As Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long searched for a spring show that would feature plenty of actors, and engage young audiences — more important than ever, as the troupe emerges from many COVID-imposed restrictions — they did not have to look far.
Caley Beretta — a 2010 graduate and former Players president — now works as manager of creative development for Disney Theatrical Group. She worked with writer Nick Blaemire on “Disney’s Descendants: The Musical.”
The comedy features songs from the Disney Channel original “Descendants” fantasy adventure film, and its sequels. (If you don’t have a young kid: The plot lines involve the teenage children of Disney characters Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar and Cruella de Vil,)
“Descendants: The Musical” came out near the beginning of the pandemic. So it did not go through the usual pilot process, in which school drama troupes try it out, then offer feedback for producers to tweak. (Staples Players has done that before, most notably with “Newsies.”)
Beretta offered the untested show to her alma mater. Players will be the first group to use live orchestrations.
It will also be the first to host a production team from Disney. They’ll see the show, complete with an audience.
But that’s not the only connection between Disney, “Descendants” and Staples.
Last week Blaemire and Beretta came to Westport. They described the creative process to Players, answered questions, watched the actors perform 2 numbers, then worked with the cast on specific scenes.
In addition, a camera crew interviewed several Players, for Disney to use in marketing.
Blaemire described his parallels between the fairytale storyline, and serious social themes like belonging, heritage, citizenship, and the complexities of good and evil.
Blaemire and Baretta inspired the young cast and crew, as they prepared for the opening curtain April 1. The show runs for 7 performances, the first 2 weekends in April.
“Descendants” has been fun — and challenging — for Roth, Long, choreographer Rachel MacIsaac and technical director Jeff Hauser.
“So many times, we do plays that have been done so many times before,” Roth explains. “The chance to do one that no one has seen is rare, and exciting. We are staging scenes completely on our own. That’s very energizing.”
Sets, dancing and stage movements are not the only things they’re figuring out. The song “Goal” takes place during a sports event — but it’s a sport that does not exist.
Roth and Long created it entirely from scratch. Then they choreographed, and fit it on the stage.
“The kids and adults are very excited,” Roth says. “We like the story line, the music, and taking iconic villains to a new level.”
Roth praises the set too, designed by professional Jordan Janota. The show moves between 2 worlds, offering a different set of challenges to the tech crew and lighting designers.
Roth and Long’s goal was to find a show that appealed to their actors, and young audiences — both of whom have missed the rhythm of regular Players shows during COVID.
Beretta delivered, big time. Walt Disney would have loved this story.
(“Disney’s Descendants: The Musical” will be performed on April 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m., and April 2, 3 and 9 at 3 p.m. Click here for tickets. Proof of vaccination and/or testing is not required. For the protection of the cast and crew, masks are encouraged in the auditorium.)