The annual Cornerstone production, typically a play, is a musical for the first time in four years.
John and Jen, a musical composed by Andrew Lippa, deals with trauma, PTSD and how negative relationships create and develop personality. The production opens in 1959 to John and Jen, siblings, as kids before he passes away at the end of the act.
John comes back in the second act through Jen’s son, who she names John. John goes to Vietnam to fight.
John is played by Carl Kimbrough, a senior musical theatre major from Marietta, Georgia and Jen is played by Madison Massey, a senior musical theatre major from Fort Meyers, Florida.
Massey said the dramaturg, Casey Burchfield, helps the two get into character.
“Jen goes off to college during the 60s, so John is in the military and I’m a hippy,” Massey said. “I watched a couple of documentaries and YouTube videos about Woodstock and what life was like in college at that time, but Casey consumes the musical and the script and searches everything that sticks out.”
Because Jen loses her brother, Massey said she also studied family psychology to understand how the character would remember John.
As a duo, Massey and Kimbrough said working together is easier than working in a large group.
“With a bigger cast, you lose time because people are talking and you’ve got to get their attention,” Massey said. “Since this is such a small cast, we go through stuff quickly. We got the first act blocked in about two days.”
In agreement, Kimbrough said, “I think we’re both very professional and Dawne [Meeks, chair of the theatre department] is doing a really good job of cranking out the blocking and getting us directed. So far it’s been a really pleasant process.”
Massey said her favorite part of the process has been discovering who she is outside of her typical comedic role. Both Massey and Kimbrough played roles in James and the Giant Peach as Aunt Spiker and James, respectively.
“It’s a chance to think, Yes, I can do both things,'” Massey said. “The hardest part is in the second act. Jen has at least two or three more solos than John, so I started thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, am I going to be able to do it justice? I am going to have to belt, sing my lungs out for seven shows back to back with no break.'”
The duo will head to New York City with a majority of their graduating class next semester as part of the Tepper program, a partnership with Syracuse University.
“I spent a lot of time in New York as a kid, just doing acting and stuff, so I am excited to get back up there,” Kimbrough said. “But I am also really excited to see my friends in the department experience their first time in New York and see them take route as they find themselves in the city.”