Megan Ferrante and Olivia Breger read about the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire when they were students in school. The events of that horrific day, March 25, 1911, will be incorporated into the musical production of which runs for four performances -- March 5, 6, 12 and 13 -- at the .
“We are very in-tune with the Shirtwaist tragedy,” said Breger, who plays “Marie,” the second wife of Fiorello LaGuardia. “[The owners] were murderers and they got to open another sweatshop right after that. We discussed the events of the shirtwaist fire during rehearsals and breaks.”
Ferrante, who plays “Thea”, the first wife of Fiorello, said she gained keen insight into the plight of the factory workers through her own readings, as well as in the character-development sessions run by producer Rob Cohen. The shirtwaist factory fire of nearly 100 years ago, which killed 146, is credited with galvanizing efforts to reform working conditions in sweatshops.
Director Mark Lord and Cohen assembled the cast of Fiorello. The group, which ranges in age from 13 to 75, has been rehearsing since December. “We have come such a long way in such a short time,” said Cohen, who has brought live productions to the Plainview Jewish Center the last four years. “Everyone has worked very hard on this.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical premiered on Broadway in 1959. It is based on the life and career of Fiorello LaGuardia (played by ), the former mayor of New York City, serving terms from 1934-45. LaGuardia rose to power at a time when the crooked political machine known as “Tammany Hall” was influencing New York City politics. Through his tenacity, Fiorello was able to break Tammany’s grip.
The production features ensemble numbers including “Politics and Poker,” “On the Side of the Angels,” and “Little Tin Box,” under the musical direction of Joe Ferrante, Megan’s husband.
“It’s tough musically, but it is good that it is tough and challenging,” said Megan Ferrante, who studied acting at Queens College. “The music is complex, it’s not boring.”
Breger, who took a break from acting to raise a family, said the thrill of performing never left her. “This has been a great, great experience,” she said. “I do what I love and I have always loved performing. It’s great to work with so many talented people. I have fun up there. I am very passionate about it. I love to sing, I love to affect people.”
There will be cameo appearances from Rabbi Steven Conn of the Plainview Jewish Center, as well as Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia of the Town of Oyster Bay, and Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs. Alesia said she was active in her high school productions and is looking forward to her cameo. Like the cast, she is educated on the tragedy of the shirtwaist fire. “I read a novel called ‘Triangle’ (by Katharine Weber) about the event. It’s a horrible ghoulish thing that happened,” she said.
The fire, which broke out on the eighth floor of the Asch Building in Lower Manhattan, trapped dozens of workers on the upper floors, which housed the union-breaking sweatshop known as Triangle. The workers, mostly women and many of them Jewish and Italian immigrants, had no place to go. More than 50 people jumped to their deaths. The rest were trapped inside, mostly on the 9th floor. There were no sprinklers or escape route.
In the production, LaGuardia represents shirtwaist labor organizers who were inspired to act following the tragedy. During the ensuing decade, LaGuardia played an increasing role in the fight against these abuses and for labor reform. His ability to speak several languages, including Yiddish and Italian, suited him as the “man of the people,” with whom workers and voters could identify. (The number “Unfair” in the First Act addresses this issue.)
This year marks The Patio Players' 46th consecutive year of bringing quality theater to the Plainview community.
The performances are as follows:
Saturday March 5 @ 8:30 p.m.
Sunday March 6 @ 3 p.m.
Saturday March 12 @ 8:30 p.m.
Sunday March 13 @ 3 p.m.
Tickets are $18. Proceeds benefit the various benevolent and cultural efforts of the Men’s Club.
The Plainview Jewish Center is located at 95 Floral Drive.
For more information, call the Synagogue office at 516-938-8610.
Editor's Note: Plainview Patch Local Editor Joe Dowd will perform in the production.