“I go somewhere by myself … and I listen to the song “Welcome Home” by Coheed and Cambria, and I just have a little one-man mosh pit,” says the star of CAST’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which opens on Thursday.
The body flailing and the internal excitement comes up, drains out and leaves the 23-year-old ready to run.
It’s a ritual that the Oxford native, now a senior at Jacksonville State University, has practiced since the age of 15, when he got his big break starring as Linus Van Pelt in the CAST production of “Snoopy The Musical.”
Harrell knew the vibe was different from the school and church plays he had been participating in. Before he knew it, he was bitten by the acting bug.
“It really just got the motor running,” he says of honing the talent that would later define his future. Through his CAST work, he was introduced to a voice coach, and found out that in addition to talking on the stage, he could also carry a tune.
He continued to sing and act in CAST productions through high school. When college came, Harrell knew he wanted to concentrate on performing arts, no question.
“It’s fun, I’m good at it, and if I try hard enough, there is someone out there willing to pay me for it,” he deduced.
Harrell is a classical voice major, but he is planning to tap more into his comedic chops to make his role as Pseudolous in “Forum” really … sing.
“Bad singing suits the character,” he says of the role, in which he plays a slave fighting for his freedom.
Harrell prepared for his role in classic student fashion by going back and watching the 1966 film, which was heavily altered from the original stage version.
“My response was, ‘Ehh, this is OK,’” he says. Harrell made his musical director aware of his apathy, and the director put him on the right track by encouraging him to listen to just the soundtrack, with music and lyrics by the legendary Stephen Sondheim. “It was absolutely hysterical,” Harrell says.
Both Harrell and artistic director Kim Dobbs hope that theatergoers will have the same impression. “I just want people to think ‘Wow — I had no idea this could be done here!’” Dobbs says. The comedic spontaneity of the script will be a real asset to the show, just in case something goes off the rails.
“It’s my favorite type of production to be in, because if something goes wrong — and something
“Sondheim’s music is not predictable; it is exciting and unique; his lyrics are clever to brilliant. Singers love to sing Sondheim, and we have a terrific group of singers who are excited to sing his score. It is challenging and rewarding,” Dobbs says.
Up next on the CAST schedule is the holiday cult classic “A Christmas Story,” which is set to begin auditions Sept. 24. When it comes to embodying the coveted role of the wild-eyed protagonist Ralphie, Dobbs is looking for “a ‘natural,’ with comedic timing, who will grab the audience’s heart.”
Harrell plans to spend the remainder of the year concentrating on auditioning for graduate school and professionally, but isn’t ruling out another return to the CAST stage. “I don’t know what the future holds — I just know that I will be onstage while it’s unfolding.”
Erin Williams is a graduate of Faith Christian School and the University of Alabama. She is a performing arts aide for the Washington Post Style section.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”
What: A slave seeks to win his freedom from his master by helping him win the affection of the girl next door. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Presented by CAST Alabama.
When: Thursday through Sept. 23 at McClellan Auditorium.
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday- Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $16-$20, www.castalabama.com, 256-820-2278