From now till May, 62 high-school musicals will open and close across the Lower Hudson Valley. At the very end of that calendar is the regional premiere of “Mary Poppins” at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. (That’s the cast and crew of Rye Country Day School’s production of “Guys and Dolls,” which includes faculty and students in the cast, in a photo by Joe Larese of The Journal News.)
The Tony-nominated “Poppins,” which sailed onto Broadway in 2006 with Sherman Brothers songs bolstered and reimagined by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, will be directed at the all-boys Stepinac by Frank Portanova, who will find his practically perfect nanny from among auditioning actresses from across the region.
It’s a calculated risk, choosing a musical that relies on just the right a triple threat walking into auditions. Other directors choose musicals based upon the kids they see walking the halls every day, or kids they reasonably believe they can persuadeconvince to audition. But Portanova cast his net wider: to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The stakes are high: Stepinac is one of six high schools across the U.S. to be granted what Disney Theatricals is calling a pilot license to take “Poppins” for a spin. The show runs May 2, 3, 9, 10 and 11.
Before that nanny flies at Stepinac, dozens of other musicals will open and close, from Port Chester to Cold Spring, from Yonkers to Suffern, creating life-long memories for those involved on stage and behind the scenes.
The busiest weekends are March 13-15, when 12 musicals will be running, and April 3-5, with 16 shows from which to choose.
The season’s most-popular titles range from the old chestnut “Guys and Dolls” (Blind Brook, Rye Country Day, Westlake) to the contemporary “Legally Blonde” (Carmel, Horace Greeley, Ossining and Ursuline). “Little Shop of Horrors” will come to Peekskill, Mamaroneck and Rockland Country Day School, while “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a valentine to the musical form, will play at Clarkstown North, North Salem and Pelham.
“Rent,” Jonathan Larson’s rock ’n’ roll spin on Puccini’s “La Boheme” in the age of AIDS, was met with controversy when it was announced, canceled, then restored at Trumbull High School in Connecticut’s Fairfield County. But three Westchester schools will present the school edition of the musical with no discernible fuss: Hastings, Ardsley and John Jay.
Reno Sweeney will be back urging “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” at Haldane in Cold Spring and Sacred Heart in Yonkers. A bookworm named Belle will rebel against her provincial French ville and find love in an unexpected place in “Beauty and the Beast” at Albertus Magnus and Rye. Tevye’s daughters will grow up and challenge tradition in “Fiddler on the Roof” at Byram Hills and in Irvington, while the telephones will be buzzing with news about Kim, Hugo and Conrad Birdie in “Bye Bye Birdie” at Kennedy Catholic and Sleepy Hollow.
An upwardly mobile window washer named Finch (that’s F-I-N-C-H) will take a rocket ride to the executive suite in “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” at Nanuet and Valhalla. And what happens after “they lived happily ever after” will unfold in “Into the Woods” at Dobbs Ferry’s Masters School and Somers.
Maria will meet her captain, and his seven children, and fall in love all over again in “The Sound of Music” at Edgemont and Pearl River. Another Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, set in World Word II within view of Bali Hai, will play in Pleasantville, but contractual obligations forbid mentioning the actual title of the “Some Enchanted Evening” musical. R&H fans should plan to catch “Oklahoma!” in Suffern, home of the region’s proudest, largest musical orchestra.
At Dobbs Ferry High School and at Croton-Harmon, the world’s most musical labor dispute will play out in “The Pajama Game.” The world of work will also be front and center in “Working,” a musical setting for the interviews of beloved Chicago newsman Studs Terkel, at School of the Holy Child in Rye (pictured above, inset, photo by Joe Larese) and Hendrick Hudson in Montrose.
Not only do Ramapo and Spring Valley high schools share a school district, this year, their musicals will share a pit band. Both schools will present Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” on consecutive weekends. Ramapo is up first, March 28 and 29; then the pit musicians will re-convene at Spring Valley for performances by an entirely different cast on April 3, 4 and 5.
Movie buffs will find plenty of musicals that have been on the big screen: “Oliver!” comes to Walter Panas; “Meet Me in St. Louis” brings the trolley to Yorktown; “Hairspray” brings the struggle of Traci Turnblad (and her mom, Edna) to Tuckahoe and Mahopac; the con is on for Harold Hill in “The Music Man” at Tappan Zee; and Woodlands readies the yellow-brick road for “The Wizard of Oz.”
Peggy Sawyer hears the lullaby of Broadway, goes out a youngster but comes back a star in “42nd Street” in Eastchester; Harrison follows last year’s best overall production honors at the Metropolitan High School Theater Awards with “A Chorus Line”; Nyack presents the Elton John-Tim Rice rock adaptation of “Aida.”
New Rochelle, far from Putnam County, presents “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” while Putnam Valley, firmly in Putnam County, stages “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Clarkstown South presents Rupert Holmes’ Tony-winner, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” where the audience votes for whodunnit, while Port Chester stages another show that spoofs the musical form, the wickedly irreverent “Urinetown.”
White Plains, presenting its musical later in the season than usual, takes a page from children’s books to present “Seussical”; Salesian High School in New Rochelle looks to Mark Twain for “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Two schools that aren’t afraid to chart their own musical courses — Briarcliff and Fox Lane — are continuing in that theme, presenting lesser-known musicals.
Fox Lane honors the memory of the late great Marvin Hamlisch by presenting his beauty-pageant musical, “Smile.”
Briarcliff presents “The Hired Man” which, director Ian Driver says, is popular in the U.K. but rarely performed stateside. The gritty musical tells the story of love, loss and work against the backdrop of World War I.
Not only do Briarcliff’s students not have a historical connection to the piece, Driver says, “it also requires a dialect coach as the company all need to sound like they live in the north of England. Think ‘Billy Elliot’ meets ‘War Horse.’”
Technical directors and makeup artists will have their work cut out for them this season.
Director Darrin Grimm promises the skies will open for Lakeland High School’s “Singin’ in the Rain” and a little boy who won’t grow up will teach those Darling kids to fly in “Peter Pan” in Brewster. Rye Neck brings the green ogre “Shrek” to the stage; and felines will take over North Rockland High School when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” arrives.