By Nora Lowe
One of the most exciting and rewarding parts of high school is participating in or watching our classmates and peers perform in the school musical. If one walks down the music hallway, it is evident that BHHS is experienced and takes great pride in performing these plays. The posters adorning the walls of the hallway barely begin scratch the surface when it comes to how deep our school’s love for theater is, considering BHHS has performed 127 productions since our first performance of Oliver! in 1967. Since then, we have performed a variety of shows ranging from classics such as Grease (1992) to musicals with more gravity and a serious theme such as The Diary of Anne Frank (2010). This year, after a successful production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the Varley Players presented Shrek the Musical. Many of our students and teachers have been hard at work: some perfecting and tweaking scenes, and others creating beautiful sets to accompany them.
Originally written by David Lindsay-Abaire, and accompanied with music from Jeanine Tesori, Shrek the Musical is based upon the 2001 Dreamworks Animation’s movie Shrek, and before that, William Steig’s 1990 book Shrek! Its history as a musical began in Seattle, where it was produced as a trial run. After its success, Shrek the Musical moved to Broadway where it opened in December of 2008. And this year wasn’t the Byram Hills School District’s first production either. Some freshman will recall that Wampus presented Shrek Jr. while they were in 5th-grade in 2015. BHHS freshman and cast member Christine Parisi shares that Shrek Jr. differs greatly from this high school’s production because “The Varley Players version [had] a lot more scene changes and props. We also [had] more music…For example, the costumes [were] more intricate.”
Being part of the BHHS Varley Players is an exciting and rewarding experience that requires dedication. As Lilian Rolfs, a junior and member of the cast explains, “It’s hard work for sure, but it’s a great learning experience for all of us.” Every member of the cast devotes many hours towards the production of the play, by enthusiastically attending practice. Shea Gordon, a senior who will be playing the infamous role of Shrek in this production, adds, “We practice for around three hours, six days a week, but I additionally practice most days on my own. A typical practice consists of character work/development as well as running through scenes and songs.” But practicing is not without it’s fun, because the reason these students are so devoted to the BHHS’ theater program is due to the fact that they truly enjoy being a part of a community that works together to create something everyone can enjoy. Freshman cast member, Ewa Miano, puts it best when she says, “Everyone has so much passion for what they are doing.” The hard work of the cast will definitely be evident in the upcoming performance.
In addition to the talented cast, the hard-working crew is also essential to executing the performance successfully. As Morgan Maniscalco, a 9th-grade member of the crew elucidates, “I’m in ‘construction crew,’ creating sets for the play. They use a variety of tools to make many different things. For instance, in this play, we made 12-foot tall trees. You meet so many new people I would never even have expected to know my name.” Ultimately, she shares that being a member of the crew has “changed [her]9th-grade career for the better!” In addition to creating sets, members of the crew control curtains, lights, and manage props.
Faculty and teachers are responsible for the organization of such a complex production. These teachers include Mr. Lopez, Ms. Brooks, Mr. Gulick, Ms. Menasche, and Mr. Piali. They all devote countless hours of work into ensuring that the production runs smoothly. In fact, as Mr. Lopez explains, preparation for a show can begin as early as a year in advance. He is the artistic and stage director and describes that “the stage director studies scripts in depth and uses their creative license to figure out how the script should translate to the stage. This involves all aspects ranging from the portrayal of characters and how scenes should be performed to staging, lighting, sound, and music.” When asked what specific element of the production of BHHS musicals is his favorite, he replied by sharing that it is watching how the audience reacts to the show as it’s being performed.
The BHHS production of Shrek the Musical took place on Thursday, March 7 at 7:00 pm, Friday, March 8 at 7:00 pm, Saturday, March 9 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm, and Sunday, March 10 at 2:00 pm. Shea Gordon played Shrek, and senior, Charlotte Cohen, was Fiona. Prior to the show, Charlotte explained, “I love doing what I love, with the people I love. Everyone is so passionate about theatre and it is so fun to share the art with people who really appreciate it, under the direction of amazing teachers! I am beyond excited to be playing Fiona in my last high school show, she is such a fun and spunky role, and I feel like I can really relate to the character.” On March 5th, the cast and crew presented a preview that certain teachers took their students to see. During the preview, three select scenes were performed, and some time was allotted for a “Q and A” portion. It was interesting and exciting to see the school come together and take an interest in the musical. This taste of what was to come generated a stir among students who were eager to see the play in its entirety, attracting a tremendous audience to the remainder of their performances.
BHHS was extremely eager to see and support the students who have contributed extensive time and effort into Shrek the Musical, and they were not disappointed! CONGRATULATIONS TO THE VARLEY PLAYERS!