The faces of the students change, but one thing remains constant in the performing arts rooms at NWSS: Whenever you visit one, you’ll find a palpable sense of energy, enthusiasm and joy.
These days, those performing arts rooms are filled with students in the school’s newly minted musical theatre course, devoting themselves to getting ready for this year’s full-fledged school musical: Legally Blonde. It hits the stage at Massey Theatre Feb. 8 through 12 – and, omigod you guys, the cast is excited.
“It’s insane! Very exciting and a little bit nerve-racking at the same time,” says a beaming Keira Jang, who has been cast in the lead role of Elle Woods, the Delta Nu sorority girl from UCLA who heads off to Harvard law school in pursuit of the boy she thinks she loves.
Starring alongside Jang are Noah Wright as the boy in question, Warner, plus Aoife McAndless-Davis as Emmett, Daisy Hulme as Paulette, Claire Graham as Vivienne and Joshua Agda as Professor Callahan.
Yes, you know all those characters from the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon – expect the same loveable Elle as she transforms from sorority girl to powerful woman in her own right, discovering that she just may not need her man the way she thought she did.
“Elle is a great character,” Jang says. “She’s so well-rounded. People don’t take her seriously, but she’s so strong. I really admire her as a person. … She finds love in herself, not needing someone else.”
It’s a character Jang is happy to bring to the stage.
“It’s a really good message, especially for young girls to see,” she says.
Jang is no stranger to the stage. She’s been dancing since the age of three – “I twirled a lot, I didn’t listen to what the teachers told me to do,” she says with a laugh – but started to get serious about performing when, at age seven, her teacher suggested she audition for a Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan pantomime.
“That’s what started my love of dancing, singing and acting all at once,” she says. “It’s kind of shaped who I am today.”
Since then Jang has been in seven shows with Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan, three Theatre Under the Stars musicals and two Royal City Musical Theatre productions. The stage, she says, is like a second home.
But there’s no doubt the role of the fast-talking, always-singing Elle Woods is the largest one Jang has taken on.
“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “So nerve-racking but also incredibly exciting.”
She’s able to do it, she says, because of the group of people she’s surrounded by. She loves the musical theatre program, which includes students from grades 9 through 12 – all of whom auditioned to get into the class in the first place, then auditioned again for the individual roles in the musical.
“Everyone truly wants to be here, and you can see that passion in everyone. The support from everyone else is what kind of drives me,” she says. “When someone does something amazing, the class doesn’t let them forget that.”
She also credits her teachers – director Frances Monteleone, choreographer Lindsay Waldner and vocal director Kelly Proznick – for bringing the group together as a family.
“They really make a difference. They treat us as equals,” she says. “They all work so incredibly well with students; they know how to adapt to different levels.”
And, though Jang may be front and centre on stage, she’s quick to note that the show is the product of a lot of work by a lot of people. There are 45 students in the cast and eight in the crew, plus 24 in the band.
She’s quick to laud the talents of the students in the instrumental stream of the program, who are the orchestra for the show, under the direction of teacher Steve Clements.
“It’s amazing listening to how great they are,” she says.
And as for the crew? “You should see the list of things they have to do!” she says with a shake of her head.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg that you see on stage,” she says.
Monteleone, meanwhile, is already getting a little bit emotional about the thought of this year’s production, starring as it does some kids who have been with her every year since Grade 9 and who are now getting set to graduate.
“We create a family within the school,” she says. “It’s a real bond, everybody’s connected. We’re all here for the same reason, and that commonality brings us closer together.”
One of her challenges as director is to play to the individual strengths of each of her cast members, and to ensure that everybody has a moment to be highlighted and showcased.
“It’s a team, and every person is integral to the production,” she says. “We are really excited about this show.”
She notes that the four teachers who lead the musical theatre course get a lot of help from others within the school and the wider community: Traci Cave as hair and makeup coordinator, Tom Mckean and Sarah Wethered as production assistants, Jeff Meville (a fellow teacher who also happens to be Monteleone’s husband) as graphic designer, Juliet Brown as stage manager, Cassady Ranford as production consultant, Don Parman as technical director and Stephen Jackson as lighting designer.
Parents and other family members also lend a hand in all kinds of ways – Jang’s grandparents, for instance, are working to build a surprise set piece for the show.
“It really is a community effort,” she says. “We appreciate the support from the community. We need to highlight the arts and how important it is for students to follow and fulfil their passion.”
And she loves that New West as a whole always embraces the show, flocking to Massey Theatre to see what the students are up to this year.
“We want people to come back year after year and experience that,” she says with a smile.
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: Legally Blonde the Musical, presented by NWSS
WHEN: Feb. 8 to 11 at 7 p.m., Feb. 12 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Massey Theatre, 735 Eighth Ave.
TICKETS: $15/18, book through www.ticketsnw.ca