WATERTOWN — Stage Notes students have been literally doubling down this summer as they prepare to entertain the community with music and dance.
The nonprofit youth theater group for exceptional theater students founded and directed by Ticia Aumell 11 years ago has traditionally put on an annual summer musical. This year, two shows are planned, with one opening tonight.
“These students are amazing, which is why we’re crazy enough to say we’re going to do this,” Mrs. Aumell said. “They’re so focused and they want this. They want to work hard and want us to push them.”
This summer’s Stage Notes troupe consist of 27 students from five area school districts. They will present “Pippin” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The summer double bill continues at 7 p.m. July 25, 26 and 27 with “Chicago: High School Edition.” Both shows are at the Dulles State Office Building.
One reason for the back-to-back shows is because Stage Notes wanted to create a “summer stock” experience for the students in this year’s group.
A summer stock season is a run of shows by a repertory company organized specifically for the season, often reusing “stock” scenery and costumes.
“This is kind of like a mini version of that,” Mrs. Aumell said. “They’ve been learning both shows at the same time.”
Putting on two shows gives more students greater opportunities to share their talents, Mrs. Aumell said.
“Nobody has a lead in both shows,” she said. The students who are the leads in ‘Chicago’ are the ensemble for ‘Pippin’ and vice versa.”
Both “Pippin” and “Chicago” were choreographed by the late Bob Fosse, who died in 1987 of a heart attack. In an obituary, the New York Times said he had “a style that, from the beginning, was instantly recognizable, and that had its roots in jazz.”
“Little by little, they’re learning the dances for both,” Mrs. Aumell said.
The students are being assisted in learning the dances by David A. Simmons, who returned from a four-year hiatus last summer of not choreographing a stage show when he assisted Stage Notes with “A Chorus Line.”
“He’s done a great job of trying to break it apart, saying ‘We’re going to work on ‘Pippin’ today and “Chicago’ next time,” Mrs. Aumell said.
“Pippin,” with book and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, opened on Broadway in 1972 and closed in 1977 after nearly 2,000 performances. A revival ran from 2013 to 2015. The musical is set in “780 A.D. and thereabouts” and “the Holy Roman Empire and thereabouts.”
A synopsis from its licensing agency, Musical Theatre International: “‘Pippin’ is in search of the secret to true happiness and fulfillment. He seeks it in the glories of the battlefield, the temptations of the flesh and the intrigues of political power (after disposing of his father, King Charlemagne the Great). In the end, though, Pippin finds that happiness lies not in extraordinary endeavors, but rather in the unextraordinary moments that happen every day.”
“It has great music and story,” said Benjamin Smith, who plays Pippin. “The music is very ’70s.”
Benjamin, who will be a senior this fall at Watertown High School, said that putting on two shows is a lot of work, but rewarding. He plays Charlemagne in “Pippin.”
“The work is exhausting,” he said. “At rehearsals, you’re going for two hours, dancing and singing and then you leave and you’re like, ‘I can sleep for a week.’ But on top of all the hard work, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s so much fun. You’re with your friends and you’re performing.”
Caroline McPherson plays the iconic role of Roxie Hart in “Chicago.” She graduated June 22 from Immaculate Heart Central High School and this fall she will attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in New York City for drama and musical theater. Students there undergo a rigorous admissions process and the school calls itself “the country’s preeminent center for the study of the performing, cinematic and emerging media arts.”
Caroline joined Stage Notes six years ago and is its longest member. She has also performed in Watertown Lyric Theater musicals.
“I wasn’t fully committed to theater and Stage Notes taught me how much an impact theater can be on our community,” Carolne said. “I’ve seen it throughout the years. We’ve donated so much money to nonprofit organizations.”
“Chicago: High School Edition” has been adapted to remove overtly sexual references and adult language. It’s set in the 1920s and concerns Roxie Hart, who murders a faithless lover and convinces her hapless husband, Amos, to take the rap. When he finds out he’s been duped, he turns on Roxie.
Convicted and sent to death row, Roxie and another “Merry Murderess,” Velma Kelly, vie for the spotlight, ultimately joining forces in search of the “American Dream”: fame, fortune and acquittal.
“Chicago” opened on Broadway in 1975 and ran through the summer of 1977 for 936 shows. A Broadway revival opened in 1996, and it’s still running. A film version was released in 2002. Songs in the show include “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” “A Little Bit of Good” and “Razzle Dazzle.”
Miss McPherson sees a lot of social commentary in her “Roxie” role that’s relative to today.
“One of my favorite quotes from the show, which I say, is ‘Now I’m going to tell you the truth — not that the truth really matters.’ I feel like that is so poignant and can be applied to today’s society, especially with the so-called fake news and whatever,” Miss McPherson said. “The whole show is about just seeing from the surfaces and not delving into the deeper concept of things. I think the Stage Notes staff picked the perfect year to put on this production.”
The two shows, Miss McPherson said, have been “incredibly challenging” to prepare for.
“But that’s why so many of us do Stage Notes,” she said. “Doing two shows with one week in between is ridiculously challenging, but it’s preparing us all for the true grind that is the theater community and world.”
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The main cast of Stage Notes’ “Pippin”:
Nicole Lee as the “Leading Player,” Benjamin Smith as Pippin, Joel Fox as Charlemagne, Madeline Timerman as Catherine, Hannah Gates as Fastrada, Hayden Gates as Lewis, Chloe Kruger as Berthe and Joshua Marra as Theo.
The main cast of Stage Notes’ “Chicago: High School Edition”:
Marialena Mouaikel as Velma Kelly, Caroline McPherson as Roxie Hart, Philip Marra III as Billy Flynn, J. Jake Thomas as Amos, Kennedy Vergin as Matron Morton, Samantha Farone as Mary Sunshine, Tristan Whewell as Fred casley, Cameron Mustizer as Sgt. Fogarty/reporter, Jessica Bardsley as Liz, Katelyn Decker as Annie, Yasmine Mustafa as June, Maddie Eveleigh as Hunyak, Chloe Kruger as Mona, Madeline Timmerman as Kitty, Benjamin Smith as Harry, Hayden Gates as Martin Harrison, Lucas Barney as the judge, Autumn McAllister as the court clerk, and Nicole Lee as juror one.