Arts & Entertainment

Schools Get Odd & Interesting In Fall Theater Productions

MASON STUDENTS REHEARSE A SCENE from “Urinetown,” its fall production which premiers on Thursday, Nov. 17. George C. Marshall High School kicks off the season on Thursday, Oct. 13. (Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Skomra)
MASON STUDENTS REHEARSE A SCENE from “Urinetown,” its fall production which premiers on Thursday, Nov. 17. George C. Marshall High School kicks off the season on Thursday, Oct. 13. (Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Skomra)

“Guys and Dolls” won’t “Shrek” in “Urinetown” if they “Don’t Drink the Water” served by a “Sea Cook.”

Huh?

These are the titles of something-for-everyone fall productions coming up on the stages of five area high schools.

Colorful costumes, singing, dancing, contemporary issues, and lots of fun and music are in the play books.

At George C. Marshall High School, Liz Carlson, a Marshall graduate and former student of director Jason Tamborini, has rewritten Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and transformed it into “The Sea Cook: A Story for Girls.”

Fourteen females will take over the lead roles in Carlson’s remake and also become the pirates, not to be confused with masquerading as boys, since in this show girls will be girls, and the roles are for them, Tamborini said.

The time period has not been changed from the mid-17th century.

“We’re not trying to make a political statement, so to speak,” Tamborini said. “This is meant to be a fun show for girls as active adventurers.”

The Marshall director wanted to cast female students in active roles, rather than in emotionally based or love stories, when they are frequently cast as mothers, domestics, and girlfriends which “I’m not saying it’s bad” but in today’s environment, “we want kids to do anything possible.”

“Sea Cook” is not all for women: Four males are in the play, too.

“I chose [it] because I was looking to tell a story, a classical story and find a different way to tell it.”

Tamborini’s childhood fun on a church playground behind his grandmother’s house was a springboard for the show.

“The all-wooden playground could become anything for us,” the director said, a setting for an island, a space ship, a prison, a fort.

For those who saw the National Building Museum’s “Beach” exhibit last year, “Sea Cook” is repurposing the museum’s 150,000 white plastic balls and using special lighting to create its own “ocean” which captures pirates leaping, jumping, and “walking the plank.” (Say goodbye.)

“Shrek The Musical” will be staged at Falls Church High with a cast of 35 and a crew of 25 with a few students from Luther Jackson Middle School, said director Beth De Marco.

“It’s a challenging piece but a lot of fun with life-sized puppets and a life-sized dragon,” said De Marco. “We have the actors to play the roles.”

The music director is C.J. Redden-Liotta, Falls Church’s choral director.

“People will recognize remnants of songs from ‘Dream Girls,’ ‘Wicked’ and ‘42nd Street.’” The play is a fairy tale about an ugly outcast who comes to the rescue of a princess.

Phillip Reid will direct Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water” at McLean High School.

“I chose it because it’s a political comedy, fitting for November,” Reid said in a telephone interview.

“It’s about an embassy that is in kind of turmoil because of ineptitude. It has a lot of slapstick. American tourists get caught up and are thought to be spies. It’s really, really fun.”

The play is set in the 1960s and a five-member student orchestra will complement Beatles’ tunes and Cold War era music.

The show is “double-cast,” meaning a total of 38 McLean students will each star in two of the four shows.

“I wanted to get as many in the production and give as many opportunities to the kids as possible,” Reid said.

“Guys and Dolls” will be staged at JEB Stuart High.

“It’s such a fun, upbeat, funny and still meaningful show, and so far, the kids are really having a good time with it,” said Julia Wharton, the director.

The cast of 35 is entirely from the Stuart community, “a diverse student population” where some students have never been exposed to theatre anywhere and know English as a second language, Wharton said.

One of the director’s challenges has been to draft those students and expose them to the world of theatre, which can be hard when some get out of school and head straight for work where they stay until 10 or 11 p.m.

Stuart’s new choral teacher and music director, Chad Steffey, will lead the pit combination of students and several hired professional musicians. Parts of the play contain “sexist script” which “really rub me the wrong way, and we’re trying to find ways [to show] it in the show. We’re going for a little bit of a twist. We all need to find ways to compromise,” Wharton said.

For costumes, the show tries to “make do” with outfits from previous plays rather than having to make all new. Men’s suits and jackets from the 1940s can be altered from the past, but the “Hot Box Girls” will be wearing new costumes.

George Mason’s theatre director Shawn Northrip saw “Urinetown” on Broadway years ago and “have always loved it.” For several years he worked on convincing his collaborative team to do it at Mason, and this year, members agreed.

“It gives students a lot of opportunities which is always a factor for us,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re hoping people will love it. The title is the scariest part, and if people can get past the title, I think they’ll really enjoy it.”

With a cast of 35 and a dozen Mason musicians, “it’s a really smart show,” a comedy which shows “what happens when the corporate world charges humans for basic functions and how humans stand up for themselves,” Northrip said. The students are building the sets under the direction of John Ballou, a Mason robotics teacher, and a student, Delaney Theisz, is designing and making the costumes.

“When she was a freshman, she wanted to get involved. She’s learned how to sew, and usually we have one conversation and she comes back with surprisingly great designs,” Northrip said. Mason’s auditorium seats 500, but sell-outs at not uncommon, especially on Friday nights, Northrip said.

Come one, come all to the greatest shows on Earth this fall!

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