With the beginning of a new semester comes new performances from the Muhlenberg theatre and dance department. The spring semester started off with a bang this past weekend with “Miss You Like Hell,” Muhlenberg’s first musical since the start of the pandemic. The musical was directed by Visiting Assistant Professor of Acting Jamie McKittrick with choreography by Adjunct Professor of Dance Samuel A. Reyes, based on the book by Quiara Alegría Hudes and music by Erin McKeown.
The musical depicts the story of Beatriz and Olivia, an estranged mother and daughter, played by Bridget Wiggan ‘23 and Marina Rinkunas ‘25, respectively, as they travel across the United States to save Beatriz from deportation while repairing their relationship.
“Miss You” has been in the back of McKittrick’s mind for a while before she brought it to Muhlenberg. McKittrick previously knew the stage manager for the original runs of “Miss You” and mentored a student whose thesis revolved around the show.
Having this prior knowledge helped McKittrick better tackle the show and find where to improve. While the production at the La Jolla Playhouse in California had a lot of intricate props, costumes, sets and production design, the Public Theater in New York City “was pretty sparse in terms of that type of stuff. I think it was mostly chairs… I had the benefit of having encountered the play before, and in realizing that maybe we wanted something in the middle. And also knowing that for me this story needed a lot of dance and movement.”
“I know Muhlenberg musicals are known to generate a lot of support and a lot of excitement, so I definitely felt the pressure–I know a lot of us did—because we were the first musical to premiere coming out of COVID-19.– Rachelle Montilus ‘24
When discussing the choreography in the show, McKittrick said “I was originally going to direct and choreograph it. But then I thought about Sammy Reyes, who’s amazing, another Latino [person] and I know what his movement style is like. I thought it would really help the story we were telling.”
McKittrick continued, “We started immediately talking about the set being a ritual space… creating this idea that [Beatriz] is calling down the ancestors, gods… the ensemble could be that support system and their support would often primarily come through their presence and the way that they moved.”
The idea of spirituality continued through the set design of the show having marigolds placed throughout. The flowers placed around the set mimicked an ofrenda—the altars made for día de los Muertos to commemorate the memories and spirits of the deceased—with marigolds being added for every new memory the characters experience throughout the show.
The cast made sure to get to work on the show even before the semester began. Like other upcoming shows in the early months of the semester, the cast was invited back to campus early during winter break to start rehearsing before classes began. McKittrick made sure to take full advantage of this time.
“My creative team and I agreed that the goal was that we would have the whole piece staged by the second week, because I was fairly certain… we would have people have to disappear along the way, which is what happened. But if we could get it all, at least, the spine of something down quickly, then we’d at least have something in place to build off of… that’s only possible because [of] the community that we built.”
Levi Roush ‘24, who plays the character of Mo, discussed the rehearsal process. He said, “Getting to know and work with the cast and production team was so special. There was so much laughter throughout the process and so much to be learned from one another. The ‘Miss You Like Hell’ cast and creative team will hold a special place in my heart always.”
Zaire Carter ‘22 who doubled as an ensemble member and the lawyer reflected on the community of the show saying, “This show is all about community and family and belonging… It was a privilege to go along for the ride… There are moments where you get overwhelmed because there is just so much content and a lot to remember and do, but that’s when you can lean on your ensemble to support you. I know I did. When you have a group of people as dedicated, hard-working and kind as we did, there isn’t anything that could’ve happened that we couldn’t have handled. I remember we had a day off from rehearsal and a group of us decided to get together and run all of the dance numbers that we needed extra help on. On our day off! That’s the level of commitment this group of remarkable artists had.”
“The ‘Miss You Like Hell’ cast and creative team will hold a special place in my heart always.”– Levi Roush ‘24
Along with the amazing community on display, the work effort of the production is clear in every facet of this show. McKittrick emphasized, “It’s been a pleasure to get to meet so many student artists and student theatre makers who are invested in the work that they do and are curious about the work that they do. I also appreciate their ability to say yes… I trust that the actors will have thought their way through the script, all the actors were asked to come memorized for our first rehearsal.”
From the perspective of the cast themselves, Roush reflected on the performances saying, “The performances this past weekend felt really good. We created a really beautiful, heartbreaking, moving piece of art based on real-life issues that need to be recognized and talked about right now.”
Roush continued, “Having the opportunity to play a character that was funny and lovable was such a great experience for me. I am so grateful that I could be a part of a production that carries so much meaning, and hopefully touched the hearts of every audience member.”
“It was honestly really nerve-wracking because this was my first musical at Muhlenberg,” explained Rachelle Montilus ‘24, another member of the cast. “I know Muhlenberg musicals are known to generate a lot of support and a lot of excitement, so I definitely felt the pressure–I know a lot of us did—because we were the first musical to premiere coming out of COVID-19. It felt really good, though, especially hearing everyone’s reactions, and that the audience enjoyed the show.”