Theater on wheels

by Guest Blogger

Mark Mauriello ’15 is a rising sophomore in Kirkland House who is currently working towards creating a Special Concentration. His activities on campus revolve mainly around the performing arts, having been a member of the cast of Spring Awakening at Oberon last December, as well as performing the title role in Sunday in the Park with George on the Loeb Mainstage and as Berger in Hair at the Loeb Ex, both presented by the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club. He hopes to expand his involvement with theater and the arts beyond performing by creating new kinds of theatrical experiences. Harvard Arts Beat asked Mark to tell us about his participation in the world premiere production of a new musical playing in Harvard Square this summer.

Roller Disco the Musical! is a parody of the 1979 film Roller Boogie. Set on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, the film's overly dramatic and terribly acted love story is about a rich girl who hates being rich (played by The Exorcist’sLinda Blair) and a boy whose main concern is representing the United States as an Olympic roller skater—oh, and there’s also this subplot with some mobsters who want to burn down the local roller rink and build a shopping mall. It’s probably one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, which obviously makes it the perfect source material for the silliest and most ridiculous piece of musical theater I have ever experienced. Did I mention it’s performed by an 11-­person cast who spends the entirety of the show gliding, dancing, chasing, and even swimming on roller skates?

The show’s full title is Roller Disco the Musical! (The Unauthorized Parody of Roller Boogie, the Classic Film that Inspired a Generation... For Like Five Minutes), and it’s the brainchild of director/choreographer Jen Wineman and her collaborators Eli Bolin and Sam Foreman. For me, working with them and the rest of the cast and staff of this show has been an absolutely amazing learning experience because this is the first time these characters and songs have ever left the page. Each day of rehearsal was filled with new discoveries about how things worked, didn’t work, and could be made to work better. Rehearsing and working the show with its writers and creators right in the room meant that something funny we discovered during rehearsal could be thrown right into the script, or that we could come in one day and learn that the cute love duet at the end of the first act had been revamped into a full-­company gospel number, complete with a roller-­skating cupid and a cast of unlikely couples-in-love. It was the first time I had ever experienced the creation of a new work and how exciting, freeing, and fun that can be.

Then, of course, there was the roller skating. That, too, was a learning experience. Sure, I had been on skates at a birthday party of two when I was little, and brushed up a bit in the weeks before rehearsal started, but for the most part we were all learning the ways that we could use skates for moving, for dancing, and for comedy as we got into the rehearsal process, which was amazingly collaborative. We would all have opportunities to explore what we could do, help and teach each other, and discover the most effective ways to put our eight wheels to the best possible use.

The show itself is beyond fun to perform. It’s filled with some of the most ridiculous, over-­the-­top characters who say some of the strangest things I’ve ever heard (but, of course, they mean every word they say as if the stakes were life or death). Whether gyrating in slow motion, bringing their best moves to the dance floor, or just casually trying to out-­skate a speeding car, every member of this company is constantly doing something hilarious, silly, or strange. Every night, I am amazed by the comedic chops of the people with whom I’m skating all around Oberon’s immersive space, and so excited and proud to be able to be out there being a hot skater with them.

If Roller Disco the Musical! is even half as fun to watch as it is to perform, it’s sure to be a side-­splitting and outrageous night out for anyone. The creators hope to bring the show to Off-Broadway in the near future, but you can see it first. Just roll on over to Oberon between now and the end of August to see us skate and make sexy faces all around you—it’s love on wheels!

Performances of Roller Disco the Musical! continue on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm through August 30 at Oberon, 2 Arrow St., Cambridge. For information and tickets, call 617.547.8300 or visit the website.

[Caption: Mark Mauriello '15]

[Caption: Mauriello (foreground) with the cast of "Roller Disco the Musical!"]