“Loose Lips Sink Ships” celebrates Wisconsin’s Rosie the Riveters

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Photo by Photo by A.J. Magoon

Chloe Hurckes stars as Roxie in Marquette Theatre’s first production of the season, “Loose Lips Sink Ships”

Hannah Byron

Helfaer Theatre raises its curtains for “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” the first show of the theatrical season, running Sept. 24-Oct.4. With a year-long theme focused on stories of strong women, this musical is the perfect show to begin the year.

Set in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the musical celebrates and pays tribute to the strength and determination of the women of World War II, who replaced their fathers, sons, brothers and husbands in the workforce when they left to fight abroad. Based on real events, the production features the stories of Anne and Roxie, who become welders at the Leatham D. Smith shipyard. Together, they overcome the fear of loss, find love and prove that women, as Rosie the Riveter famously said, “Can do it” and anything they set their minds to.

One of the riveters in the production is Roxie, a strong and assertive young woman, played by College of Communication sophomore Chloe Hurckes.Roxie is definitely not a tomboy, but she isn’t a ‘girly girl’ either. She’s right with the guys, playing poker with them.” Hurckes said.

Despite the fact that Anne already has her life planned out and dreams of starting a family, Roxie encourages her to work in the shipyard. “I admire that Roxie is not afraid to stand out or stand up for what she believes in,” Hurckes said. “She doesn’t really care what other people think about her. She is very strong-willed.”

Acting alongside Hurckes is Michael Nicholas, a sophomore in the College of Communication, who plays the intelligent, but socially awkward Marty McCabe. Although McCabe cannot fight, he is still committed to the war effort. What McCabe lacks in social skills, he makes up for in his knowledge of blueprints and machinery.

“The audience gets to see a big change in Marty’s character from this nerdy blueprint guy to being the head of the shipyard who runs everything,” Nicholas said. “I actually like that about him, that he steps up and takes charge.”

For most people today, integrating women into the workplace isn’t really shocking. However, for the men and women of the 1940s, the idea of women welding and building warships was not only unheard of, it was revolutionary. An example of this is that Nicholas’ character keeps a book in his office titled “How to Deal with Women in the Workplace.”

“It’s exciting for us girls to finally have a chance to demonstrate, not just girls at Marquette Theatre, but that [all] girls have power, especially now with all the debates about feminism and anti-feminism going on right now,” Hurckes said. “I feel like there’s no better time to [address it].”

Back for her second show is director and 1990 Marquette alumna Di Alioto, who directed “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse” in 2013. Alioto said she was excited to work on another Marquette production.

“My license plate says ‘We Are’ because I love Marquette,” Alioto said. “Just walking through those halls brings back such great memories.”

She also praised the students for their dedication, discipline and trust. “These guys are just such hard workers and it’s a joy to be there,” Alioto said.

Nicholas said the musical is funny and entertaining, but emphasized the historical and educational significance of the story. “It’s not only important to learn about one certain shipyard during World War II, but [audiences] get to learn about the generation their grandparents grew up in,” Nicholas said. “And not just in Germany and Europe, but close to home where you wouldn’t expect something to be with the war effort.”

In addition to working with Alioto, students got to work with James Kaplan, the composer of the music for the show, as their musical director. “Loose Lips Sink Ships” is Kaplan’s first production with Marquette Theatre, and said Marquette is the first university to perform the musical.

“I love working with students,” Kaplan said. “This (show) is about people who are going off to war, women who worked in shipyards after the men go off to war, so they’re all about this age, so it’s really well suited (to) a group of kids.”

With the story taking place during the 1940s, Kaplan said the jazz and swing musical style of that era opened numerous possibilities, which he said doesn’t usually get to work with at his other job at Northern Sky Theatre, where his focus is mostly on folk and guitar-based melodies.

“If we had an unlimited budget, we would have a big band playing,” Kaplan said. “It was fun for me to not have to write in the folk style and kinda open it up for different things.”

Not everyone enjoys musicals, and could argue this story doesn’t need singing or dance routines, but Kaplan feels the musical component enhances the storytelling, and relates the story to a time in cinematic history when musical numbers were popular and incorporated in most films.

“Music, particularly in theater, is a way to communicate things in various ways other than dialogue,” Kaplan said. “It’s not always easy for someone to say they love someone, and so there’s lots of songs in musical history that try to say that. You can explore feelings in a more roundabout way, which is what a lot of people do in real life through music.”

According to Kaplan, his favorite song in the production is “Read Between the Lines,” a musical number about the exchange of letters to and from loved ones at home and overseas. Authentic letters were used to inspire the lyrics and the melody.

“That’s when it really hit me about the importance of these letters. It was so much different than it is today. Everything was so slow and deliberate then, so these letters are so full of passion and longing,” Kaplan said. “Some of them are really heartfelt and some are just business. I just find it really moving to see how everyone’s lives were happening and how they communicated them at that time.”

Like any classic musical, there will be dancing. Given the setting of the play, swing, theatrical dance and of course tap will be incorporated. Amy Brinkmam-Sustache, the show’s choreographer, designed and taught the dance routines. Her favorite routines include “S.O.S.” and “That’s It,” which feature the male characters in the musical.

“I guess I’m drawn more to the male numbers because I work predominantly with females,” Brinkmam-Sustache said. “I love the challenge of working with men, especially men who don’t dance, and it’s exciting to see them all of a sudden dance.”

“Loose Lips Sinks Ships” celebrates all of the “Rosies” out there who made a difference in the war effort and took a step in the gender equality movement. They proved that women are strong, hardworking and capable during a time of struggle and uncertainty. It is their strength and perseverance that continues to inspire.

“It’s so much more than just a play, it really is,” Alioto said.

“Throughout history it’s always men who have the power,” Nicholas said. “But the ladies really show that they do have the power to step up and do a ‘man’s job.’ It’s the whole Rosie the Riveter thing, ‘We can do it.’ That’s something I really like and enjoyed watching.”