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October 19, 2023

SVSU to present university premiere of ‘Burning Bluebeard,’ popular holiday show in Chicago

two young women and man on theatre stage

It is often said that tragedy and comedy are closely linked. Saginaw Valley State University’s theatre department will demonstrate just that with the production of “Burning Bluebeard” by Jay Torrence. The play will run from Wednesday, Oct. 25 through Sunday, Oct. 29.

“Bluebeard” is a sensitive and joyful story of redemption inspired by the 1903 fire that devastated Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre during a production of “Mr. Blue Beard,” a popular Broadway musical, claiming the lives of 600 theater patrons, including scores of children and their mothers. While this play is a popular annual holiday show in Chicago, staged by professionals, SVSU’s production is the first at a university.

Dave Rzeszutek, professor of theatre, explained how this came to be.

“I had the opportunity to direct another play by Jay Torrence in 2020 called “Roustabout: The Great Circus Trainwreck!” and really enjoyed his writing style. He writes stories of hope and redemption,” Rzeszutek said.

“Jay came back to see our production during the run, and after the show he asked if I might be interested in directing “Burning Bluebeard.”  

When Rzeszutek agreed, Torrence was engaged through SVSU’s Dow Visiting Scholars and Artists program to visit campus in September to teach the neofuturist/clown approach to the show and opened himself to questions about the Iroquois Theatre fire that the show is based upon, the script, and working professionally after college.”

“Burning Bluebeard” is the story of six singed clown performers who emerge from the burnt remains of history in a final attempt to perform their spectacular Christmas. But this time they hope to finally reach the true happy ending of their second act and avoid the fateful fire that killed 600 audience members. 

Described as a “vaudevillian delight,” “Bluebeard” provides SVSU’s actors with the opportunity to expand their skills.

“One of the challenges is the acting style,” Rzeszutek said. “It relies on both neofuturist and clown techniques, which have a lot of audience interaction and demand the truth on stage from the performers. There is a lot of movement and dance, and we dip into classic vaudeville and slapstick at times. These have been valuable lessons for our students to experience.”

Isabel Losa, a theatre major from Saginaw playing the role of Henry Gilfoil, agreed that “Bluebeard” is driving her to learn new skills.

“I have never been a clown before, so this play is definitely an experience,” she said. “Also, this is my first play that isn’t a musical that involves choreography. That is new to me as well.”

In addition to Losa, the ensemble cast of “Bluebeard” includes:

  • Scout McCulloch, a communication/theatre education major from Port Huron, in the role of Eddie Foy.
  • Sofia Morrone, an early college high school student from Bay City, in the role of Fancy Clown.
  • Tyler Obermiller, a communication/theatre education major from Mio, in the role of stage manager Robert Murray
  • Emma-Gene Pichan, a theatre major living in Frankenmuth, in the role of Nellie Reed.
  • Dana Samalik, a theatre major from Essexville, in the role of Faerie Queen.

Showtimes for “Burning Bluebeard” are Wednesday, Oct. 25-Saturday, Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 29 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or in person at the SVSU box office.