This month and next, the spotlight will shine on local high school stages as student actors and theater artists bring their talents to the forefront with fall productions. This season features three musicals – the Broadway classics “Oklahoma!” and “Annie” will be put on by George Mason and McLean high schools, respectively, and J.E.B. Stuart High School will put on a more recent Broadway musical, an adaptation of the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel “Little Women.” George C. Marshall High School will open the season with an adaptation of the Voltaire satire “Candide,” and Falls Church High School will close it with a collection of comedic one-act plays titled “Laughing Jag.”
George C. Marshall High School
George C. Marshall’s drama department will open the fall slate of productions with “Optimism!,” a modern adaptation by T.J. Edwards of the mid-1700s Voltaire satire “Candide.” In “Optimism!” the main character Candide is brought up to believe in optimism, but a journey across the globe brings those beliefs into question.
“Optimism!” runs Nov. 7 – 10 Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. from Thursday through Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The play will be performed at George C. Marshall High School, 7731 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church. Tickets are $7 for general admission and $5 for students and seniors. For more information, visit theatreatmarshall.org or call 703-714-5400.
George Mason High School
When the George Mason High School drama department began considering its fall production, they were looking for something different from last year’s fall musical. “Xanadu” was a modern rock musical, but “Oklahoma!” – which made its Broadway debut in the 1940s – is a time-honored classic musical and is more traditional.
“This show had it all: comedy, heart, thick accents, two love stories, a handful of fabulous and familiar tunes, and corn,” Theater Director Shawn Northrip said.
Set in the early 1900s, “Oklahoma!” centers on a love triangle between Laurey, a farmer’s daughter, cowboy Curly, and troubled farmhand Jud. Jud has feelings for Laurey, and she uses Jud to make Curly jealous (though the shared affection is between Laurey and Curly).
Northrip praises the ensemble cast that brings this tempestuous love story to the stage, as well as a technical crew that has created a turn-of-the-century Oklahoma atmosphere for the Mason stage – with costumes by Grace Housman and scenery that includes corn and a working windmill.
In working with the students to stage the classic musical, Northrip has found sympathy for Jud, who is justifiably angry in his unrequited love that stands in the way of Laurey and Curly’s romance.
“I hope the audience is entertained and comes away happy, but if there is a message, I’d like it to be that the lines between good and evil are not always so clear cut,” Northrip said.
“Oklahoma!” runs Nov. 14 – 16. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The play will be performed at George Mason High School, 7124 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students. For more information, visit fccps.org or call 703-248-5500.
J.E.B. Stuart High School
The J.E.B. Stuart High School drama department, with its strong ensemble of leading ladies and male actors, chose a musical adaptation of “Little Women” for its fall production.
Choir Director Emi Eiting says the musical version stays true to the novel, a coming-of-age tale written by Louisa May Alcott in the mid-1800s that has become a literary classic.
The actresses who play the four sisters in “Little Women” include two real-life sisters – Hillary Leersnyder as the brassy tomboy Jo and Angela Leersnyder as her demure younger sister Beth (another Leersnyder sister plays flute in the student pit orchestra that accompanies the musical). They are joined by Marley Finley as eldest sister Meg, Abby Stewart as youngest sister Amy, and Sarah Rubin as the family matron Marmee in an ensemble that Eiting says had immediate and effortless chemistry.
“From the very beginning, it was clear that they all loved the story and they loved the characters and they were all really excited by the music,” Eiting said. “They’ve interacted as a fun family unit from the first day.” She added that the girls have participated in dance lessons, sports, and band together, and thus were comfortable with one another on the stage.
Eiting hopes that the family they portray, in their challenges and transformations, will resonate with audiences and take them back to simpler times in their youth.
“I think the thing that is so special about ‘Little Women’ is that it’s a very simple story, with a really big heart. That’s not to say at all that things are simple for these characters, because they’re not … but I think at the heart of the story is the power of our family.”
“Little Women” runs Nov. 14 – 16. Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. that Thursday, and 7:30 p.m. that Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee that Saturday. The play will be performed at J.E.B. Stuart High School, 3301 Peace Valley Lane, Falls Church. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $8 for students and seniors. For more information, visit stuartdrama.org or call 703-824-3900.
McLean High School
Starring in McLean High School’s McLean Theatre Company production of “Annie” is Nancy Pruett, whom Artistic Director Amy Poe says was born to play the role of the feisty orphan who finds herself in billionaire Oliver Warbucks’ home for the holidays.
“Just like you’d expect from Annie, our lead brings her own brilliant red curly hair, a good dose of gumption, and has a strong intuitive sense of right and wrong,” Poe said. “Of course, great stage presence and a commanding voice are prerequisites that Nancy fills easily.”
In addition to the on-stage talents, the production is bolstered behind the scenes by Choreographer Marielle Burt and Technical Director Emily Robinson, who both recently earned honors at the Virginia Theatre Association’s 2013 Conference.
The widely popular story of Little Orphan Annie may be familiar to many, but Poe says that the McLean Theatre Company likes to put its own unique spin on its productions. And for this musical, they’ll be taking inspiration from the original “Little Orphan Annie,” the 1920s comic strip that inspired the 1970s Broadway musical.
“Through the prominent use of newspaper fonts, pop art, and cartoon-types of drawings in the set, lighting and costume design, we hope the audience will have a palpable sense of being in the timeless cartoon strip itself,” Poe said. “While audiences will certainly hear those great tunes including ‘Tomorrow,’ ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life,’ and ‘Easy Street,’ they will also see a take on Annie that will be new to them and one which will be especially engaging.”
“Annie” runs Nov. 29 – Dec. 7. Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays. The play will be performed at McLean High School, 1633 Davidson Road, McLean. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. For more information, visit mcleandrama.com or call 703-714-5700.
Falls Church High School
Falls Church High School’s drama department will be combining three comedic one-act plays for its fall production, “Laughing Jag.”
“Hamlette” reimagines the dark Shakespeare play with a cross-dressing protagonist. “Live Onstage!” sees a professor’s play-writing lecture continually interrupted by odd-ball characters (including a tap-dancing chicken) whom the professor insists are her own invention. And the families in “Just Plain Folks,” one on the stuffy side of conventional and the other exceedingly eccentric, have a tough time getting along.
Theater Director Bill Lambert says his actors have good timing and are working on their delivery to reach the full comedic potential in these one-acts. Some of his students are also playing roles in more than one piece, a challenge he says his young actors are up to. One actress, he mentioned for example, will play Hamlette’s mother and a college student all in one evening.
For his first full-length production as the new theatre director for the drama department, Lambert said he was looking for a fun production to entertain, and found that in these three one-act plays.
“I just want to have people have a good time, and I want the actors to have fun,” Lambert said. “We’ll get into serious stuff later, but for now it’s just a laughing jag.”
“Laughing Jag” runs Dec. 6 – 7. Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. The play will be performed at Falls Church High School, 7521 Jaguar Trail, Falls Church. Tickets are $5 for general admission and $3 for students. For more information, visit fchsdrama.org or call 703-207-4000.
George C. Marshall High School’s drama department declined to participate in the News-Press’ fall play previews.