Musical ‘The Boy Friend’ Brings Together Different Talents of Students
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
Christina Cullers wasn’t sure she could act. Jake Swanson didn’t know if he could sing and dance.
So here they are, the soprano and the comedian, making sweet musical together in “The Boy Friend,” the final production in the Ethington Theatre Series, which opens its run of six shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday on campus.
They’ve surprised even themselves, stretching to fit roles that keep them on their toes in a literal sense. With about a dozen dance numbers, “The Boy Friend” is “unlike anything we’ve done in 30 years here,” says Claude Pensis, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production, who directs the show.
“This is more dance than we’ve ever done in a theatrical production,” Pensis says.
The show’s hummable tunes and Broadway-quality choreography make it go. “The Boy Friend,” set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, tells the story of a girls’ finishing school run by Madame Dubonnet (Cullers) where the daughter of widower Percy Browne (Swanson) is enrolled.
Cullers is a senior from Glendale whose first dramatic role came in the one-act opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” during the holiday season.
Swanson, a sophomore from Mesa, has played a range of prominent roles at GCU, lighting up the stage in “Inspecting Carol” and “Dial P for Peanuts” last season and in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” earlier this year.
She’s a serious vocalist. He’s a guy who enjoys being anything but serious.
“Claude has been pushing me to be a person I’m not naturally,” Cullers says of the flirty Madame Dubonnet character. “My role in ‘Amahl’ was closer to my natural self.”
Swanson says he wonders “what Claude was thinking when he thought I could sing and dance,” although there’s much more to him than meets the eye.
For years, he has helped his mother at Camp Tatiyah in Pinetop, a summer camp that serves disabled children and adults, and he was considering enlisting in the Marines when Pensis offered a theatre scholarship.
“I was concerned that this field wouldn’t be selfless, but Michael (Kary) and Claude and Bill (Symington) have taught us that it can be,” says Swanson, known and respected among theatre students and faculty for his willingness to roll up his sleeves and get to work on even the smallest behind-the-scenes tasks.
“This has blown away my expectations. Learning here has been incredible. I had no idea how much I’d be working (on productions). I thought this would be a gamble. I’m excited to be in the re-emergence of this program and to have these opportunities.”
Cullers, who transferred to GCU from Glendale Community College, already has been accepted to a summer opera workshop in California and is waiting to hear from another one in Germany. She has thrived under the tutelage of Assistant Dean Juan Hernandez and Sheila Corley, GCU’s voice coach.
“Any voice student will tell you that she thinks on another planet,” Cullers says of Corley. “She throws so much at you. It’s astounding. It’s a privilege to work with her. She knows so much and has so much experience.
“There have been some challenges, but I’m 100 percent confident that (GCU) is where God wanted me to be.”
Although she will graduate in May, first she has to get through “The Boy Friend,” her senior recital (April 23) and the choral rehearsals and performance of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” (April 24).
“There’s a sense of privilege to re-establishing the music program here,” Cullers says. “I’ve grown to love it.”
Performances of “The Boy Friend” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday for the weekends of April 13-15 and 20-22. For tickets, call 639.8880 or email [email protected].
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].