Director Jordan Zeitler has a simple piece of advice for those who come to see Open House Theatre’s production of “Cheaper By the Dozen: “Come ready to laugh — and cry.”
“Even as director, I’ve been watching for eight weeks now and I’m still in the back, tearing up. It’s a roller coaster of emotions.”
The play opens Thursday and runs through Saturday at the Multipurpose Building in New Athens.
“We usually do a children’s musical every summer,” the director said. “This year, we decided to do something different, our first full-scale children’s play.”
“Cheaper By the Dozen” is based on the true story of the Gilbreth family. The inventor father, who is well known for making factories more efficient, keeps his large family running just as efficiently. His unorthodox methods are extremely effective, but at times embarrassingly funny.
For example, Mr. Galbreth (Richard Matt) has each child initial a chart after completing each household task and uses a rug to demonstrate how to take an efficient bath. The children don’t understand what is driving Dad. (He has a heart condition.) Nor does he understand them. Oldest daughter Anne (Bailey Lance) rebels and both she and Dad are miserable. Then comes a moving scene in which Mr. Galbreth becomes aware of how much Anne has grown up.
“It’s not based on the popular Steve Martin movie,” Zeitler said, “but on the 1950 movie (with Clifton Webb and Jeanne Crain.)”
The Open House cast is 11 kids, six adults and Libby the beagle.
“Libby can steal the show,” Zeitler said, “in a good way.”
Richard Matt, of Arnold, Mo., plays Mr. Galbreth.
“He is our in-house musical director,” Zeitler said. “He has the most experience working with kids. He has amazing comedic timing and improvisation skills. Sometimes, kids don’t quite get their lines right and he knows exactly what to do to keep things going. He’s definitely the backbone of our cast.”
Longtime friend Matt is also responsible for getting Zeitler, also from Arnold, involved in the New Athens theater. “I’ve been involved here for five years. I done assistant directing for four years. This is my first time directing.”
Bailey Lance, 14, of New Athens is the rebel Anne.
“She has been our child star for five years now,” Zeitler said. “People pay attention to her.”
Tristan Ferendzo, 17, of Marissa, who plays Frank is new to the troupe.
“He was in one high school musical. I took a chance on him and he is amazing. He really came out of his shell.”
Rachel Likert, 14, who plays daughter Ernestine, and Tristan are the narrators.
Zeitler also has two sons, Zakkary, 11, and Ethan, 7, in the play.
“There are a lot of kids on stage at one time. Directing them can be a challenge, but its’s fun.”
The set is simple, since all the action takes place in the Galbreths’ living room.
When the curtain comes down, Zeitler wants the audience to go home with a good feeling.
“If they walk away feeling the love the family has for each other, we’ve done a good job.”
At a glance
What: “Cheaper By the Dozen”
Who: Open House Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Where: Multi-Purpose Building, 208 Kaskaskia St., New Athens
Tickets: Thursday, most tickets $5 (except reserved seats in front, $10); Friday and Saturday, adults $10, children $5; available from cast members, at the door or call 618-475-3248.