With the long, dreary winter months upon us, many lakes area residents may begin to feel the effects of cabin fever. However, live theater offers a great, fun way to beat the winter doldrums. And with many local high school groups gearing up to perform their spring productions, there’s no need to go down to the Fisher or Fox theaters in Detroit to see a quality show.
Beginning this weekend and continuing through May, local area high schools will be performing a wide array of plays and musicals. There is a little something for everyone, from dramas to comedies and family-friendly musicals inspired by such masters as Steinbeck, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Disney.
In addition to enjoying an evening of live theater, theater-goers will also support the local high school drama departments, many of which are self-sustained through ticket sales. With many schools facing budget cuts, the fine arts classes and programs are often some of the first to suffer. However, these self-funded, after-school productions are an opportunity for many students to express themselves creatively while providing entertainment for area residents.
Here is a look at the local high school productions for the spring season.
WALLED LAKE WESTERN
“It’s Sept. 8, 1934, and Cleveland’s premiere opera producer is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The tickets are sold, the stage is set, and the 30-piece orchestra is ready. But, it’s about to become ‘un disastro gigantesco,’ because it’s three minutes to curtain, and the leading man — the greatest tenor in the world — has gone missing!”
And thus sets the premise for Ken Ludwig’s comedy “Lend Me a Tenor,” a play full of mistaken identity, farcical plot twists, and the slamming of many doors.
Kim Paullin, a teacher at Walled Lake Western and director of Western’s drama department, said she chose the play because it’s funny.
“It’s about a famous opera tenor who is coming to sing at a gala fundraiser, and due to a series of events, the people running the opera think they’ve killed him. So they send an impostor to be the opera tenor, who isn’t really dead. What ensues is a lot of mistaken identity comedy which all gets resolved in the end,” she said. “We did it 11 years ago, and I just saw the Broadway revival last year. It’s hilarious, and it was time to do (the play) again.”
With a cast of only eight students in a non-musical, Paullin said she is still expecting to have a decent audience.
“We are fairly well known for doing good drama here so we’re hoping to have a good house,” she said.
A good house means strong ticket sales, which in turn equals funding for the drama department. Although the student cast will all sell ads to pay for the play’s program, ticket sales account for the majority of the drama department’s budget, which is used to fund future productions, as well as to pay a set designer/builder and an assistant director.
Of course, some performances bring in more money than others, especially musicals, which are usually very popular and turn a profit.
However, Paullin said she has never lost money on a production, although she has “just broken even a couple of times.”
Yet, “Lend Me a Tenor” should not have a problem filling seats based upon the enthusiasm shown by the show’s director and the student cast, which has been rehearsing since the second week of December.
“The kids in (the play) love it,” Paullin said. “And the tech kids just started with us this week, and they are cracking up. I think it will be great.”
The tech crew is comprised of students who are responsible for the backstage, lights, and production.
Senior Melissa Anderson, who has been involved in other Western productions such as “Les Miserables” and “Hairspray,” said the play is “a really fun show to see.”
“I play Maria (Merelli), a big Italian character who is kind of crazy with her husband,” she said. “She suspects he’s cheating because he’s surrounded by women. She’s really fun to play, and I have had a lot of fun working with Justyn (Frink), who plays Tito, my husband,” she said. “I’m trying to seduce him but he has a stomach ache because he ate too much. So I think he’s cheating on me because he doesn’t want to do anything. There’s a lot of screaming, yelling, jumping on the bed, and slamming doors. It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
Junior Eni Mihilli agreed. She plays Diana, a “flirty” character who “knows how to use her womanly charm to get others to do what she wants.”
“She’s a little provocative but not too overwhelming,” Mihilli explained. “I love (playing her) because she’s different from how I am in real life.”
Senior Alexa Moffo plays Maggie, the opera house owner Saunders’ daughter, who is in her early 20s and wants to have her “first romantic fling with a hot opera star.” She is also supposed to marry Max, the opera tenor impersonator played by junior Collin Kuss. Of course, she is unaware that Max is pretending to be the opera star, which leads to a “whole load of confusion.”
Moffo said the play has been “one of her favorites so far.”
“I really like it. It’s my last one, and I’m glad I’m going out with a comedy,” she said. “The comedic timing is really fun.”
The rest of the cast is comprised of Saunders, the opera house owner, played by Bryan Dogariu; Julia, portrayed by sophomore Kelsey Murphy; and the bell hop, played by senior Brett Feinbaum.
“Lend Me a Tenor” will be performed tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 3 through Saturday, Feb. 5 in the Walled Lake Western Auditorium. The performance will start at 7:30 p.m. with tickets going on sale one hour prior to the performance each evening. Tickets are $9 for adults and $8 for students and seniors.
WALLED LAKE NORTHERN
Walled Lake Northern will perform the musical “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at 7:30 p.m. starting Thursday, Feb. 10 and running through Saturday, Feb. 12, with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 13.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” follows the plotline of the classic movie starring Dick Van Dyke. Single father Caractacus Potts (Andy Scott) is a unique inventor who transforms an old race car from a junk yard heap into a magical flying vehicle. However, Grandpa Potts (Arda Kanebergolu) is kidnapped by the Baron (Sam Murphy) and Baroness of Vulgaria (Erika Brodeur), who want a replica of the amazing car. Thus, Caractacus, his two kids, Jemima and Jeremy, along with Truly Scrumptious (Tayler Behr) set off to rescue Grandpa Potts in Vulgaria, a land where a child catcher (Alex Watson) puts all children in a dungeon.
After the Potts progeny are captured and taken away to a dungeon with the rest of the Vulgarian children, it’s up to Caracactacus, Truly, and a toymaker (Alex Salih) from Vulgaria to rescue the children.
In addition to the high school performers, the musical will feature 17 students from within the Walled Lake Consolidated School District’s elementary and middle schools as the captured Vulgarian children, which should be “an exciting time for everyone,” according to Michael Peterson, Northern’s choir director and supervisor of the musical.
The pit orchestra will be comprised of students from the Northern band and orchestra.
Rehearsals began Nov. 23 and have been running smoothly for the past nine weeks.
“The students are extremely excited about the production and can’t wait to put it on for an audience,” Peterson said, adding he believes the show is one that appeals to all types of audiences.
“It’s a show that many ages will appreciate and enjoy watching,” he said. “This show was just released for live amateur production this past summer and doing a new musical is very exciting for our students and community.” Peterson said the cast and crew are hoping for sold-out performances every night. It doesn’t seem like that will be a problem, as he said “tickets are going fast,” which is a great thing for the performing arts department, as all proceeds go back into the performing arts budget for future shows.
Tickets are priced at $17 for adults and $14 for students and seniors. They can be ordered at www.wlcstickets.com or by calling 248-956-5465.
WALLED LAKE CENTRAL
Walled Lake Central will be performing a “tale as old as time” with “Beauty and the Beast” the weekend of March 24-27. Although the story remains the same as the beloved Disney classic, there are a couple of different songs, according to Central Performing Arts Department Chair Mary Rashid. She said the music will be one of the main highlights of the show.
“One of the things people will like the most is how good the singers are. Their voices are really beautiful and strong. There will be good singing, fine acting, and we have a great pit,” she said.
The pit is comprised of Central’s band and orchestra members, who have the challenging job of playing a demanding score.
“It’s exactly what they play on Broadway,” said Pit Director Chriss Golden. “In addition to after school rehearsal, (the pit orchestra) practices every Saturday or Sunday. They are doing a marvelous job, and I’m tremendously proud of them.”
Golden said the ensemble started rehearsing around mid-December, around the same time cast auditions were held. However, Rashid said the beginning of January is when the rehearsals began in earnest, which allows the cast 12 weeks to master their lines, songs, and choreography, which will be provided by long-time Choreographer Jacqueline Husak.
Although the students were the ones to initially suggest “Beauty and the Beast” for the spring production, Rashid had no problem with their suggestion.
“I was looking at something a little older, perhaps from the 1960s and more classic, because we just did ‘Seussical.’ But the kids suggested it and I went, ‘Oh, OK,’” she said. “For me, I wanted something with a lot of leads and a large cast and that’s accessible — something that audiences like and know. I hate when there are only one or two leads because then the kids are crushed (when they don’t get the part).”
“Beauty and the Beast” fulfills all of Rashid’s requirements. Those cast in the lead roles are as follows: Lyndsay Burke as Belle; Dan Kitzman as the Beast; Brendan Collins as Gaston; Garrett Miskotten as LeFou; Ryan Woods as Maurice; Marcus Peterson as Monsieur D’Arque; Skyler Tarnas as Cogsworth; Jake Bross as Lumiere; Kim Schornhorst as Babbette; Brianna Bailey as Mrs. Potts; Kortnee Brooks as Madame de la Grande Bouche; and Marlee Delaney, Cyndi Nabozny, Emily Semroc, and Kaitlin Williams as the Silly Girls.
With such a large cast, one of the biggest projects is the wardrobe, especially when those costumes include enchanted objects such as teapots and dinnerware.
“We have crazy costuming. Luckily, we did the show a few years ago, and a lot of it we are just sprucing up. We have to make some new forks because they got bent,” Rashid said.
All of the costumes were made special by the parents of cast members from the last production, and the drama department keeps them and sometimes rents them out.
While the performing arts department pays for all the fabrics, makeup, and materials needed to create a production, a lot of the work is done by volunteer parents and Central’s stagecraft class taught by Beth Rexroat.
Although this cuts down on the production’s expenses, between all the costumes, the lighting and sound directors, set and prop materials — in addition to the royalties to perform the material — a musical such as “Beauty and the Beast” can cost close to $25,000. However, the performing arts department is essentially “self-supporting” and as such doesn’t receive funding from the school district. Instead, it relies on ticket sales, program ads, concessions, and flower sales.
However, Rashid is optimistic about ticket sales as she believes this musical appeals to grandparents, parents, younger kids, as well as the high school student demographic.
Kitzman, who plays the Beast, agrees, saying the production is “fantastic” and the cast and crew is very “focused” and “excited.”
“Every production is challenging in different ways,” he said. “It requires a lot of hard work as anything does. Musicals are pretty difficult because you have to put everything together with choreography and acting, but it pays off in the end. It’ll be great for the audience to come and see all that hard work pay off.”
Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, and $10 for children under the age of 10. Shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday.
West Bloomfield High School students will be performing in two upcoming productions in the school’s auditorium, with William Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night” performed on Wednesday, Feb. 9, followed by the musical “Fiddler on The Roof” on April 28, 29 and 30.
Almost 50 students will be involved in “Twelfth Night,” which will be presented as a dinner-theater fundraiser, with a Middle Eastern buffet available at 6:30 p.m. and the show beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for the dinner and the show are $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 10 and under. Tickets for the show only are $10 for adults and $5 for students, with dessert being served afterwards.
The show was first performed at the school’s auditorium on Saturday, Jan. 29 as part of the Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Association’s (MIFA) one-act theater district competition.
“We started preparing ‘Twelfth Night’ before Thanksgiving,” said Mark Johnson, West Bloomfield theater arts teacher and director of “Twelfth Night.” “We’re very successful at the state level. Five schools participate at the district level and there are 30 participating schools across the state.”
The MIFA regional festival will take place on Saturday, Feb. 12 with the state competition following on Feb. 18 and 19.
“Twelfth Night” tells the story of a love triangle involving a girl disguised as a young man and the plots hatched by the mischievous Sir Toby Belch. The play was recently modernized in the 2006 movie “She’s The Man” starring Amanda Bynes.
Almost 50 students are involved in the “Twelfth Night” production, with the main cast members consisting of Gabby Kadian, a junior, as Viola; Tom Lee, a senior, as Orsino; Ellen Brandell, a senior, as Olivia; Austin Goodman, a junior, as Sir Toby Belch; and Chris Brody, a senior, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
A much bigger production will follow with “Fiddler on the Roof” this April.
Johnson said that auditions will be held the week of Feb. 21 and the show is already in pre-production.
“Fiddler” is set in a small village in 1905 Tsarist Russia, and is based on “Tevye and his Daughters” (or Tevye the Milkman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem.
The story follows Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his struggles to maintain his family and religious traditions amidst outside influences and the persecution of the Jewish people.
The musical will include Arthur Ebert, director of bands at West Bloomfield High, conducting the band in the pit.
Johnson said the drama department has had to be creative in dealing with budget cuts by developing relationships with other schools and sharing and borrowing costumes and set pieces.
“That’s the way of the arts,” he said. “It’s emphasizing the student experience.”
Kettering is presenting its version of the classic John Steinbeck novel “Of Mice and Men,” on Thursday, Feb. 3; Friday, Feb. 4; and Saturday, Feb. 5, with a 7 p.m. start time for each performance.
Tickets are $5 for students and seniors, and $7 for adults.
The book was first published in 1937 and has become a staple in high school English classrooms. It tells the story the strong-willed George Milton and his friend, the physically strong yet mentally challenged Lennie Small and their struggles during the Great Depression in California as migrant workers.
Kettering’s production will feature Brandon Berry as George, Sean Frobel as Lennie, Alex Hawkins as Curly, Melissa Amerson as Crooks, and Justine Vlisides as Curly’s wife.
Berry, a junior, said he read part of the novel in his honors language class, and added that he didn’t want to do a carbon copy of Gary Sinise’s recent film portrayal of George.
“It was all about coming up with little mannerisms to give the same message, yet building your own character,” Berry said.
He added that he cited George as one of his preferred characters when auditioning for the play, and that he wanted to be a part of it in some way after playing Sergeant Mulligan in last year’s production of “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Chris Tyle, the theater instructor at Kettering, said that because the book was already part of the high school curriculum, he figured the students were mature enough to take on the complex characters.
“We cast the show prior to Christmas, then had six weeks to prepare,” Tyle said. “I expect it to be a good turnout. Many will recognize the story from school and will want to see a quality performance.”
Tyle added that Kettering will also be putting on a production of the Neil Simon play “Rumors” in either the end of April or early May, after submitting the necessary paperwork.
Tyle also said that Kettering has done a nice job of supporting the arts and that the school tries to recycle materials and costumes in order to cut back on costs while making money back with ticket sales. He said the theater department might have to do some outside fundraising in the future.
Waterford Mott students will be preforming the musical “Oliver” and the drama “Steel Magnolias” to conclude its 2010-11 theater season.
“Oliver” will be performed at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17, 18 and 19, with tickets priced at $8 for students and senior citizens and $10 for adult general admission.
The cast will include Desiree McAtamney in the title role of Oliver Twist, Shelby Murley as The Artful Dodger, Brandon Toncray as Fagin, Haley King as Nancy, and Ben Webster as Bill Sykes.
Steven Kosinski, theater consultant for Waterford Schools and the director of the musical, said auditions began in early December and rehearsals began on Jan. 4.
“Oliver” is based on the classic Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist,” and tells the story of a poor young orphan living in a workhouse in mid-19th century England who eventually falls in with a man named Fagan, who teaches the boy how to become a pick-pocket.
Kosinski said he made the suggestion for “Oliver” as it would serve as an educational tool because it was based on a classic novel, and that students would be able to draw parallels with Fagan’s character.
David Phillip, band director at Waterford Mott, will be conducting the pit orchestra during the performance. He said the music was originally written for professionals, but that his students have done a great job rehearsing and he respects their hard work and dedication.
“Their skill set is not at the professional level and they need extra time,” he said. “Some of the trumpet parts are high-range and the first violin parts are challenging.”
The pit orchestra will include 20 to 25 students with various instruments, including piano, percussion, brass and wind instruments.
Mott Vocal Music Director Abha Dearing has been helping the student performers perfect their vocals.
Mott will present its version of “Steel Magnolias” on May 19, 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. each night, with $5 admission for students and seniors and $7 for adults.
The play was written by Robert Harling and tells the story of a group of women who attend a parish in Louisiana. The play was adapted into a movie in 1989 starring Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton and Sally Field.
Scott Finn, Mott’s theater arts teacher, said the department is self-funding and that proceeds from a show go to support the following year’s productions and the rights to do a show.
He said that royalties range from $1,500 to $2,000 for a musical and $300 for a non-musical.
“I think we do a good job of picking challenging shows for the students,” Finn said. “Occasionally, we might do a fundraiser for charity. Sometimes parents might help produce costumes and businesses might loan props.”
HURON VALLEY SCHOOLS
Milford High School’s theater company presents a trio of plays every year — a musical, drama, and a student-directed performance.
The classic musical “Oliver” was presented in the fall. Auditions for the drama “The Diary of Anne Frank” began in early December and since January the cast has been rehearsing to present the renowned biography March 4-5 at 7 p.m.
The 10-member cast includes Gillian Cooper, a senior, as Anne Frank; Cam Jones, a senior, as Otto Frank; Renee Beaudoin as Edith Frank; Ana Hauser, a senior, as Margot Frank; Megan Buckner, a senior, as Mrs. VanDaan; David Drake, a senior, as Mr. VanDaan; Kaleb Reilly as Peter VanDaan; Nancy Boyd as Miep Gies; Clayton Maxwell as Mr. Kraler; and Alex Barhorst, a senior, as Mr. Dussel.
The thespians rehearse up to four days a week for several hours each day.
To complement and underscore the cultural tone of the play, a Holocaust exhibit will be set up prior to the performances.
“We’re also providing supplemental materials to view following the show,” said Theater Director and English Teacher Megan Weeks. “We’re trying to make it as much of a cultural experience as we can.”
To augment character development, Weeks arranged for the cast to work with the Jewish community and Holocaust survivors.
“The cast is learning from them and mentoring with other survivors,” she said.
Weeks has been directing and overseeing the Milford theater program for seven years. The program is predominantly represented by Milford High School students, along with a sprinkling of International Academy and home-schooled students based in the school district.
The high school theater itself holds up to 600 spectators. Musicals tend to rake in more dollars than other performances.
“Musicals usually sell out, but dramas are harder to draw people in,” said Weeks, who anticipates about 300 spectators for each drama performance.
All proceeds go back into theater company coffers since it’s a self-sustaining program. Funds are used for programming, maintenance of the theater, equipment upgrades, and new purchases. Some items are recycled from one year to the next.
Both Weeks and Music Director Maryann Lambrecht receive a small stipend from the district for their director roles.
Costs of performance include set construction, paint, and costuming, but for musicals, Weeks ponies up funds for musicians, choreographers, an accompanist, and publicists. Musicals exceed $15,000 in costs vs. about $4,000 for a drama production.
“The drama costs much less because there is no music or choreography,” she said. “The musical really pays for the next season.”
Musicals tend to have more cast members than dramas. For “Oliver,” the cast totaled 46 accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra.
“Most of our lead vocalists come out of the chorale program because their voices are more stable and have the skill set,” Weeks said.
Since the musical isn’t rolled out until the fall, Weeks said the marching band members can’t participate. Therefore, the pit orchestra is a patchwork of community members, college students, and other school students.
The drama, on the other hand, doesn’t require a pit orchestra, only prerecorded music played over a sound system.
Conceptual ideas are brain stormed between Weeks and Tom O’Brien, the former theater program director who manages the Center for the Performing Arts and is adept at technology.
“We also gain a sense of designing a set through research and looking at other community models,” Weeks said.
Sets are constructed by a crew of cast members’ dads, while students and parents help with painting.
For choreography, Weeks has employed the help of Suzanne Jonna, owner of Suzanne’s Main Street Dance Center in Milford.
“She’s been here forever and loves working with kids and theater work in general,” Weeks said.
Milford High School’s third production and student-directed play this season will be presented the weekend of May 13.
“Typically it’s a children’s adaptation, but it’s untitled as of right now,” Weeks said.
Students from the advanced drama course at Milford High School select a piece and produce it from start to finish, with the final product presented in the smaller auditorium.
It takes team work to pull off any high school production, and Weeks said there are many challenges along the way.
“We have to make sure everyone is communicating and on the same page,” she said. “It’s also challenging to get kids to understand how to convey their character on stage and that takes a while to feel the full effect of that character.”
To help her stay organized amid the constant tug-of-war, stage manager Allison Vernon, a senior, keeps Weeks on track.
“For me it’s juggling everything and staying on task, but Allison keeps me organized,” Weeks said.
Tickets for “The Diary of Anne Frank” can be purchased at www.mhsperformingarts.com. Costs are $9 for adults; and $7 for students, children or seniors.
While there is no theater group at Lakeland High School per se, Lakeland students are eligible to participate in the Lakeland Players Community Group.
The community group bridged an agreement with the district and took over the high school program in 2009. According to Huron Valley Director of Community Relations and Fund Development Janet Roberts, that wasn’t due to a funding issue, rather a staffing issue.
“Each building has its strengths,” she said. “We couldn’t find a similar person for Lakeland as we did for Milford and we wanted to make sure kids had the same opportunity, so that’s why we sought a group from outside,” Roberts said.
“We have the absolute support from all the staff at the high school,” said Lakeland Players Community Group Coordinator Cyndi Dailey. “The school is doing everything it can to keep the drama and art programs going.”
The Lakeland Players typically puts on one show per year for the high school. This year the musical “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” will be presented on March 11-13 at the Lakeland High School auditorium. Shows on March 11 and March 12 begin at 7:30 p.m.; the March 13 show is a Sunday matinee beginning at 2 p.m. All tickets cost $10.
The main cast members include Blaine Mizer as Willy Wonka; Sam Pellet as Candy Man; Paige Thulin as Phineous Trout; Stephen Drake as Charlie Bucket; Lane Flowers as Mrs. Bucket; Chris Daniels as Mr. Bucket; Ashley Quennville as Grandma Josephine; Ashleigh Spasovski as Grandma Georgina; Charlie Hunter as Grandpa Joe; Riley Day as Grandpa George; Lauren Hunter as Augustus Gloop; Katie Loder as Mrs. Loop; Gabi Kirsch as Veruca Salt; Jim Haar as Mr. Salt; Max Sinclair as Mike Teavee; Cristi Brewer as Mrs. Teavee; Megan Schultz as Violet Beauregarde; and Megan Kalanik as Mrs. Beauregarde.
This year the group, in conjunction with high school counselors, are holding a fundraiser dinner/theater event before opening night, March 11, at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 each and there is limited seating available. The ticket price includes dinner, as well as a show ticket to benefit the student assistance program.
“Participants will get preferential seating,” Dailey said. “The benefit is for an ongoing program and anywhere we can help the school, we try to be a part of.”
The cast is comprised of 40 high school students; a mix of 22 elementary/middle school students; and a crew of 15 high schoolers.
Dailey said the group hires a musical director who employs musicians to make up, in this case, a 12-piece orchestra.
“We’re trying to incorporate some of the students into the orchestra and growing the program,” Dailey said.
The group is funded through the school’s drama department budget. Proceeds from shows and selling advertising ads float the program into the next season.
“We pick shows that appeal to the community and make money because basically we’re self sufficient,” Dailey said.
This year they’re trying to get corporate partnership to defray costs.
Apart from costs, the biggest challenge is coordinating schedules, according to Daily.
“Drama is an after-school activity and the kids rehearse in the evening while being involved in other activities, so it’s a challenge to have everyone here and to be cognizant of their commitments,” she said.