Frances Monteleone has already found herself teary-eyed a few times in rehearsal for New Westminster Secondary School’s Crazy for You.
With the musical set to open on the Massey Theatre stage on Feb. 21, Monteleone knows that more than a few Kleenex will likely be required once her students hit the stage.
“It’s what we’ve been working for and building up to,” she says. “We get to establish emotional connections with these students like no other.”
Monteleone is the director of this year’s musical, the highlight of the school’s for-credit program in musical theatre. She works alongside fellow teachers Lindsay Waldner (choreographer), Kelly Proznick (vocal director) and Steve Clements (orchestral director).
This year’s musical is another huge production, featuring students from grades 9 through 12, with a whopping 48 cast members, 11 crew members, 22 in the orchestra and a large group in the hair and makeup club led by teacher Traci Cave.
This year’s selection of Crazy for You, with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, represents a change in direction from last year’s offering, Legally Blonde.
Monteleone has been itching to stage the classic musical for a number of years, since she first travelled to Victoria to see her former student, Ben Wardle, onstage with the Canadian College of the Performing Arts production.
“I fell in love with the story and the music and I said, ‘We must do this musical,’” she says.
Then she and her fellow teachers saw the Gershwin musical again when Gateway Theatre staged it in 2014 – with another New West alumnus, Henry Beasley, in the cast - and they all agreed: it was going to be on their list for the future.
Monteleone points out that not only does it have the classic music that audiences will recognize – think such famous tunes as I’ve Got Rhythm and Someone to Watch Over Me – it also has a storyline with all-ages appeal: “It’s about following your dreams.”
The romantic comedy tells the tale of Bobby Child, a reluctant New York City banker who dreams about performing on stage. He’s sent to the sleepy town of Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a theatre but instead meets Polly Baker, whose father owns the theatre, and falls hard for both the girl and the chance to save the theatre.
Monteleone is ecstatic to have found just the right students to play the lead roles: Grade 11 students Dan Chaves as Bobby and Scotia Cookson as Polly.
Of Dan, Monteleone says: “He is probably one of the hardest-working students in our group. He goes that extra mile.”
Over his Christmas holidays, for instance, he spent seven hours working with dance captain Skye Wilkinson on his tap dancing. And Monteleone says he’s always among the first to notice when something needs done – whether that’s moving a table or emptying a garbage can – and just jumping in to do it.
“He’s such a well-rounded individual,” she says. “He’s just an all-star.”
Scotia, meanwhile, blew the teachers away with her audition for this year’s program, when she displayed enormous growth from the previous year.
“She is a very quiet observer; she takes things in,” Monteleone says. “She really works to look at the intent behind the lines.”
The cast runs the gamut from newcomers – who, Monteleone says, have “jumped right in” and become integral parts of the class – to experienced senior students. As they all work together, Monteleone says, the whole group becomes a real family, with older students mentoring younger ones, and the teachers getting to know each and every one as individuals.
Even former students often come back to help with the productions. This year, for instance, Keira Jang – who played the lead in last year’s Legally Blonde and is now studying musical theatre at Capilano University – came back to do some choreography. Beasley, who appeared in NWSS’s Grease, returned to do fight choreography. And Jesse DeCoste, who appeared in NWSS’s Annie and Grease and who’s now studying at the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, stopped in for a couple of rehearsals to work with the current crop of students.
“It makes me emotional that these kids still want to support the program,” Monteleone says. “They become our children. We get to teach them all the way up until they graduate.”
The musical theatre production has become a credit course at the high school – something Monteleone and her colleagues pushed for so that students could earn credits for the massive amounts of hours they were putting in for each of the productions.
But even though more work can now be done in class time, Monteleone notes it’s still a huge amount of extra hours for the teachers to actually produce the show. Which means that, after this year, they’re going to switch back to their previous model of every-other-year productions.
For the 2018/19 school year, students will be able to take a Musical Theatre Foundations class that explores music, dance and acting; it won’t lead to a full-scale musical production but to smaller performances during the year. There will also be a new course in Theatre Production that will introduce students to sets, lights, sound, theatre administration, management, props, costumes and more.
Monteleone says that having access to the Massey Theatre – including mentorships with technical staff and a chance to work in its shop, plus the opportunity to perform on its stage – has been a blessing for the program and allowed students to get a taste of what real-life theatre is like.
The full musical theatre program will be back in 2019/20 with a full production.
Meanwhile, Monteleone says, she’s hoping that New West residents will turn out in force to support the show.
“We need to make sure the arts stay alive in our community,” she says. “We want people to come.”
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: Crazy for You, presented by School’s Out Productions, the musical theatre program at New Westminster Secondary School
WHERE: Massey Theatre, 735 Eighth Ave., New West
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 21 to Saturday, Feb. 24, with evening shows at 7 p.m. and Saturday matinee Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.
TICKETS: $20 regular, $18 senior, $15 child/student, through www.ticketsnw.ca or call 604-521-5050.