Suburban high school musicals bring Broadway to life this summer
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Suburban students will bring Broadway characters to life as a few school districts are mounting summer musicals this month. These productions offer affordable entertainment and a taste of popular Broadway shows performed by homegrown talent.
Among the shows are Elgin Area School District U-46's "Les Misérables," Northwest Suburban High School District 214's "Catch Me If You Can," and Kaneland Unit District 302's "Annie." Though "Les Misérables" and "Catch Me If You Can" are shortened versions of the Broadway shows, the high school editions will have no less spectacle or heart and remain true to the original concepts, organizers say.
Students from five Elgin Area School District U-46 high schools will perform "Les Misérables" this month at Larkin High School.
- Courtesy of Elgin Area School District U-46
Mike Miserendino, English and theater teacher at Bartlett High School, got the idea for an all-district performance of "Les Misérables" last winter when he took a group of Bartlett High students to see the musical during its Chicago tour. Students were mesmerized, he said.
"It was definitely a very ambitious title to select," Miserendino said. "The energy is through the roof ever since we announced the title. Word spread like wildfire throughout the other schools. We had a record-breaking amount of kids (about 80) come out to our auditions. It is a title that you rarely get to audition for, especially at that level."
"Les Misérables" -- a French historical novel by Victor Hugo published in 1862 -- follows the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his path to redemption. Set in France, the story begins in 1815 and ends with the Paris uprising of 1832. It incorporates themes of politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and romantic and familial love. There have been numerous adaptations for the stage, television, and film.
U-46's first summer production was two years ago and involved roughly 30 students performing the musical comedy "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." A year later, students performed "Almost, Maine" -- a play comprising a series of vignettes with themes of love and relationships.
"Les Misérables" involves 111 students comprising a 60-member cast, 18-member technical crew, 10 production crew members, and 23 musicians in the orchestra pit who have been rehearsing four days a week for seven weeks.
"One of the challenges with 'Les Mis' is that it's a story that the kids didn't necessarily relate to because they haven't been around a revolutionary war," Miserendino said. "But a lot of the themes the characters are going through are familiar to the kids -- redemption, love lost and love found, youth finding their voice. It's not all about the singing. It's about making these characters seem like real people."
Performances are at 7 p.m. July 19, 20, and 21 and noon July 21 at Larkin High School, 1475 Larkin Ave., Elgin. Ticket price is $10 at the door. The auditorium seats 710 patrons.
Northwest Suburban High School District 214 students will perform the musical "Catch Me If You Can" this month at the Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights.
- Courtesy of Northwest Suburban High School District 214
'Catch Me If You Can'
District 214's "Catch Me If You Can" takes the stage at 7 p.m. July 12-14 at the Forest View Educational Center, 2121 S Goebbert Road, Arlington Heights. Ticket price is $10 online. The theater seats 360 people.
The Tony Award-nominated musical follows the story of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., borrowed from the 2002 film of the same name that was based on Abagnale's 1980 autobiography.
The all-district musical is part of the Talent Development Program providing fine and performing artists the opportunity to showcase their skills and gain real-world experience for theatrical careers, said Jeremy Morton, District 214 fine arts coordinator and Prospect High School theater director.
"It gives them an incredibly realistic idea of what it takes to put on a big show with very little time," said Morton, adding, students learn leadership skills as stage managers, producers, dance captains, sound and lighting engineers, directors and house managers. "We've kind of created an ensemble within our entire district helping us celebrate and support the arts."
District 214 started all-district musicals five years ago with a small ensemble of roughly 24 students performing "Urinetown." Each year, the productions grew with performances of "The Addams Family," "Guys and Dolls," and "The Wedding Singer.
This year's show has a 50-member cast, eight-member crew, a band of 14 musicians and four student directors/producers. Students pull together the show in four-and-a-half weeks and it includes an "incredible jazz score," Morton said.
"The show has become more and more of a spectacle," Morton said. "We just hope to keep getting bigger and bigger and highlighting the amazing talent and storytelling abilities of District 214 students."
The District 302 Kaneland Arts Initiative's "Annie" takes the stage July 13-15, and July 20-22 in the Kaneland High School auditorium, 47W326 Keslinger Road, Maple Park. It's the full musical and not the high school edition, said Maria Dripps-Paulson, Kaneland Arts Initiative executive director, who is directing/producing the show and conducting the orchestra.
"It's a community theater production," she said. "We have over 100 people, from backstage to front of house. We actually have a full on orchestra in the pit."
The production includes roughly 60 cast members of all ages from throughout the area, about 25 musicians in the pit orchestra, and the rest are crew members and volunteers managing the box office, lighting and sounds. The orchestra comprises mostly students from upper junior high grades all the way through college with two older musicians.
Dripps-Paulson said not many school districts put on summer community theater productions. This is Kaneland's ninth year.
The group started with "The Music Man" in 2009, drawing roughly 300 people. Over the years, it has undertaken ambitious shows, including, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Mary Poppins" and "Beauty and the Beast."
"The first year we only did one weekend of shows," Dripps-Paulson said. "By the third summer, we realized that it was a lot of work for three performances, so we added another weekend. Now we get over 1,000 people coming for our productions."
Show times are 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Ticket prices online are $12.50 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, and $8 for students; and at the door are $15 for adults, $12.50 for seniors, and $10 for students. The auditorium seats 720 people.
Summer theater in the suburbs
Elgin Area School District U-46's "Les Misérables" When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, July 19 and 20; noon and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 21
Where: Larkin High School, 1475 Larkin Ave., Elgin
Tickets: $10 at the door; auditorium seats 710 patrons
High School District 214's "Catch Me If You Can" When: 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, July 12-14
Where: Forest View Educational Center, 2121 S. Goebbert Road, Arlington Heights
Tickets: $10 online; theater seats 360 people
Kaneland Unit District 302's 'Annie' When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 13-15 and 20-22
Where: Kaneland High School auditorium, 47W326 Keslinger Road, Maple Park
Tickets: Prices online are $12.50 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, and $8 for students; at the door $15 for adults, $12.50 for seniors, and $10 for students; auditorium seats 720 people
Other suburban summer theater productions
• Schaumburg Park District's "Oklahoma" plays July 19-21 at Lake Park West High School, 500 Bryn Mawr Ave., Roselle.
• Schaumburg on Stage will present three full musicals this summer -- "Urinetown," "Sister Act" and "Little Mermaid." "Urinetown" plays July 19-22 at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St.; "Sister Act" plays Aug. 10-19 a the Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin; "The Little Mermaid" plays Aug. 1-5 at Barrington High School, 616 W Main St., Barrington.
• Fox Valley Park District's "The Little Mermaid" plays 7 p.m. July 13 at West Aurora High School, 1201 W. New York St., Aurora.
• Lisle Park District presents Disney's "Alice in Wonderland Jr." at 2 and 7 p.m. July 27-28 at Lisle Senior High School, 1800 Short St., Lisle.