By Ava Aschettino
One weekend every school year, a cast of students ranging from grades 7-12 put on a musical performance that always manages to wow audiences of all ages. Extravagant musical numbers with uniform choreography, along with hours of practice and months of dedication, are needed to perfect these performances. Elements such as costume changes, stage placements, and scene changes can all be used in a mere two minute scene. Hundreds of Oyster Bay residents attend the musical performances each year and are always dazzled by these performances. But do they know how much hard work by dozens of students and faculty members go into producing these intricate shows?
This year, our school decided to tackle the Broadway smash hit show Legally Blonde, starring sorority sister Elle Woods, who, blinded by love, travels across the country to study at Harvard Law school in an attempt to prove that she is not only serious, but she is more than what she appears to be.
Although the cast begins preparing for the show only three months in advance, preparations for the following show begin the year prior. Faculty involved the productions debate options for the following musical production. They take into account not only the cost of buying the rights to perform the musical, but the type of cast they will have the following year. Although cast members differ each year, faculty approximates the number of students predicted to be involved. More importantly, the number of boys who are predicted to be involved in the show is noted. Although certain characters’ genders can be swapped, often they cannot select musicals with male leads. A lack of boys’ involvement in musical theater in OB limits show choices.
After the audition process ends near the end of November, and the students are cast in their roles, rehearsals begin. In the first month, rehearsals are often short, usually no longer than two hours, and not all cast members are called to rehearse each day. The first priority when learning a musical is usually learning the music to the show. Beginning with ensemble numbers from the first of two acts, cast members, excluding soloists, are split into four main voice parts: soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, and, as our school calls our lowest voice part, “the boys.” The cast is usually taught four part harmonies, which can be practiced using practice tracks created for each harmony of each song.
As the show grows nearer, rehearsals begin to grow longer. Not only do all lines and lyrics need to be memorized, but choreography, scene changes, and many more elements need to be applied on stage. Although the rehearsal time continues to increase, cast members are not always needed at all times and are granted some downtime. While students are not on stage for scenes, they are expected to look over their music and lyrics, practice their choreography for upcoming scenes, or even do their homework.
All staff involved with the show know that you are a student first and an actor second. They understand the importance of maintaining good grades, so they allow students to attend extra help before rehearsals. Staff also understand that the show is most likely not your only commitment. Although joining the cast means making practice a priority, faculty understand that students have other commitments. In fact, the director will even email coaches to work out shared time schedules and even plan rehearsals around cast member absences. Students let teachers know of their upcoming commitments when auditioning by filling out a conflict sheet. If any other conflict pops up, cast members must inform staff prior to rehearsal, either in person, by email, or through the Remind App.
Not only is there a talented cast working to perfect the show, but there is also a hardworking stage crew and “pit” band. Stage crew, run by art teacher Ms. Randazzo, works a similar schedule as the cast. After school, and even some weekends, stage crew assembles sets and props, paints backgrounds, and orders backdrops and accessories. During a performance, members of stage crew are in charge of everything from lighting, sound effects, and scene changes to keeping everything in order. The stage crew is essential to ensuring a show runs smoothly.
“Pit” band, run by Roosevelt music teacher Ms. Murphy, is in charge of playing the score of the musical. Students are hand selected by high school band teacher Mr. Sisia. Selected students learn their portions of the music, and only weeks before the premiere, they practice with the cast. Often, the original score and what the cast has learned do not match, so the band must make quick readjustments. The band is vital when bringing the soundtrack of a musical to life.
The week before the show is quite possibly more chaotic than finals week. Practices are at least four hours each day, and the cast, crew, and pit perform the show once, maybe even twice, each day. This week is both physically and mentally draining. To add to the stress of the week, the Thursday of the infamous “techweek” involves the most stressful part of being in a musical: costumes. Costume changes, specifically quick changes, can be nerve-racking, especially if there are multiple changes throughout a show. Being a part of the show is tiring on its own, but during techweek, all cast, crew, and pit members are EXHAUSTED. However, it is always worth it by Friday when the audience fills the theater.
Performances are always a blur. Cast members often come three hours early to preset props, apply complex stage makeup, and style hair or put on wigs. Adrenaline is pumping through the veins of all, and as soon as the cast first steps on stage, the entirety of the show flashes by. Before everyone knows it, bows are over. The entirety of the show has become so routine that everyone is comfortable going out on stage, full of confidence, and knocking the expectations of the audience out of the park. Getting praise by all after the show may possibly be one of the best, most satisfying feelings ever.
Being a part of the show creates a sense of family and allows students from all grades to form new friendships. Everyone in the cast laughs together, cries together, and brings to life a story that the takes months of hard work and true dedication to execute. If you’re on the fence about auditioning, this experience will become the highlight of your time spent at OBHS. Being a part of OBEN musical performances not only offers a fun extracurricular activity, but it presents students with the opportunity to become a part of a family here at school. Whether you are star of the show or tumbleweed #5, every student involved is essential to the production.