By Zachary Klein
A COLD February evening warmed up quickly when 30 freshman musical theater students entered the stage of the Bart Luedeke Center (BLC) Theater wearing brightly colored yet mismatched outfits. None of these students had performed on a Rider mainstage before, so the nervous energy filled the room’s capacity. But over the next 75 minutes, that energy faded as they did what they loved to do – perform.
Directed by Adjunct Assistant Professor Louis Goldberg, the freshman cabaret “Momentum” played the BLC Feb. 17 and 18 to mostly full houses. The program’s repertoire spanned from American musical theater pop and rock genres, all connecting to a common theme relating to the event’s title.
“The idea [of “Momentum”] came from the notion of actually coming out of the pandemic and that these students probably spent a year or a year and a half of high school at home,” Goldberg said. “They just got thrust into the college environment … gaining speed in a quick way.”
Most of the songs Goldberg chose had to do with coming and going. Many dealt with transportation, including portions of the show strictly dedicated to trains, planes and sailboats. All related to the theme of “Momentum,” it pertains to the push or pull of arriving and departing. Because of the wide variety of selections, it is likely most people in the audience knew at least one song.
Being part of a cabaret like this is extremely important for freshman students because it gives them their first opportunity to perform on the Rider stage, somewhere that they will call home over the next four years. Goldberg stressed the importance of how this will prepare them for future productions.
“I think it gives everybody a chance to have a little feature, a little solo and get their feet wet in terms of being on stage in a college atmosphere,” Goldberg said.
One of the students who participated in the cabaret was freshman musical theater major Lilli Doll, who uses they/them pronouns. A native of Columbus, Ohio, Doll was already used to musical theater from their previous experience in high school. They were exuberant to have performed in their first Rider show.
“I got to work on so many different things,” Doll said. “It was just a nice, well-rounded opportunity that you don’t quite get from a [traditional] show when you’re doing all musical theater songs.”
Doll soloed “Freedom” from the 2017 musical “The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown” along with freshman musical theater major Abigail Westers. Like all of the cast members, their performance was welcomed with loud cheers from an audience filled with upperclassmen musical theater students, parents and supporters.
Goldberg’s selection of songs and their designation to each student were right where they needed to be, as it felt like every participant had the right number to fit their vocal tone, complexion and ability. Choreography for the show, which was utilized both in big group numbers and background dancers, was created by upperclassmen students in conjunction with recent musical theater graduate John Viggiano.
Although they were deep in the choreography, Doll admitted that one thing they wanted to learn in their time here at Rider was to be a better dancer, making them a more well-rounded performer.
“Rider has such an incredible dance program and making connections with people and improving the craft will make me a smarter and better performer,” Doll said.
Goldberg said that the one thing he wanted these students to take out of this experience was building a better community. He hoped that by working together over a four-week period, the class would become tight-knit, and he believed they got exactly that.
“We really hoped that they bonded as a class,” Goldberg said as students screamed of joy in the background. “And they had a really positive experience!”
The future of Rider’s musical theater program looks bright, providing that forward momentum is given to propel the freshman class to roles in mainstage shows over the next four years. As freshman musical theater major Dominic Trivigno kept singing throughout the cabaret, they will “Go the Distance” to reach their ultimate goals.