Students collaborate with Broadway stars to produce fall musical revue

Students+perform+%22Seize+the+Day%22+finale.

Photo credit The Westminster Schools

Students perform “Seize the Day” finale.

This October, the Upper School Westminster Players performed a musical revue titled Broadway Comes to Westminster! The musical revue featured solos, duets, and small group numbers coached by faculty and professional Broadway stars. For the first time ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no live performances. Instead, the students filmed the show to be broadcasted on WCAT. The Westminster Players had to make many accommodations including social distancing, wearing masks, and replanning for the directors. Nevertheless, the show was a huge success that brought joy to performers and viewers throughout the Westminster community. 

Students auditioned for the musical in early September, with the option of either preparing a video in advance or singing live on Zoom.  Students who wanted to work behind the scenes could apply for student director, stage manager, student costumer, and other positions.

Kate Morgens, the director of Broadway Comes to Westminster! had to adjust her original plan significantly because of the circumstances of the pandemic. Full, in-person rehearsals proved to be unmanageable, so Morgens had the innovative idea of hiring professional Broadway actors, including Rob McClure, Dana Steingold, and Tim Hughes, to give students online master classes. 

In addition to providing instruction on singing and acting, the leaders of the master classes also facilitated  discussions on equity, inclusion, and life in New York City during the pandemic. Even though the musical revue differed from a typical Westminster fall musical, students still enjoyed the experience. 

“It was a lot different from other musicals I did in the past, but it was super fun and amazing to see everything come together into an awesome musical movie, and the audio recording was especially fun!” said freshman Mai Ideshita. “I was a little nervous to audition at first because I’m in the youngest and most inexperienced grade, but I’m glad I auditioned.”

Freshmen Laura Gracey and Riley Isakson collaborated as student directors, assuming the responsibilities of organizing staging, coordinating props, and brainstorming new ideas to solve issues. While they both expressed challenges in asserting themselves in front of the older students, they thought the experience was enjoyable.

“The community was great, and everybody is super nice, but it is also a huge community,” said Isakson. “Coming from middle school, I had to adjust and shift communities, but it was super fun!”

While the directors previously focused on live production, this year’s musical required students to develop an eye for film as well. Filming and editing each number was a new experience for the Westminster Players and required considerable teamwork.

“I’ve worked as a stage manager in the Middle School a lot, and that was a very different experience from this one as this was a lot more about film than it was theater,” said Gracey. “It was fun, but it wasn’t the same.”

Upper School chorale directors Jason Maynard and Chris Walters recorded the audio, while Westminster alum Jake Smith ’16 edited the recordings. Additionally, Morgens shot the film footage, which alumni Joseph Allan ’16, Courtney Frank ’18, and Andrew Stevens ’20 edited and compiled. The Westminster Players officers and parents also contributed to the production efforts by running errands, buying party decorations, and encouraging the cast and crew. 

“I liked being able to film and record audio separately, rather than trying to dance and sing at the same time like during a regular show,” said junior Jack Herakovich. “I think that the songs sounded a lot more consistent overall.”

While many students had positive responses to the pre-recorded format of the production, others commented on the repetitive nature of the filming process.

“We did the same dance sequence many times to film different angles so that it would look cool in the compiled musical,” said Ideshita, who performed in “Schuyler Sisters” from the musical Hamilton. “It was still so fun, and it really paid off in the end.”

Senior Aldyn Goheen, who has been in a total of seven musicals, performed “So Much Better” from Legally Blonde. Even though the song was less than four minutes long, it took two hours to film and included much attention to detail. The musical video included six outfit changes, and Goheen’s maltipoo, Bella, even made a guest appearance. 

“Elle Woods is a dream role, and I couldn’t be more honored to have had the opportunity to portray her,” said Goheen. “The outfit changes were the most time consuming because I had to sing the same section multiple times in different outfits so that the snap into a new outfit would look as seamless as possible. Each outfit was filmed from three different angles at least once or twice per angle before I could change and move on.” 

As a senior, Goheen also led a number of musical traditions and assumed many senior responsibilities.

“I have been dreaming about my senior show since my freshman year, and I remember my friends and me thinking about how far away our senior year was like it was yesterday,” said Goheen. “Of course, I pictured my senior-year musical very differently, but I’m super grateful that we got to do anything since many schools have cancelled their productions for the year completely.”

Morgens has yet to decide the details for future productions this year, but she hopes that a combination of in-person and virtual performances will still be feasible. Although Broadway Comes to Westminster! differed from past productions, it will go down in Westminster musical history as a great success.