Recreating 18th century France: student thesis musical “Spectacular” features song, dance, wigs galore


Saturday, April 9, music, drama and laughter filled Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium. For the second and final night, College of William and Mary students put on “Spectacular,” a brand new musical comedy. Extremely catchy songs coupled with a talented cast and inspiring tale made the Saturday performance of “Spectacular” a night to remember. 

“Spectacular” developed from the creative mind of Paul Hardin ’22. In addition to producing, Hardin wrote the book, music and lyrics for the show. After studying the dynamic and interconnected political and theatrical scenes prevalent throughout 18th century France, Hardin felt inspired to write a musical based on this historical period. 


As one would expect, “Spectacular” was not written overnight.  

“I think the first song I wrote my freshman spring towards the end,” Hardin said. “And then it’s kind of been a slow burn process from then.” 

But three years later, “Spectacular” is complete and has become a campus hit.

“Spectacular” follows the respective stories of Nicolas Vernay, an aspiring French playwright played by Adam Farris ’24, and Princess Leonor, a Spanish princess and the soon-to-be French Dauphine played by Alexia Alvarez-Burock ’24. 

Each of the characters find themselves trapped in unfavorable situations. Vernay longs to produce his retelling of “Pygmalion” but is impeded by royal official Richelieu, played by Luke Hemmingson ’22, highlighting the play’s critique of the superficiality of the French court. Princess Leonor, on the other hand, is forced into a loveless marriage with the French Dauphin, leaving her feeling disillusioned by her new role as the Dauphine and unable to express her true self. 


However, things begin to change after Leonor reads Vernay’s play and finally feels seen. 

“In his story the statue is a metaphor for the Dauphine,” Alvarez-Burock said. “So the reason he has so much trouble getting it produced is because it’s very anti-monarchy. And Leonor reads this and is like, ‘Oh, this story is about me. It’s a metaphor for me being used as a prop and not being allowed to be a person.’ So, of course, she also wants to get the play produced because she wants people to see: ‘Hey, I hate it here. And this is why.’” 


With the Dauphine now in his corner, Vernay continues his strides against the monarchy and towards artistic freedom.

An inspiring and heartwarming story combined with a talented and professional cast, pit and crew made Spectacular a pleasure to see. 

But the most spectacular (sorry, not sorry) aspect of the musical was that the entire show was student-led. “Spectacular” is indebted to the stage, musical and technical direction of Katy Shinas ’22, Joshua Conway ’22 and McKinley Sprinkle ’22, the pit leadership of Aidan Stawasz ’24, the choreography of Marlaina Horewitz ’23, the scenic, lighting and sound design of Erik Wells ’23, Rachael Ponticiello ’24 and Julia Tucker ’25, as well as the hard work and creativity of so many more students. “Spectacular” was truly a labor of love in which every participant involved in its creation should take pride. 


Beneath the music and fun of “Spectacular” was a powerful message about fighting to make your dreams a reality despite the challenges you may face — a lesson that Farris believes the students of the College should take to heart.  

“I feel like a lot of people, especially at William and Mary, have a lot of big dreams that they want to pursue,” Farris said. “And a lot of times they don’t necessarily do it because they think like: ‘Someone out there is better than me, so I won’t get it or whatever.’ It’s like, no — I mean, if you push hard enough, like, something’s going to happen.”

To Farris, the trials and eventual success of Vernay exemplify this sentiment. 

“But literally every possible thing that could have gone wrong, went wrong. And he still turned out fine,” Farris said, referencing Vernay’s persistence throughout “Spectacular.” “And like, I would just say, you know it’s never the end of the road, but you can always keep pushing for it.” 


While sitting in the audience, the chemistry between and the energy of the cast was evident. It looked as though every cast member was happy to not only perform before an audience, but also to create art with a passionate group of friends. 

When discussing his favorite part of putting on “Spectacular,” Hardin expressed how much he enjoyed getting to know his fellow castmates and being able to create something wonderful with them.


“It’s just been a really great experience to kind of bond with the cast,” Hardin said. “And also, just the experience of putting on a full musical together with a group of friends is really just fun and rewarding — to see it kind of, you know, come together.” 

“Spectacular” was truly a can’t miss event. All the hard work put into the show paid off. The audience couldn’t help but give the cast a standing ovation during the curtain call. After the cheering died down, flower bouquets appeared as the cast stood smiling on stage. To express gratitude to members of the production staff, cast members called out their names and handed them a bouquet as the audience recommenced their rounds of applause.

After receiving flowers of his own, Hardin gave the last bouquet to his mother for being an indispensable part in the production of “Spectacular.”


The gratitude displayed on the stage that night was exemplified by Alvarez-Burock when speaking about her involvement in the show. 

“I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity, to Paul for writing the show, Josh for orchestrating it and everyone involved for all of their support,” Alvarez-Burock said. “Just gratitude. This has been the most absolutely wonderful experience. I think it is my favorite show that I’ve ever been a part of.” 


Though this was officially the last performance, “Spectacular” will hopefully live on and grace another stage sometime soon. 


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