So I've been directing the annual musical at Dracut High School for...I think twelve years now. WEST SIDE STORY, which I'm directing now, is my thirteenth. I don't want to think about that. So I won't.
What I will think about is the astonishing opportunity Dracut High School, and particularly the Head of the Music and Theatre Department there, Leon Grande, offers the students on a yearly basis. I've told Lee more times than I imagine he's interested in hearing that the DHS job is one of the most pleasant of my working year. Always. That doesn't mean it's an easy gig. Far from it. The kids can attest to that. I mean, when I started out with ANYTHING GOES 13 years ago, I had a full head of hair.
That's a total lie, but it reads well, so I'm going to leave it in.
The job is pleasant for me because of the care Lee takes in providing his students with the chance to work with the greatest musical theatre creations of the 20th Century. The material we've worked with over the years is classic. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, LES MISERABLES, SOUTH PACIFIC, GUYS AND DOLLS, THE MUSIC MAN, WEST SIDE STORY...these are the best of the best, and exposing young theatre students to this remarkable catalogue of musical theatre is important not only for them and their theatre education, but it's also crucial because it ingrains this exceptional, vitally American, musical art into the minds and hearts of these kids who, forgive me, are exposed on a daily basis to music that really isn't music. Come on...it really isn't. Anyway...as we try to guide them through the machinations of the extremely challenging Leonard Bernstein music and Stephen Sondheim lyrics of WSS, it's heartening to know that they will remember this time, and they will remember and care about the music, the lyrics, and the show.
Don't get me wrong--these are high school kids. They have other things to do and care about than the annual musical. Lee and I and Phyllis George, the choreographer, must, on a daily basis, confront conversations like this:
"Jack...I don't think I can come to play practice tomorrow..."
"You mean rehearsal?"
"Yeah. I think I have a dentist appointment."
"You think you have a dentist appointment?"
"It's an appointment. My Mom told me that's what it was. I think it might be a dentist appointment."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because I have a toothache."
You get the idea. It's another world and Lee deals with it much more effectively than I do. But what I've grown to learn over the years is, despite the fact that the kids are distracted by EVERYTHING for the first nine weeks of rehearsal, they are listening to us, and, when their parents and other relatives show up on Opening Night, the kids will ACTUALLY DO WHAT WE HAVE ASKED THEM TO DO during play practice.
I mean, rehearsal.
Lee is retiring after next year's show, and the families of Dracut can only hope he'll be replaced by a person who cares one tenth as much as he does about his students, and musical theatre.
WEST SIDE STORY. April 8,9, 10, Dracut High School.