If current events have you feeling blue and looking for something to lift your spirits, “Bells are Ringing” can get the job done, and might even have you humming one of the 18 songs the show features by the time you leave the theater.
The show is scheduled to open in Watters Theater this weekend as part of the theatre department’s Mainstage show series.
“Bells are Ringing” is a 1950s-style musical which focuses on the suddenly interesting romantic life of a telephone-answering service girl named Ella, played by Danielle Nigro, a senior majoring in theatre. Ella works for Susanswerphone, a company owned by a woman named Sue Summers played by Morgan Kriegel, a junior majoring in Judaic studies, which is under investigation by the police who think the call service might be a front for an escort service.
BU’s production is directed by Tommy Iafrate, an assistant professor of theatre. The musical was written in 1956 by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Clearly bored with the tediousness of answering calls for a living, Ella decides to have some fun by answering the phone with various accents. The charming protagonist is a quirky ball of energy and answers each customer’s call with a unique persona. When Ella picks up the phone for Jeff Moss, played by Jeff Tagliaferro, a senior majoring in theatre, a semi-successful playwright with writer’s block, her persona is “Mom,” a sweet old lady who watches out for the pleasant young man.
Ella finds herself more and more enamored with Moss as her relationship with him develops. One day, Moss reveals to her that if he doesn’t soon give an outline of his unfinished play to his producer, he’ll be dropped and his career will be over. Because of this, he requests a 7 a.m. wake-up call, but when she calls him the next day, she discovers his phone has been unplugged.
The most captivating part of the show is the quick assembly of the set changes through easily moved props. “Bells Are Ringing” flawlessly shifts scenes from the basement floor of a brownstone, where Susanwerphone operates to an abruptly stopping R train where everyone likes to say (and sing) “Hello!” to one another. Those from the New York City area can appreciate the attention to detail in these scenes.
While the imagery can make you feel like you’re truly in the city that never sleeps, the on-point vocals and dancing by the acting cast is what really pulls in the audience’s undivided attention. Both main characters sing their cheerful tunes with gusto, while the choreography done by the rest of the actors is without a bump in the road.
The cast and crew of “Bells are Ringing” have been rehearsing for the production since September.
“I wanted to do a large show that could involve as many performers as possible, as many orchestra members as possible,” Iafrate said.
Iafrate explained that the appeal of the show is that the audience knows more than some of the characters do.
“Even though the police officers investigating Susanswerphone say [Ella] isn’t supposed to meddle in the life of her clients, she would rather do exactly that,” Iafrate said. “The whole dramatic irony is him figuring out that this woman who he has now fallen in love with is the same as the one on the phone.”
“Bells are Ringing” has an inherent optimism, that Iafrate cites as unique, as the theatre department usually doesn’t put on such a gleeful musical.
“In the past we were edgier and more contemporary,” he said of the department. “I thought it was time we harkened back to the Golden Age of musical theatre so that our performers can do a show where the songs really come out of the book and propel the plot forward.”
This Golden Age musical has tickets starting at $18 for the general public, $16 for alumni, faculty, seniors and staff and $10 for students. There will be shows at 8 p.m. on Nov. 11, 12, 18 and 19 and an additional production at 2 p.m. on Nov. 20.