Saturday, November 27

What it takes to put on ‘High School Musical’

By Betsy Reason

About 50 Noblesville High School cast members are singing and dancing to the songs they grew up with.

Another 25 production crew members, dressed in black, are handling backstage tasks, from moving set pieces between dance scenes, to helping with makeup and costumes.

Two NHS teachers, five music students and a recent NHS grad are performing the production’s live music in the orchestra pit.

A former NHS Singer and grad who went on to design shows and rides for Walt Disney World and Universal Studios and operated a theater company in Orlando, Fla., is doing all of the choreography.

A NHS student who was cast as a pianist at East High actually is playing the piano in her role.

And the whirring sound of a sewing machine is heard from the back of the auditorium as the seamstress mom of past NHS students is busy finishing last-minute costumes.

These were the scenes from weekend dress rehearsals on tech Saturday in preparation for opening night Thursday of the NHS fall musical, “High School Musical.”

“We, for sure, have a show. Thank goodness with these crazy times … It’s been a struggle … We’re really thankful to have been able to put one on this year,” new NHS assistant choir director Shannan (O’Dowd) Masten said after school on Monday during one of the show’s final dress rehearsals.

NHS is bringing to life Disney’s 2007 hit musical, from Music Theatre International, based on the 2006 hit Disney Channel movie featuring Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay and Ryan and all of the students and teachers of East High who deal with the issues of first love, friends and family while balancing their classes and extracurricular activities.

The NHS musical is on stage at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Saturday in the NHS Auditorium. Tickets are still available, with special pricing for middle-school students and senior citizens at the matinee.

“The cast is awesome. These kids are all kids who wanted to be here,” Masten said. “…They’re all dedicated, super-emotionally Lauren attached to each other and the show at this point.”

That’s because “it’s a story they’re all familiar with,” she said. “It’s been fun to put together. And thank goodness everything is coming together.”

The students know the music well, being that the movie came out in 2006, the year that most of the musical’s sophomores, including my daughter, were born.

While most of the main characters — Anna Schlueter as Gabriella, Rohn as Sharpay and Aaron Krent as Ryan, Maddie Durst as Taylor (as well as Laura Wertz as Ms. Darbus and Dominic Jones as Coach Bolton) — are seniors, the lead male characters, Troy, is played by junior Maddux Morrison, and Chad is played by junior Aidan Johnston. Also, freshmen Nicholas Sizelove plays Jack Scott and Nolan Campbell plays Ripper.

Of all of the cast members, it’s most interesting how real-life pianist NHS senior Kari Verdeyen was perfectly cast into the role of songwriter and East High pianist Kelsi Neilson. Verdeyen plays the piano on stage in her role.

“It’s ironic that she is so good at piano because she ended up being perfect for that role,” Masten said. “It has made the show so much more realistic that she’s able to play piano on stage. That’s been awesome.”

Other musically talented folks include the “High School Musical” Pit Players, David Hartman, NHS orchestra director and guitar teacher David Hartman, on guitar 2; NHS piano teacher Carrie Caine on piano, NHS students Madolyn Jarrett and Abby Gibbons on keyboard 2, Brett Lush on bass, 2020 NHS grad Aidan Board on drum set, Ella Feliciano on percussion and Sam Johnson on guitar 1.

“The band started working through our music together at the beginning of October,” Hartman said. They had a sitzprobe (rehearsal where the singers sing with the orchestra) on Nov. 6 and have been playing in the auditorium’s orchestra pit Monday through Saturday beginning Nov. 8.

“This musical came together for the band fairly smoothly and has been fun for me to direct and play a guitar part,” Hartman said on Monday. It’s his 30th year at NHS and for this performance, he is director of the Pit Band.

Masten said, “If you have the talent available and the funding, to be able to do it, by all means, you should always have a live pit. Hartman is ridiculously talented … It helps that they’re familiar with the music, but they’re also so good.”

During Saturday’s rehearsal, NHS special education teacher Kerin Meyer was busy working on her sewing machine at the back of the auditorium, making waist pouches for cast members’ cordless mikes, and doing last-minute alterations. Her kids both already graduated. “I’m an adopted member of the music department,” she said. Meyer is technically the costume designer. “But for this show, it’s been much more ordering and shopping at Goodwill,” she said. Meyer mostly approves a look or suggests adjustments. On Monday, she was still working on waist pouches and running an errand to Hobby Lobby.

“For this show, a fair amount of the costuming has come from the students’ closets,” said the show’s director, NHS choir director  John Neubauer. “It’s not difficult for a high schooler to play a high schooler.” The cheerleaders and basketball players and some others in the show have been provided with costumes by the school … Getting the kids to costume in a variety of different looks is tricky. But we’re getting there.”

Neubauer is happy with how well the show has come together.

“The students and directing team are thrilled with the development of the show, the individual confidence that is emerging on stage, the cast’s ability to follow directions, ad lib when something doesn’t go quite perfectly, and their ability to put this all together,” Neubauer said.

So what’s it take to put on this musical? “Patience,” he said. “This is true of almost any production, but a staged musical is definitely a long-range vision situation. Some days go great. Others less great.” His goal was to be “rock solid” by last Saturday, with Monday, Tuesday and today “to put an additional icing on the cake and get ready for a great run.”

Neubauer loves the show, which he calls “light- hearted and fun.” He said, “The story is well known especially to the students of high-school age. The students have to develop characters, but they certainly know people exactly like the characters they are portraying.”

Neubauer said, “The characters are fun and varied. The story is cute and pokes fun at how big a deal everything that happens in high school seems like a big deal at the time. The students have found humor as their characters build. They have brought the script to life with their own interpretations. It’s impressive and fun.”

The greatest challenges? “NHS is a busy school,” Neubauer said. “Between the cast being busy students and the current health situation, we almost always have someone not present. Leads to reteaching. But we are being as efficient as possible.”

The district’s mask requirement has been dropped for the cast while they’re on stage. Off stage, performers will be masked at all times. Masks are recommended and optional for spectators at the show.

The directing team is “incredibly fortunate” to have Shantel Morris, 1991 NHS grad and former NHS Singer, as the show’s choreographer. “She challenges the students with great and effective choreography,” Neubauer said. “She teaches it very well and gets all the cast to look as professional as possible. The students definitely get tired. It is demanding. But with time and determination, the students will make it happen.”

The show is also fortunate to have longtime NHS theater production teacher Greg Richards, who designed the set and lighting. “His class is doing a lot of the work,” Neubauer said. “The painting. The decorating. Then comes the lighting to make a film work in a live and on-stage situation.”

And Jay Jasper, the NHS guitar teacher, who also teaches AP Music Theory and Recording Arts classes, is having a good time doing the sound for the show.

Neubauer has never produced this musical before. “The whole team discussed lots of different shows, and we decided that this was a great one for this moment. The characters are well known and loved. The message in the end is uplighting and unifying. That’s something we need after last year’s school year.”

Masten said, while she arrived as a new teacher after they selected the show title, she added, “I personally am glad we did pick this. After the two years that we had, they wanted to pick something that feels good, that everyone’s familiar with. Of course, the closer, ‘We’re All In This Together (song),’ goes along with ‘Stronger Together,’ which is the school’s theme this year.”

She said, “Weaving our way out of Covid and back to stage performing, it’s just an overall positive show, a familiar show, and a feel-good show, which we need. We have very much needed this year.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.


Want TO GO:

What: Noblesville High School’s “High School Musical” production.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday with special pricing.

Where: Noblesville High School auditorium, 18000 Cumberland Road, Noblesville.

How much: $12; $6 for middle-school students and senior citizens for the matinee only.

Tickets: online at https://search.seatyourself.biz/webstore/accounts/nhscpo/buy-ti

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