at the Historic Vista Theater in Negaunee (Friday and Sunday) and the Masonic Center in Marquette (Saturday).

“Marcia amazes me. She’s put in so much time and is so patient and has so much knowledge,” said Eliisa Gladwell of Marcia Nora Hicks. These two women are co-directing the production, with Hicks also serving as the musical director and Gladwell as one of the performers.

“I’m a music major and I couldn’t do what Marcia’s doing,” Gladwell said. “She’s taken the music and tailored it to us. She has taken solos and made them into four-part harmonies. She’s amazing.”

Here are the gents from the “Back to School with the Jersey Boys” production being staged at the Historic Vista Theater in Negaunee and the Masonic Building in Marquette. From left: Jeff Jennings, Ben Filipowicz, Brenton Fitzpatrick, and Dave Dagenais. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)

Hicks didn’t hear Gladwell’s praise, but offered her own take on the work going into the production at a rehearsal last week.

“I put in six hours a day, at least,” she said with a laugh, “just like I have a job.”

That job will come to fruition when the curtain goes up. This particular production is the result of discussions between Hicks, Gladwell and Jeff Jennings, a Negaunee native who has been in many musical endeavors both in his hometown and in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he now lives.

The result of those discussions is this “Back to School” evening, which pays tribute to an era which included such hits as “Walk Like A Man,” “Who Loves You,” and “Sherry,” all of which are included in the musical.

“Jeff, Marcia and I had been talking about the casting since at least May,” Gladwell said. “It took a long time because there’s so much local talent and we wanted to put together a great cast.”

Here are the gents from the “Back to School with the Jersey Boys” production being staged at the Historic Vista Theater in Negaunee and the Masonic Building in Marquette. From top to bottom: Jeff Jennings, Ben Filipowicz, Brenton Fitzpatrick, and Dave Dagenais. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)

The cast includes the four “Jersey Boys”: Jennings, Ben Filipowicz, Brenton Fitzpatrick and Dave Dagenais — as well as four female singers: Gladwell, Erin Mankee, Leslie Parkkonen and Malorie Munson — who will offering up hits like “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Will You Still Love Me tomorrow?”

Also on the docket will be performances by the new Mr. Upper Peninsula, Michael Darlington-West, and a choral group from Negaunee High School, who will present some music from “Grease.”

Bringing this “Jersey Boys” style of music to the stage is something Jennings was extremely interested in.

“Personally, it’s a challenge with the vocals. They are incredibly difficult,” Jennings said. “I knew potentially I could do it. I have been working on the vocals since April as an individual so I could be sure I was ready.”

Everyone in the cast had input for the choreography and costuming, with Mankee going so far as to make her own skirt.

The production will include a live orchestra.

Everyone’s putting in time to be ready, with rehearsals happening for several hours every weeknight leading up to opening night.

“The harmonies of this music are very difficult,” Filipowicz said.

Fitzpatrick added: “We have basically put together a fully functioning male singing group in a month. We’re doing 10 or 11 songs in four-part harmony with choreography. I definitely left the first rehearsal with big eyes.

“It’s amazing how it has all come together.”

Dagenais, who picks “Sherry” as his favorite song done by the four guys, said he’s happy to be back on stage.

“It’s really fun to be singing. I have spent many years directing productions,” he said. “It probably has been five years since I have been on stage so this is great.”

Although she’s young, Mankee said she’s a fan of this genre of music.

“I grew up listening to it,” she said. “I knew the words a lot of the songs before we even started practicing them. This is wonderful music.”

The public will get the chance to hear for themselves when “Back to School with the Jersey Boys” opens at 7 p.m. Friday at the Historica Vista Theater. The second evening’s performance is at the same time but at the Masonic Center in Marquette.

A matinee is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Vista.

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at Midtown Bakery in Negaunee; at Rare Earth Goods in Ishpeming; or at Snowbound Books in Marquette.

All proceeds go to the restoration of The Historic Vista Theater, which opened in 1926.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.