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A colorfully musical commentary

BY MARISA WAY | APRIL 01, 2010 7:30 AM

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Imagine a place where everything is a shade of gray — literally.

This idea represents only half of the world that playwright Tony Meneses imagined in his work The Boy in Black. In the musical, single people are shaded a monotonous gray. The only way for characters to change their hue to a brighter color such as green, blue, or pink? Simple: Find love.

Meneses, who is in his final year at the UI Playwrights’ Workshop, focused specifically on how young people view themselves when dealing with having feelings for other people.

“Everyone has to deal with wondering if something is wrong with you when you’re young,” he said. “It’s a very innocent play as well. It’s not about fully developed relationships, or full-out marriage or anything like that. It’s all about initially having a crush.”

The Boy in Black will be produced in the Theater Building’s Theatre B. The show will run at 8 p.m. from today through Saturday and at 2 p.m. April 4. Admission is free for students, $5 for others.

Meneses said another goal of his was to poke fun at how society views falling in love.



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“It’s sort of the voice of the outside culture telling you, ‘Hey, you want to be in love — just sign up now,’ ” he said. “You turn on the TV, you’re eating, and then you just get bombarded with those commercials, and it’s like, ‘I’m just trying to have a sandwich.’ ”

Although he first presented the idea for The Boy in Black at a reading at New Play Festival last May, he said, the finished product has been a collaborative effort. Dan Roeder, a UI graduate and good friend of Meneses’, was given the task of writing the music for the show. Both men worked on lyrics, and they used some fairly creative techniques when working together.

“I would make a play list of music that I would listen to when I was writing the play,” Meneses said. “So it was connected either dramatically or emotionally to the content of the play … and he sort of used it as inspiration.”

Brandon Bruce, the director of the musical, joined the project last summer. Bruce said he directed Meneses’ play White Elephant last year, and he was approached by the playwright to direct The Boy in Black as well.

Although this will be Bruce’s seventh UI production, the show presented new obstacles for him.

“I was most struck by the challenge of directing a new musical,” Bruce wrote in an e-mail. “I’ve never done this before … I knew this would test me in ways I’ve never been tested before. But mostly, however, I just wanted to have fun — which this show most certainly is.”

This fun can be seen in almost every aspect of the show, from the scene design to the costumes.

“Each character is costumed solidly in his or her color,” Bruce said. “For example, Mr. and Ms. Pink have pink shoes, pink hats, pink socks, etc. Most theater spaces are black. For this production, however, we’ve transformed the space into a white one — to allow each color to pop off the set more.”

Meneses also experimented with character names in the musical. He purposefully didn’t give any characters in the show traditional names. Characters exist such as “Boy in Black,” “Girl in Gray,” and “Mr. & Ms. Blue.”

“It’s an expressive world,” he said. “It’s a world in which an emotion is literally worn on our sleeves — and that’s the heart of the play.”


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