What has 400 legs, 200 mouths, and 76 trombones? It’s a stage full of the choir cast rehearsing for this year’s musical, The Music Man, which ran Feb. 7-9. Preparation for the annual musical, produced by the choir department and Technical Entertainment Crew, began long before opening night. This included actors memorizing lines, singers perfecting their notes, and more than 200 people working on their choreography.
“There was so much energy and everyone was really excited while they were performing,” sophomore Rachel Bilbo said. “Even though we [sophomores] did not get to perform that much since it was our first year, but it still was fun. Getting to hang out with everyone backstage and during each rehearsal was a great time to meet people and make new friends with a lot of people from choir.”
Before the wagon full of instruments could come down the street, student TEC crews had to construct it and volunteers had to fit costumes to cast members. This was only part of the backstage magic that happened along with the magic that happened on the stage. With only five weeks to prepare such an extravagant production, actors and singers began to feel the pressure of memorizing their lines and lyrics.
“A lot of planning and a lot of help from the very many different people [goes into preparing for the musical],” choir director Jenn Goodner said. “We could not put the musical on without Jenn Young, our choreographer, our orchestra conductor, Austin Haller and the TEC department and their building the sets. Our parents volunteer to do hours and hours, so that is the biggest workforce.”
The process starts with choir directors Goodner and Edward Snouffer choosing the musical for the year. Having a musical approved can be quite a process as a request is sent to the licensing company that provides the play rights of musicals. The licensing company has to ensure that another theater is not putting on the same performance on the weekend Westlake chose. Then comes the exciting time for all choir students when the directors announce what the musical will be.
“It’s always happy news when you find out that you are able to do it, that you got the one you wanted,” Goodner said.
The next step is casting. The first round of auditions take place nearly a month before the rehearsals start. Students file through the audition room, singing their portion of a song from the musical and reciting a small monologue in front of the two choir directors. After the auditions, the large group is narrowed down and a last small group is chosen for callbacks. Finally the cast list is posted and the roles are set. This year, seniors Spencer Flynn and Sarah Nichols were chosen to play the leads, Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian, respectively.
“They did great auditions and did a beautiful job in the show,” Goodner said. “They worked really hard, they are both great singers and great actors.”
Once the cast was chosen, the work of memorizing lines, stage blocking and choreography commenced. As the musical was pulled together quickly, cast members had to learn songs, lines and choreography at a rapid pace. Spending time with each other after school nearly every day, the cast bonded with each other.
“Memorizing my lines was an interesting feat, but that wasn’t too hard,” Sarah said. “I think it’s just interesting dynamics of putting a show together this quickly because you have to form these connections with people and the relationships on stage and off the stage.”
During rehearsals, principals spent their time running through lines, large dance numbers were perfected and practiced over again. Managing time and other activities were important as rehearsals ran from 4 p.m. to past 8 p.m. or later during the school week. During the dress rehearsals all cast members were dressed and present past 9 p.m., making every little pitch and movement perfect for opening night.
Choir students were not the only ones who worked long and hard in preparation for the show. TEC 2 and Production classes were busy constructing the set pieces, hanging backdrops and programming lighting designs.
“TEC started building the sets for the musical about one month in advance,” TEC 2 sophomore Connor Parent said. “We did this so if we ran into problems along the way we could figure out another solution to solve the problem. For some of the larger props it took up to a week to finish, considering we didn’t all work on one thing at a time.”
TEC was also behind the job of quickly setting up all set pieces on and off the stage for each scene throughout the performance.
With all three shows the week of the performance selling out each year, rising to the occasion was intimidating for the cast members as Westlake has a reputation for preparing and performing exceptional musicals, but they accepted the challenge of pulling off the performance.
“It’s just a lot of pressure and it’s a big performance space,” Sarah said. “You hope to fill all the seats, but mainly I feel the responsibility and pressure from myself to be good enough to fit with everyone else’s talents.”
With the musical wrapped up students and choir directors have a feeling of success after pulling another great musical.
“I feel like the musical was a success because it’s a tradition here at Westlake that families go see. I thought it was really fun and an overall great experience,” sophomore Sarah Holland said.
Everyone’s talents proved once more this year as the choir department exceeded expectations. All seats were filled, the tradition of excellent performances lived on, and 400 legs, 200 mounts and 76 trombones closed to standing ovations.