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FSU’s Newest Musical ‘The Secrets We Keep’ Unveils Dark Lore

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

As a born and raised theatre kid, I am chronically invested in productions. I love attending shows and finding all the meanings behind big and small details. I had the pleasure of attending an advanced showing of White Mouse Theatre Productions’ The Secrets We Keep on April 24, and it was nothing short of remarkable.  

The musical, written and directed by PhD candidate and Jewish Israeli immigrant Danielle Wirsansky, consists of serious themes including antisemitism, LGBTQ+ acceptance, discrimination, and violence. The musical binds historical elements of the Holocaust with background details of the characters’ lives that are based on a true story.

It follows the lives of two women who end up being more closely intertwined than they thought. Kat travels to Eastern Europe seeking details about her family. Luba is a rusalka, a spirit of the water, bound to the lake after being killed. The two meet and share tales of forbidden love and their most tragic losses. Rusalki are siren-esque creatures who are very present in this story; they’re known by the townspeople as being malicious killers, seeking out revenge (and pleasure).  

The biggest thing about this production that stood out to me was the songs. They are masterfully crafted to share important details about the story. My biggest pet peeve in musicals is when they break into a song that could easily be dialogue instead. This musical avoided that issue, and I found myself leaning forward each time they sang, yearning for the details.  

The composition of the songs, crafted by Jane Achenbach, Shannon Wolf, and Frank Sanchez, was bone-chilling. They had a live pianist playing, and the piano being the only instrument was intentionally isolating. The way the rusalki sang was almost haunting, and I often got chills at the sheer unsettling nature of it.

I had a similar reaction when the rusalki danced, choreographed by Elizabeth Kessler. Although the choreography wasn’t anything fanciful or over-the-top, they moved in unison in a ballet-like fashion. Ballet is such a beautiful form of dance, which made it even more eerie when they used this beauty to enhance the darkness lurking.  

The lights were also used to tell a story if you pay close attention. At one point, the stage is split with green and blue lighting, symbolizing the contrast between land and sea. It’s a truly beautiful dichotomy. They use red light to symbolize the element of fire, and at one point, the only thing illuminating faces are red lanterns. It’s so unsettling but in the best way.  

On the topic of colors, the costumes were also very endearing. There is one figure, whose identity is revealed closer to the end of the show, dressed in blue for the duration of the piece. In my mind, the color symbolized her connection to the water, no matter how far she got from it. The rusalki are fully dressed in white with the most beautiful flower crowns and pearls. Their makeup, specifically around the eyes, is colorful and enchanting.

The costume designer, Bella Ellec, did a wonderful job of making the rusalki beautiful. Despite knowing the full story and their danger, I found myself drawn to them. Each rusalka had a blue shawl which they carried on their wrists. As water could almost be considered another character — having such a pertinent role — it needed to be present in some way. The shawls stand for water, which is a perfect remedy.  

This production couldn’t have been done, of course, without the actors themselves. It’s clear how much work has been put into this piece. While I was watching them, they were so invested in each other and the scene. Their dedication to the craft is nothing short of fantastic.  

After watching the show, I spoke with the assistant director, Maddie Raffield, to see what she had to say about her experience working on the show. “Preparing for this show was far beyond any orthodox path, but has allowed me to work with some of the most breathtakingly talented and trusted cast and crew any theatre kid could only imagine. The bond between everyone on and behind the scenes is electric, and I hope the sense of community is portrayed through this musical. Now that we are off-Broadway bound, I am grateful to continue creating memories and experience this wonderful opportunity with friends and peers I consider my family.”

Finally, I can’t discuss this musical without discussing the writing and clear research that went into it. In addition to being based on a true story, it’s clear that the playwright spent time researching the myths of the rusalki. A quick Wikipedia search told me that a way to appease rusalki was by creating garlands, a fact the musical included. It also told tales of a special week for the rusalki, and the creatures in the musical experience the same thing. I was so impressed by the amount of depth and creativity that appeared in the show.  

There are also a few more fun surprises, including cleverly placed audience entrances (which I am a sucker for), but I won’t give too much away.

The show runs at FSU’s Lab Theatre from April 25-27. Following this run, they will take the show off-Broadway in NYC!  

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Mikaela Georgi is a freshman at FSU. She is an editor for Her Campus. Currently, she is seeking a BA in Theatre with a double major in English. Though this is her first year working with Her Campus, she loves the newspaper. She had a satire column that gave dating advice. She was also the Copy Editor, and she ensured that each article was up to the newspaper’s standards. When she’s not writing an article, you can most likely find her on a stage somewhere or fueling her caffeine addiction: two activities she deems equal in importance. She loves acting, directing, and playwriting. She’s also made it a goal to find all the best parks and greenery for reading YA romance in Tallahassee. It’s going well so far. She’s determined to make every song she loves a karaoke song, and right now she's probably petting a cat somewhere.