Biloxi Blues opens the FSC Department of Theatre’s World War II season next weekend. The season, which consists of five productions set during the war, celebrates the 80th anniversary of World War II.
Consisting of a cast of nine, Neil Simon’s Tony-award winning play tells the story of a group of privates during World War II and their basic training at a camp in Biloxi, Mississippi.
The story is told through the eyes of Eugene Morris Jerome, an aspiring writer from a Jewish family in Brooklyn whose career is put on hold with the draft. Facing a tough-as-iron commanding officer, disagreements between the group, and physically demanding training, the recruits learn how toughen up and to work as group, as well as typical coming of age lessons about love and life in general.
Liam Fisher, a sophomore musical theatre major, plays Eugene. Playing a part made famous by Matthew Broderick, Fisher admitted there is pressure in taking on that role. However, his goal is “to do it justice and give people a reason to come back if they want to.”
Fisher has the dual challenge of playing both the narrator and a developing character. Describing Eugene’s progression, “I start off as this youthful…bystander. I observe and I’m very inquisitive. Then…I get involved. I don’t stand on the sidelines anymore. I learn to do things rather than just watch.”
As a male-centered narrative, the males spend almost all of Act I on stage, requiring a certain amount of trust amongst the actors. The male characters in the show are in the army, so the department established early on that all men cast would be required to cut their hair.
Soon after casting was announced, the males of the show went together to get their hair cut. Fischer said that they did this because, “it can be hard personally to get in the mode of the character. I kind of wanted to help that process along. The hair was something we could control, and it could get us in the mindset…also a fun bonding experience.” By spending time together and sharing experiences, Fisher said, “It built that family environment.”
Though the play is set in the army, a few characters are not within that group; Bella Lamb, a freshman musical theatre major, plays Daisy Hannigan, Fisher’s love interest and one of only two female characters in the play, who Lamb describes as “very sweet and very idealistic…very innocent.”
As a freshman, Lamb did not expect to be cast. When asked about that process, Lamb stated, “I know how many talented people are in the department. I was honored just to be in the callback room.”
Lamb’s character does not appear onstage until the second act, and her only scenes are with Fisher. However, although Lamb does not interact onstage with the rest of the cast, she says that offstage, she “definitely feels part of the group.”
Lamb joked that since she was not in the army, she had no reason to go to the haircutting session but tagged along for “moral support.” In being part of a male-centered cast, Lamb said she was worried in being cast that she would not feel part of the group and would be on the sidelines for a while; instead, she felt comfortable a lot faster than she expected, describing the group has having a “family feeling.”
With such a small cast, both Fisher and Lamb admitted that the group needed to achieve a certain level of solidarity to be successful as a cast. When asked about the difficulty in achieving that bond in a short amount of time, Fisher reported, “It was so easy. It just sort of happened. Three of us were friends from last year, and one of the guys is my little…So I was like, we’re all going to be friends.”
Out of the shows this season, Biloxi Blues, while notable, is not as well-known to non-theater goers as some of the other productions, such as The Sound of Music and The Diary of Anne Frank. However, Fisher and Lamb both emphasized its importance, with Fisher stating, “It helps to show the soldier’s point of view. The other shows don’t really emphasize on those soldiers and what they had to give up.”
Biloxi Blues runs in Buckner Theatre from September 26th-29th and October 3rd-6th. Tickets are free to veterans and active military, as well as FSC students; the show will also count for Fine Arts Passport Credit. Advanced tickets, which are available at the Buckner Box Office and online, are recommended.