Reopening Act

Reopening Act

Three years—almost an entire high school career. That’s how long it’s been since the last in-person performance by Wilbur Cross High School’s Lights Up Drama Club, whose production of Freaky Friday: The Musical this weekend conjures a teenaged life turned inside out.

When I arrived at the school’s spacious auditorium before a dress rehearsal on Tuesday, contagious excitement filled the air. The cast had just been told they would be allowed to go unmasked, at least while performing on stage. Actors placed their props around the set, and freshman Erin Palmer twirled in front of Heather Bazinet, the play’s co-director, in a floral dress chosen to replace a previous costume that couldn’t be changed quickly enough. Talking and laughing, the cast soon lined up downstage for notes and a spot dance rehearsal with Jennifer Kaye, the choreographer. Everyone stood straight and breathed deep as Matt Durland, the music director, led vocal warmups beginning with arpeggios sung using the words “over the mountainside.”

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New Haven Symphony Orchestra

Freaky Friday: The Musical—based on a 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers and a trio of Disney film adaptations—centers around a conflictual mother and teenage daughter who magically swap bodies the day before Mom’s wedding. For the first time in the Lights Up Club’s history, the leads have been double-cast, partly because seniors “lost out on the last two shows,” co-director Salvatore DeLucia notes, and partly, Bazinet says, because “we have two sets of terrific leads. Both pairs just fit.” Shelagh Laverty—who shares the part of the daughter with her identical twin sister, Nina—says “we’re a small cast, but a mighty cast. We’re not taking being here and connecting with each other and an audience for granted.” Millie Carlson, one of the two students cast as the mother, added, “It’s been draining being on screens,” and everyone nodded.

While the actors dispersed to get mic’d and put on costumes, DeLucia, wearing a “Be dramatic!” T-shirt, worked with the crew on placements and timing for set changes. Working well as a team, they added more colored tape to the stage floor to mark precise positions for furniture and backdrops as the nine-piece orchestra trickled in.

This dress rehearsal and the upcoming performances, happening Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., will be the culmination of rehearsals that started in November. Throughout, Bazinet and DeLucia pursued a unified vision with different styles and responsibilities. While they shared directing duties, she managed communication, scheduling and costumes while he led the set design and building.

“We front load with music,” DeLucia says, “since songs are the doorway to the story.” So, from the first rehearsal, Durland taught the cast musical theater analysis—how to examine the music to learn about both their characters and the dramatic arc of the show. Choreography came next, then blocking, which DeLucia envisions as “the connective tissue between the music.” By engaging in this process, the students can internalize and understand their characters more deeply, while building camaraderie and community.

As a feeling of anticipation built among the community gathered to rehearse on Tuesday, DeLucia called out, “Places!” For a few moments, silence reigned. Then the red velvet curtains opened, the lights came up and the music began.

Freaky Friday: The Musical
by the Lights Up Drama Club
Wilbur Cross High School – 181 Mitchell Dr, New Haven
Fri 7pm, Sat 2pm & 7pm, Sun 2pm this weekend
Admission: $12 in advance, or $15 at the door; masks required
Website | Tickets

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen.

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