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High School Musical: Spring Tradition in Full Bloom at Area Schools

CCA students rehearsing for Les Mis
CCA students rehearsing for Les Mis
A. Blatt

Spring is definitely in the air in San Diego - all the signs point to it. Track teams compete for field space with Little League, birds are serenading at dawn, and the afternoons stay light into the evenings. And at schools all over the county, amateur performers are missing the temperate weather, hunkered down in gymnasiums, choir rooms, and backstage passages, readying themselves for their appearance in the spring musical.
The tradition of staging a school musical in the spring dates back well before the hit movie High School Musical, although that franchise’s popularity certainly didn’t hurt the reputation of so-called drama geeks.

The tradition begins early, in elementary and middle schools in some districts. This season, Aviara Oaks Middle led the calendar with Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. on March 13, 14, and 15. Set in 1920’s New York City, this fun and funny show full of flappers, dapper men, and even a villainess, follows its heroine, Millie, as she navigates the confusing new world of modern rules for women. Under the direction of Mrs. Andrea Emert, the eighth graders of the school’s drama program showed off their singing, dancing, and comedic acting in this triple-threat performance.

Local high schools have productions planned from the irreverent to the ambitious. Rancho Buena Vista kicked off the season with The Addams Family - A New Musical Comedy March 13-19. The Envision Theater Company at Canyon Crest Academy, part of the San Dieguito Union High School district, will perform Les Miserables School Edition March 21 & 22 and 27-29th in their Proscenium theater. Directed by Performing Arts teacher Amy Blatt, this large-scale production involves a cast of fifty students, a crew of twenty, and a full complement of musicians. Ms. Blatt credits the school community for its crucial support: “I am grateful to have CCA staff, parents, and tech students supporting me throughout this process. Not every high school theatre program can take on Les Misérables.”

This year, Carlsbad High will perform How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. A popular show, it was also staged by Vista High School in early March. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying will perform at the Carlsbad Cultural Arts Center on May 2, 3, 9, 10 at 7:00 PM each night, with a matinee also on May 10. Tickets are $15.00. On Opening Night, May 2, Carlsbad High Theater department alums Andrea (Schuck) Emert and Judi Stapleton, who were in the show 25 years ago at CHS as students, will be in the cast.

Cameron Penn, a Junior at CHS and veteran of both the high school and middle school theater programs, will play Bert Bratt, one of the main roles. Reflecting on the time commitment required of young actors who must balance rehearsals with regular school work, he says, “It forces you to be more efficient at homework.” Other than during “Hell Week” which is the last week before opening night, when rehearsals are long and intense, he feels that a dedicated student can manage to keep his grades up while memorizing lines, practicing stage blocking, and being fitted for comstumes. The biggest challenge for Cameron, he says, is the dancing. Is it all worth it? Yes, for a youngster who aspires to career in theater, getting to be a part of such as “top-notch program” as the one at Carlsbad High, run by the legendary Monica Hall, is great preparation.

And for students whose future doesn’t lie in theater, the cooperation, hard work and time management involved, not to mention the joy of a successful live show and the bonds created with castmates and crew are still great lessons for any path in life. After all, isn’t “All the world… a stage”?