The Washington Township High School’s Way Off-Broadway Players will turn back the clock with their fall production of actress Marlo Thomas’ “Free to Be … You and Me.”
The show, much like last year’s “Almost, Maine,” is a collection of short skits or vignettes. The difference between the two is that “Free to Be… You and Me” is more of a children’s show that emphasizes being comfortable in your own skin. Last year’s production was described as romantic comedy-esque.
“I wanted to do a show that was about being kind to everybody,” Director Abigail Molotsky said of Thomas’ 1972 production. “I wanted to do a show that was about all the things we can be, all the things children want to be.”
Preaching the message of being comfortable in one’s own skin — despite cultural norms — is something Molotsky wanted to convey to the audience and her cast.
“We’re in such an age where everybody is glued to their phones and nobody plays outside anymore,” she noted. “The kids are so worried about who they are, what they look like, how many likes they got. It’s really about being whoever you want to be and being happy with whatever you want to be.
“That’s the kind of show we’re doing this year.”
Molotsky is practicing what she’s preaches. She has two students, Sophie Aguila and Sabrina Sims, acting as musical director and choreographer respectively.
“She (Molotsky) handed me a book in April and said ‘Here’s the music, let me know if you want to do the show'” Aquila recalled. “I looked over it; it was a cool opportunity she offered me. I have to play the piano for the show from the pit.”
“She (Molotsky) sent me a video of the original dance she wanted me to do and I took some inspiration from it,” Sims said of her choreography duties. “I listen to the music and whatever feels right, I improv a little bit … it feels nice watching your work come to life.
“It’s cool watching that and seeing everyone else enjoy it,” she added. “It makes me feel really, really happy. Watching her (Molotsky) face light up as she’s watching — that makes me feel really, really good.”
For Aguila and actress Laura Bing, the best part of the show are its themes.
“You don’t have to be masculine to be a boy; you don’t have to be feminine to be a girl,” Aguila. “It’s breaking gender stereotypes before that was regularized. It’s a good show to do now because of all the social change going on.”
Aguila noted “Free to Be … You and Me” is a progressive show for its time, considering it was written in 1972. She cited a song in the show called “It’s All Right to Cry,” performed by all male cast members.
“Even though it’s a kids show I feel like anyone from all ages can relate because you have the ’70s themes,” Bing explained. “Adults can kind of empathize with that. There’s something to take away from the show no matter what scene you’re in.”
The play brings senior Megan Leonard full circle. She first became indoctrinated into the drama world as a fourth grader, For this year’s fall production, high schoolers are adopting 22 elementary school students to perform with them.
“It would have made my whole entire year,” Leonard said as she put herself in the shoes of the younger students. “I would always go to shows and look up to people in the high school.
“I hope we’re giving them the experience and encouraging them to do theatre more, something that will stick with them. If that were me, it would stick with me forever and make me want to do more shows.”
The Way Off-Broadway Players’ production of “Free to Be… You and Me” debuts Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m..Two shows follow on Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 16 at 2 p.m.. Tickets are available at the door and online at wthsnj.booktix.com/.
“These are kids in your community,” Molotsky insisted. “You should come see what they’re doing. “The arts at this high school are amazing. I have 50 kids from the district in this show who did it themselves.
“You should see what they’re capable of. It’s a really cool, fun show.”