Here’s are glimpses of what I saw at a recent rehearsal at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, where Chris Briante is filling the considerable shoes of the now-retired M.A. Haskin.
When Briante directs — as he’s doing with the opening this week of “The Pajama Game” at his new educational home, The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry — he still can hear his high school director, Father James Cashman at Archbishop Stepinac High School.
A native of Thornwood, Briante comes to Masters from St. Paul’s in Baltimore. A 1978 graduate of Stepinac, Briante says Cashman’s influence is still felt.
“He was a very positive, upbeat guy you would never have thought was a priest, if you thought in a stereotypical way. He had black motorcycle boots and rode a motorcycle, so he was one of the coolest dudes you could have as a director.”
His Stepinac roles included Motel the Tailor in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Why “The Pajama Game”?
“I took the recommendation of those who have been here,” Briante said. “They felt that, coming out of ‘Into the Woods,’ which didn’t have a lot of movement in it, ‘The Pajama Game’ would be a good choice to do some early Fosse dances.”
Briante said the show — which has the memorable songs “Hey There,” “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Steam Heat” — has its share of lead and middle characters and it keeps the ensemble busy.
How to get kids in 2015 to act like they’re in the ’50s?
Choreographer Janie Wallace has the kids warm up by listening to ’50s music, including: “Sh-Boom Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream),” “Mr. Sandman,” “Papa Loves Mambo,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
They’ve also been working on their posture, something their peers rarely think about.
YouTube has been helpful, in that regard, with posture videos to give the kids something to model.
The cast of 35 is heavy on underclassmen. Most are freshmen and sophomores, with just 3 juniors and 7 or 8 seniors. There are five in the pit orchestra.
The price is always right at Masters. Free admission. Open seating.
Serena Wesseley, 17, a senior from Garrison, plays Babe Williams, the head of the union’s grievance committee at the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory.
She has a whole warring side inside of her. What do I put first: My work or my relationship. Unlike many women of the ’50s, she decides ‘My work and my union is more important to me than getting married and having two children and a dog.’ I find her strength empowering, but she also has those softer sides.”
Rory Maglich, 18, a senior from Hastings-on-Hudson, says playing Sid Sorokin means doing something he’s never done before: Singing a duet with himself.
In the song “Hey There,” Sid pours his heart out while using a dictation recorder. He then sings back to it.
“Every time it comes on, I’m like ‘Who is that guy?'” he says with a laugh.
Productions are like a puzzle, he says, you can’t have the full picture without every piece, every ensemble member doing his or her part.
Sid is a new supervisor at the factory who doesn’t endear himself to the workers. Maglich says being a new kid is a universal experience.
“All of us have felt that ‘new day’ experience, whether it’s the first day of first grade or going into a new factory job. He’s an outsider who finds romance.”
Sophomore Samantha Coppola plays Gladys, who sings “Hernando’s Hideaway” and dons the bowler hat for “Steam Heat.” The 15-year-old told me she wanted to play Gladys, because “I’ve never played the princess, always the witch.” She said choreographer Wallace helped the kids get into the show by holding a day-long “Tango Day.”
After shooting some video, I watched the first part of a rehearsal, including a bit of “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again,” with senior Asher Berkson-Gold as Hines and freshman Shirin Sabety as Sid’s secretary, Mabel. Sabety, from Pleasantville, was sporting a wild blue hairdo and has real presence on the stage. (You can’t miss Shirin in the photo gallery above: Look for the blue hair.) She’s just a freshman, but I predict Briante will be making her his go-to actress for years to come. She’s got something.
Here’s the Running Lines video I shot at The Masters School. Enjoy.