KINGSTON — Faster. Higher. Stronger.
You’d almost think you were at the Olympics as Tony Award-nominee Forrest McClendon guided student actors at Wyoming Seminary’s Performing Arts Institute through perhaps the fastest-paced, highest-pitched and most vigorous rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” anyone has ever sung.
“As a bass, I was hitting Gs and A-flats,” 16-year-old Matt Zwiebel, of Mountain Top, said after the recent acting workshop, held in the basement of Sprague Hall. “I never made that sound before, and it didn’t sound bad.”
“You could feel the songs become brighter and more physical,” said Kelly Krieger, 18, of Scranton. “The energy he brought forth was really what we needed.”
The student thespians will tap into that energy Aug. 5-6 when the Performing Arts Institute presents Kander & Ebb’s “Chicago,” a story about two women, Roxie and Velma, who are incarcerated during the 1920s for murder.
Both women are guilty, said 17-year-old Denise Angieri, of St. Louis, Missouri, who portrays Roxie, but audiences aren’t likely to hold that against them.
“The way it’s written, you feel sympathy for them,” she said. “You see why they did it.”
As the lyrics of “Cell Block Tango” explain vaudeville-style, the victims “had it coming.”
McClendon helped the cast prepare for that and other rousing numbers in the show by exercising their posture, stance, voices and more.
“He showed me how to interact with the audience,” Angieri said. “To keep looking at them and not to sing to myself, and never to close my eyes.”
McClendon was nominated for a Tony Award for his 2010 Broadway debut as Mr. Tambo in “The Scottsboro Boys,” a musical retelling of a 1930s trial based on false accusations of rape.
Admitting he has a soft spot in his heart for Kander & Ebb collaborations, a distinction held by both “The Scottsboro Boys” and “Chicago,” McClendon said he can trace his love for theater back to high school productions of “Hello, Dolly!” and “Guys & Dolls.”
“We had fathers building sets, mothers making costumes,” he recalled. “Everybody worked together, a whole community, and it changed my life.”
Working with his cast mates was so exhilarating, he said, he always hated to see the final curtain come down.