It may be a day off from school, but don’t bother telling that to all the students who are buzzing with enthusiasm as they filter in to the Massey cafeteria and dance studio.
They’re part of New Westminster Secondary School’s new musical theatre fundamentals course, and they’re hard at work rehearsing for the program’s upcoming musical revue, What is Love?
“We’re exploring the trials and tribulations of love: the highs and lows, and different types of love,” explains teacher Frances Monteleone.
The class includes more than 30 student performers in grades 9 through 12, along with three who are studying the technical theatre side. Unlike the full musical theatre program offered in alternate years at NWSS – which leads to a full-scale, staged production of a Broadway musical at Massey Theatre – this one’s a non-auditioned program, which welcomes students at all skill and experience levels.
Monteleone started this course to give students – especially graduating seniors – a chance to perform onstage in the “gap year” between full-scale musicals.
She and the students brainstormed what they wanted to include in the show, starting with a list of a hundred or so songs and narrowing it down from there. The revue will include a variety of solos, duets and group numbers that run the gamut of Broadway repertoire from the classic to the contemporary – expect such highlights as You’re the One That I Want, from Grease; Gimme Gimme, from Thoroughly Modern Millie; Agony, from Into the Woods; For Good, from Wicked; and a mashup of I Feel Pretty, from West Side Story, and TLC’s Unpretty.
The songs will be woven together thematically with a script written by Monteleone, and students are taking the lead as choreographers and vocal captains for each of the numbers.
“It’s definitely more student-driven,” said Monteleone. “It gives them a sense of ownership; they’re so invested in the show.”
Among the senior students who have taken on leadership roles this time out is Grade 12 student Megan Lee. The 17-year-old was part of the cast for last year’s NWSS production of Crazy for You – where, she says, she discovered her love for musical theatre. Megan has studied dance and sung in choir for years, but the musical was her first taste of what it was like putting all her stage skills together.
“I really wanted to continue with musical theatre as long as I could,” she said. “I love it because I’m able to be a mentor and a leader to a lot of the younger kids. … I remember being in Grade 9 and just being so scared. I looked up to the older kids a lot. It’s nice to be able to be one of those kids.”
Another senior in the cast is Grade 12 student Olivia Fryer, who was previously in the school productions of Legally Blonde and Crazy for You.
“I couldn’t go my last year in high school without performing,” she said.
The 18-year-old said finding herself in a leadership role has been eye-opening.
“That’s been difficult, but it’s also been a great experience,” she said.
For Olivia, who has taken voice lessons and sung in chamber choir, it’s the dance part that has been the most challenging aspect of performance. But she says she’s changed a lot since she was in Legally Blonde in 2017.
“I couldn’t dance to save my life,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve definitely gotten better as the years went on.”
Grade 11 student Skye Wilkinson – whom Monteleone describes as a true “triple threat” – was also part of both Legally Blonde and Crazy For You, and she too has found herself stepping up as a leader this time out. An experienced dance student and now teacher at Dance Matrix, Skye is also a trained operatic vocalist, studying privately with Lois Weninger.
There was no doubt in her mind she wanted to be part of the class this year.
“I still wanted to do musical theatre here because I love the teachers so much,” she said. “Whatever level we’re at, this class is really good for us.”
She said every student, from the newcomers on up, is bringing their best to the table all the time.
“This class, it’s honestly the most dedicated group of people I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “Everyone’s just trying their hardest.”
For Lauryn Savela, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student, this class is her first foray into musical theatre. She came into the class on Monteleone’s recommendation – “she heard me sing once and said, you have to do musical theatre.”
Lauryn is gearing up for a solo in the show – Sondheim’s Losing My Mind – and says the process of putting the revue together has been a collaborative effort by everyone in the class. She’s hoping people will turn out to the show to see the results of all their hard work
“I just want them to know how much work every single person has put into this show, and as a result we have something really, really good,” she says.
CHECK IT OUT
What is Love will be onstage at Anvil Centre Theatre, 777 Columbia St., on Wednesday, May 22 and Thursday, May 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $15, including fees, available through www.ticketsnw.ca.