"That Thing": Light and Funny

The one-hit wonder is a common trope in the music industry, and one that serves as the backbone for Tom Hanks’s film “That Thing You Do!” which was adapted and directed by Grace S. Sun ’13 and performed from Friday to Sunday in Adams Pool Theatre. Guitarists Jimmy (Ryan C. Cutter ’13) and Lenny (Erich P. Dylus ’14) ask Guy (Dylan A. Munro ’16), a jazz drummer, to join their band after their previous drummer breaks his arm. One thing leads to another and the band members, who have named themselves named the Oneders and then the Wonders, get signed to Play-Tone record label and start their quick ascension and fall from music lore. Hanks’s screenplay and Sun’s adaption are both light and flamboyant, though ultimately lacking depth. Sun’s production successfully translates the movie’s popcorn-munching sensibilities and fun, if inconsequential, storyline through clever direction and the cast’s easy camaraderie.

While it took a little while for the actors to settle into their roles, once the cast members get behind their instruments, each actor was able to fully embody his role. All of the songs were played live, and it is through these performances that the dynamics of the group and its respective characters really came alive. Munro’s Guy was earnest and charmingly goofy, personality traits that seemed to spring from his fast-paced, enthusiastic drumming. In contrast to Munro’s easy stage presence, Cutter played Jimmy with a suave attitude as he crooned and leaned on Lenny. The separation between the audience and the production faded during these musical performances, and those moments felt more like snippets of a longer concert. The Wonders were vibrant and real because the actors embodied their characters through an honest and and passionate connection to the music.

Once Mr. White (Sam R. Reynolds ’16), the band’s manager, entered the stage, the production hit its stride. Reynolds’s portrayal of White was fraught with dry humor and just enough heart to make him endearing. While White was never at the forefront, he acted as the linking thread between the other characters and kept them grounded. Whether he was humorously telling Lenny to check up on the pilot during a flight to a gig in order to shoo Lenny away or chastising Jimmy for his lack of sensitivity, Reynolds’ straight man to the band functioned as the primary conscience of the play.

Sun’s interpretation of Hanks’s film was effective primarily due to her use of space and the appropriate lighting design by Rebecca J. Mazur ’15, a Crimson Arts editor. A movie can present a story that takes place in multiple locations at the same time, but the challenge becomes harder on stage where the luxury of simultaneous shots does not exist. To bypass this issue, Sun inverted and segmented her stage; at times the corner of the stage became an announcer’s booth, while at other times the stage was separated to create a spot for an “audience” for the Wonders within the play. Sometimes, even, the main stage flipped so that it became the backstage, like the scene in which another artist on the same record label, Freddy Fredrickson (Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey ’13, a Crimson Arts editor) sang “Mr. Downtown” with the Wonders watching Fredrickson from backstage. As Freddy Fredrickson sang, the Wonders were in darkness, and when the scene switched to the band, Fredrickson froze in place as the spotlight shifted to the other scene.

Sun used video and music between scenes to orient the audience to the plot’s larger jumps in time. While most of the transitions were typical blackouts with music playing in the background, the video montage after intermission—a wink to the play’s silver screen beginnings—served as the major link between the first and second halves of the play. The video showed different scenes of the band on the road over a period of months as well as the burgeoning relationship between Guy and Faye (Taylor L. Vandick ’16), Jimmy’s girlfriend. Without it, some of the developments in the second half would have seemed out of place.


The play ended with the cast pulling the audience onto the stage as the band played one final time, an enthusiastic performance that brought the production’s bright and light-hearted tone full circle. The play was not particularly serious, but that was not the intention of Hanks’s screenplay or Sun’s adaptation. The separate aspects of the play were not particularly memorable, but the overall sentiment was fun and enjoyable. On the whole, the play was a bit like whipped cream; it was sugary and airy, a fun topping without too much staying power.

—Staff writer Neha Mehrotra can be reached at


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