HUNTINGTON – On Friday evening at 7 p.m. in the Gateway Regional Performing Arts Center, Gateway senior Dawson Atkins of Montgomery, Junior Margaret “Meg” Rock of Middlefield and Dawson’s brother, freshman Parker Atkin will perform in Gateway’s first student-directed musical, “The Last 5 Years.”
The off-Broadway Tony award-winning composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown tells the story of the breakup of a 5-year relationship and marriage—with struggling actress Cathy (Meg Rock) singing their story going backwards from the breakup, and novelist Jamie (Dawson Atkin) telling their story from their meeting forwards. Parker Atkin will accompany the actors on piano.
Dawson said the trio has been working on the play for three months and talking about it for a year. He became aware of the play through the soundtrack, and then saw the 2014 film adaptation with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.
“It was the music. As a musician and a composer, I was really drawn to it,” he said. “Parker and I got the piano book for Christmas (a year ago), and I said ‘Hey, let’s do this.”
Their first obstacle was paying for the license to put on the musical and obtain the score from Music Theatre International. At the beginning of the school year they approached Gateway grant writer Wendy Long and the Gateway Education Foundation for a grant, who gave them $1,000. They also approached local cultural councils for funding, hearing back from the Huntington Cultural Council who agreed to fund a portion of the cost. As the project was not a Drama Club production, it could not be funded by school or club funds
Jerilyn Beauregard, Gateway’s choral director is an advisor on project. She said this is considered a portfolio performance for the students. Gateway is leaning towards student portfolios, projects which allow students to do what they want to do, and use them for portfolios in college. Beauregard said the school is mostly working with freshmen on this, but Gateway High School principal Jason Finnie thought this would be a good capstone for the program.
Dawson Atkin said the biggest artistic obstacle they faced was finding the way of bringing the intimacy of Black box off-Broadway theatre to the performing arts center, a 650 seat auditorium. The sets are simple; tables, chairs and a bed. Meg Rock said they have to credit tech director Cheryl Wright, who has helped them with light cues and sound cues. The tech crew will help to stage the production on Friday.
“We wanted to make it feel like that sort of minimalist theatre,” Dawson said.
The three are seasoned performers and musicians, and all members of the Westfield Theatre Group. Dawson began his acting career with the Westfield Theatre Group at age 10, and has appeared annually in their musicals including in the roles of Young George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Young Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. As an actor with the Gateway High School Drama Club, he has brought the roles of Hortensio in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and Jack in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods to the stage.” Dawson also plays saxophone and piano in the Gateway jazz band and concert band, and has applied to several colleges for musical composition.
Meg has performed with the Gateway Drama Club (as The Witch in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” and as Grumio in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”). An accomplished dancer, she has studied at the Huntington Dance Center and performed in her favorite role as the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland” with their Floralia company. Last month, Rock appeared on stage as Kerri Stoddard in the Westfield Theatre Group’s production of “The Night Before Christmas”. She studies voice with Jasmine Highigatian of Westfield. She also plays bass clarinet in the Gateway concert band.
Parker Atkin has been a pianist and trumpet player with the Gateway Middle School jazz Band from grades 6 – 8, and was frequently invited to perform with the high school band while still in middle school. He was in the pit band for the 2017 production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” performing both piano and trumpet. In addition to singing and acting in several productions with the Westfield Theatre Group, he held standout roles in several Gateway Middle School productions, playing Captain Hook in “Peter Pan”, Charlie Bucket in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and Gilbert Blythe in “Anne of Green Gables”. He now plays both instruments in the high school jazz and concert band, and studies piano with Roberta Kowal in Westfield.
Dawson said he has been to a lot of theatre performances at the Bushnell, Boston Opera House and occasionally Broadway shows in New York City. His favorite to date has been “Hamilton.” Last year, he won first place as the Best Male Soloist at the New England Regional Show Choir Showdown in Andover for his competition performance of “My Shot” from the musical.
He said one of the challenges of performing “The Last 5 Year” is being on stage alone. Because of the way the story is told, the two stars are almost never on the stage together. “You have to be interesting enough,” Dawson said
“I have to yell at a void,” Meg said.
The one place they come together is at the wedding. “It’s pretty dramatic,” Meg said. “They can’t stand each other for a good half of the play. It’s amazing to perform. Doing the show is emotional; I’m never going to have a part this big again,” she added.
Dawson said it’s essentially like monologuing. “The storytelling of the show is just incredible,” he said, watching them each tell the story from their point of view.
“I just love the layers of it. You can analyze each song for hours,” Meg added.
“(It’s like) falling in slow motion. You know this is going to fall apart,” Parker said.
Both Meg and Dawson give Parker a lot of credit. Meg said it was “incredible” to have Parker as the accompanist. “Parker works even harder than us. I have half the songs, Dawson has half the songs, Parker plays all the songs,” She said. “Accompanists don’t get the credit they deserve,” Dawson added.
“It will make you laugh, make you cry – hopefully, in the same song,” Meg said.
The curtain rises at 7 p.m. on Friday, January 12 in the Gateway Performing Arts Center. Admission is free, but donations to the Gateway Education Foundation will be gratefully accepted.