Esky musical ‘Li’l Abner’ starts Friday

Haley Gustafson | Daily Press Escanaba High School senior Zoe Van Ginhoven, left, who plays “Daisy Mae” in Escanaba High School’s production of “Li’l Abner,” discusses her role with Musical Director Mark Ammel, center, and junior Gabe Smith, who plays “Li’l Abner,” during rehearsal Tuesday evening. Performances begin Friday.

ESCANABA — Escanaba High School is gearing up for its annual school musical with performances starting Friday.

According to Musical Director Mark Ammel, the school will be showcasing “Li’l Abner,” a musical is based off a 1930s comic strip which was brought to the Broadway stage in the late 1950s. This musical is more of a traditional-style production, explained Ammel, and was chosen to allow the drama students to “re-set the musical clock.”

“There’s a lot of music, a lot of characters,” said Ammel. “Not as much of a spectacle, more of a traditional style musical. It’s a really funny story.”

The story begins in Dogpatch, U.S.A., where the audience is introduced to “Li’l Abner,”,who is being portrayed by Escanaba High School junior Gabe Smith.

“He’s a hot commodity,” said Smith of his character. “He’s tall, strong, and a little clueless.”

Smith noted the play takes twists and turns while also providing the audience with a lot of comedy.

“I hope they’re ready to laugh,” said Smith.

The people of Dogpatch are soon faced with a hefty dilemma, explained Smith, as the U.S. government wants to drop a nuclear bomb on the town because they have deemed it “unnecessary.”

Residents scramble to find ways to show the government that Dogpatch is in fact necessary, added Smith, and one way lays with Abner and his family.

Smith explained that Abner’s mother has been creating a tonic from a tree that can only grow in Dogpatch. The tonic gives Abner his perfect physique while also making him not attracted to men or women. This factor also adds to the drama of the play, as fellow Dogpatcher, “Daisy Mae,” is romantically invested and constantly chasing after Abner throughout the production, noted Smith.

“It’s a great musical with a lot of punch lines,” said Smith.

Abner makes his way to Washington, D.C. where Senator Bullmoose and his confidential secretary greet him to try and get the recipe for the tonic by offering Abner $1 billion. Back in Dogpatch, Sadie Hawkins Day celebrations are in full swing and more drama unfolds, explained Smith.

Although this is Smith’s first drama performance, he said he has made stronger connections with friends, deepened his knowledge of music and performance.

“I’m excited and nervous to perform,” said Smith. “I hope to put on a good show.”

Smith’s castmate, senior Zoe Van Ginhoven, plays Daisy Mae.

“She’s a very persistent character,” said Van Ginhoven of her respective role. “She’s dainty, but lovable to the audience.”

Li’l Abner will be Van Ginhoven’s third and final musical production with Escanaba High School and she said performing has been memorable.

“It’s been really, really fun,” said Van Ginhoven. “I don’t want to leave, but I’m trying to spend my time wisely.”

In addition to the cast, Van Ginhoven explained there are a lot of other moving parts that make the musicals and other productions possible. Light crews, costume crews, set design, and the pit band all make Escanaba’s drama productions what they are, said Van Ginhoven.

“They’re doing such a wonderful job, a lot of the music is really hard,” said Van Ginhoven. “It’s amazing what they are able to do for us.”

Performances will begin Friday and will continue Saturday, Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, will be a matinee at 2 p.m.

“The kids have worked really hard,” said Ammel, adding they have been more involved than ever with the set building and design.