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Theater

Pitt-Greensburg show looks at Eleanor Roosevelt's journey

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jordan Fessler, playing Eleanor Roosevelt, rehearses a scene from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's production of “Eleanor: An American Love Story” on March 27, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Jordan Fessler, playing Eleanor Roosevelt, rehearses a scene from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's production of “Eleanor: An American Love Story” on March 27, 2013.
Nicole Wong (left), playing Lucy Mercer, and Jesse Palatucci, playing Louis Howe, rehearse a scene from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's production of “Eleanor: An American Love Story” on March 27, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Nicole Wong (left), playing Lucy Mercer, and Jesse Palatucci, playing Louis Howe, rehearse a scene from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's production of “Eleanor: An American Love Story” on March 27, 2013.
Tony Puzzini, playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, rehearses a scene from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's production of “Eleanor: An American Love Story” on March 27, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Tony Puzzini, playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, rehearses a scene from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's production of “Eleanor: An American Love Story” on March 27, 2013.
Tony Puzzini (left), playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Jordan Fessler, playing Eleanor Roosevelt, rehearse a scene from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's production of “Eleanor: An American Love Story” on March 27, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Tony Puzzini (left), playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Jordan Fessler, playing Eleanor Roosevelt, rehearse a scene from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's production of “Eleanor: An American Love Story” on March 27, 2013.

A woman who is credited with redefining the role of first lady is in the spotlight for University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Theatre Company's spring production, “Eleanor — An American Love Story.”

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was considered one of our country's most outspoken women, not only during her tenure in the White House as the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but before and after her role as first lady. At different times in her life, she was a campaigner, not only for her husband's presidency, but for human rights, women's and children's issues and other causes.

Stephen Schrum, associate professor of theater arts at Pitt-Greensburg, directs the musical production that celebrates her life. The play ends as Franklin Roosevelt (played by senior visual- and performing-arts major Tony Puzzini of Pittsburgh) is considering a run for the office of governor of New York.

The main focus of the theatrical work “is really on Eleanor going from the shy girl who felt abandoned by her father and finding Franklin growing away from her, but at the request of Louis Howe (Franklin's political adviser), she campaigns for Franklin and as a result, discovers herself,” Schrum says.

Jesse Palatucci, a senior visual- and performing-arts major from Brentwood who portrays Howe, says that when Franklin becomes too ill to make speeches and continue his political career, Howe inspires Eleanor to take his place and keep her husband's name alive.

“Inadvertently, Howe plays a lead role in helping Eleanor become the strong, independent woman she grows into. The relationship between Howe and Eleanor grows into something very beautiful. The story we tell in this show casts a light rarely seen,” he says.

“Eleanor fought social norms, an old-school mother-in-law, and even a debilitating illness suffered by her husband. The sheer strength and determination exuded by Eleanor is incredible.”

Schrum selected freshman biology major Jordan Fessler of Irwin to portray Eleanor, he says, because he was impressed not only by her vocal ability, but by the vulnerability and strength she showed in her audition — two qualities that the title role requires.

Fessler says she wanted to play Eleanor because she is a dynamic character who transforms from a shy, insecure girl to a strong-willed, hard-working woman.

Fessler's stage credits include the lead role of Natalie/Ed in the musical “All Shook Up” at Norwin High School, where she also was a featured singer and dancer in “Copacabana” and “Curtains” and played Eileen Reagan in the musical “Back to the '80s.”

Palatucci has been featured in four other Pitt-Greensburg Theatre Company productions: as Tony Kirby Jr. in “You Can't Take It With You,” Hippolytus in “Hippolytus,” Bob the Dog Assassin in “Dog Assassin the Musical” and Mortimer Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

“Eleanor — An American Love Story” is supported by grants from the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, the Greensburg Foundation Fund of the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County and Westmoreland Cultural Trust.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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