Tag Archives: Staples Players

Pics Of The Day #698

“Curtains” — Staples Players’ murder mystery musical — wowed audiences this weekend. The choreography, sets, pit orchestra — all were (as usual) astonishingly professional, entertaining and fun.

The show continues next Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and this Sunday and next Saturday at 3 p.m. But when you see it, you’ll never get a view like this. Brandon Malin is a member of the lighting crew. He took these photos last night, from the catwalk.

Spot operators (from left) Maria Saravia, Michael Lederer and Charlie Norman. (Photos/Brandon Malin)

And here are a couple of shots of the cast:

Nick Rossi, as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi 

There’s plenty of dancing in “Curtains” (Photos/Kerry Long)

 

It’s “Curtains” For Staples Players

When the curtain rises on  “Curtains” this Friday, audiences will enjoy another superb Staples Players production.

The show — a musical mystery comedy by Rupert Holmes, with music by Kander and Ebb (“Chicago,” “Cabaret”) — is clever. Contemporary, yet with a classic old-time, homage-to-musical-theater feel, it’s a play about putting on a play.

Nick Rossi, Chloe Manna and the “Curtains” dance ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Because a stage manager is one of the key cast members, it’s time to shine a spotlight on that often-overlooked — but crucially important — role.

Players — the professional-quality high school troupe — has earned rave reviews and national awards since its founding 61 years ago. But like any Broadway show, none of it would be possible without behind-the-scenes help.

At Staples, stage manager is an enormous responsibility. Joe Xiang — a senior who earned the post this year — coordinates multiple aspects of the show. Each day he huddles with directors David Roth and Kerry Long, producer Michele Wrubel and technical director Peter DiFranco to keep everyone — and everything – progressing well.

He works with vice president of tech Karalyn Hood to coordinate set, paints and light. He oversees all 100-plus lighting cues with lighting designer Ben Wolfe, Roth and Long.

Stage manager Joe Xiang at work. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Curtains” includes three different scene drops. Over February, Players installed pulleys — a completely new element for Xiang, and one that he’s helping oversee too.

Next year, Xiang will take everything he’s learned with Players — people skills, task management, organization, critical thinking and more — as he studies business in college. Theater, though, will continue to be part of his life.

That’s certainly true for Michael Dodd. The 2017-18 stage manager is now a freshman at Duke University. But Roth asked him to help with this year’s set design.

Dodd took the drawing originally created by David Steltzer for Players’ first production of “Curtains” — in 2010 — and made them bigger and better. It was one more contribution from a stage manager — and one more way for Players to connect the past with the present, while providing an opportunity to learn everything possible about producing a first-rate show.

Four “generations” of Staples Players stage managers. From left: Joe Xiang (Staples High School Class of 2019), Jack Norman ’17, Michael Dodd ’18, Karalyn Hood ’20. (Photo/Kerry Long)

This weekend and next, audiences will roar for the actors. “Curtains” is a true ensemble show. It’s a whodunit filled with belly laughs, a catchy score and rousing old-Hollywood-meets-old-West dance numbers.

But none of it would be possible without Players’ stage managers. How great that that “role” will finally be noticed on stage.

(“Curtains” will be performed at Staples High School on Friday and Saturday, March 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday, March 17 and Saturday, March 23. Click here for tickets. Tickets may also be available in the auditorium lobby 30 minutes prior to showtime.) 

Emma’s Opening Act

Westporters know her as Emma Ruchefsky. The world may soon know her as Emma Charles.

The daughter of Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston — hence the stage name — thrilled audiences at Staples High School with Players productions of “Avenue Q,” “Hello, Dolly!’ and “Sweeney Todd,” and as an Orphenians singer. She’s also performed at the Levitt Pavilion and Fine Arts Festival.

Now — having finished her performance and songwriting studies early at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music — her professional career is taking off. She’s in the midst of a 12-city tour, opening for Tyler Hilton and Howie Day.

This Saturday (March 15, 7:45 p.m.) Emma returns to the area. A show with Howie is set for the Fairfield Theater Company.

She’s also just released a beautiful new song, “Comfort in the Chaos.”

Emma’s base is Los Angeles. She’s working there on original music — heard only by a few people so far. She’s excited to play it for her hometown fans.

“Finding my voice as an opener is tough,” Emma notes. “But it’s the best way to start touring in as many places as possible.”

In LA, she says, she’s coming into her own sound. It’s similar to Kacey Musgraves and Maggie Rogers — but definitely her own.

Emma Charles

When she takes the FTC stage, Emma will not be far from her Westport heart — geographically, and emotionally.

She is grateful for the opportunities Staples provided, through Luke Rosenberg’s choral program and David Roth’s Players.

Emma Ruchefsky may have changed her name. But Emma Charles is still the same warm, wonderful — and very talented — performer they (and the rest of Westport) knew and loved.

(Click here for tickets and more information on Saturday’s Fairfield Theater Company show.)

Tyler Jent Helps “Lion King” Roar

Everyone knows “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.”

But the song took on new meaning recently. As Greens Farms Elementary School prepared for its first-ever musical production — of, yes, “The Lion King” — it got a big boost from a very special alum.

Tyler Jent — who graduated from GFS  in 2006, and Staples High School 7 years later — returned to his alma mater to help prepare the young actors and dancers. He spent every Monday for 2 months with them — then more intensely as showtime neared.

This was way cool. After starring in more than a dozen Staples Players productions, then graduating from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Tyler launched his professional musical theater carer. He just finished a run in the national tour of “Kinky Boots.”

Tyler Jent — and a future Broadway star?

The Greens Farms kids were already in great shape. Westporter Laura Curley Pendergast — a former actress and dancer — had spent countless hours, along with teachers and many others, working with the cast and crew.

Tyler just gave them an extra Broadway boost.

“It was so emotional for me returning to GFS,” he said. “These kids are amazing. It’s been a blast helping Laura pull this show together.”

“The Lion King” opens tonight (March 7, 7 p.m.). It continues tomorrow (Friday, March 8, 7 p.m.), and ends Saturday (March 9, 4 p.m.). Tickets are available at the Greens Farms Elementary School door.

Staples Players’ Marvel-ous Pilot

In 2017, Staples Players produced “Newsies.” It was a pilot for Disney. The mammoth entertainment company wanted to see what a high school production of that long-running Broadway show would look like.

They liked what they saw. (As did night after night of sold-out audiences, of course.)

Disney executives were so pleased, in fact, that they approached Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long with another idea:

How about piloting 2 new plays? Both are part of a new collaborative series between Disney and Marvel Comics. Written by established playwrights, they use Marvel characters as teenagers dealing with typical teen problems.

Which is how this weekend, the Staples High School Black Box theater is the site of world premieres of 2 very exciting shows.

(From left): Erin Lynch, Macey Lavoie, Derrick Adelkopf, Sammy Gutharz and Tobey Patton in “Peter Parker and the Kid Who Flew.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Peter Parker and the Kid Who Flew” is about teenage suicide. “Hammered” — by Tony Award-winning actor Christian Borle — focuses on sibling rivalry and competition.

The plays are a stretch for Roth and Kerry — and their young actors.

The timing did not fit in with Players’ traditional schedule. So Roth is using the pilot as a project for his Theater 3 (advanced acting) class.

Disney and Marvel representatives — and possibly a playwright or two — will be on hand. They want to see what works well (and what doesn’t).

Daisy Brackett and Josh Havemann in “Hammered.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“We usually do plays that have been produced many times,” Roth notes. “It’s interesting — for me, Kerry and the kids — to get them while they’re still going through the process of being written.”

After beginning the project, Roth received a completely revised version of the “Peter Parker” script. A number of changes had been made, on the advice of experts on teen suicide.

The 2 pilots are full productions, complete with lighting, sound and costumes. They’ll be presented this Friday (January 11, 7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (January 12, 3 and 7:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets, and more information.

(NOTE: No children under 10 will be admitted. Parental guidance is suggested; material is appropriate for middle school audiences and above.)

Unsung Heroes #73

It’s a stretch to call the cast of Staples Players “unsung.” They’ve won tons of awards, and the hearts of every audience that’s seen any show.

Besides, you can’t call a troupe that puts on musicals “unsung.”

The Players’ fall mainstage — “Legally Blonde,” this week and next — will be one more smash in a 60-year history of successes. Ticket sales were so brisk, they’ve already added another performance. (Click here for available seats.)

But shows like this are true team efforts. Players could not do what they do without the help of their technical crew — sets, lighting, costumes — as well as pit musicians, publicity, and everyone else who makes a production go.

Plus parent volunteers.

And of course, directors David Roth and Kerry Long.

Some of the Staples Players cast and crew get plenty of praise. Others toil unnoticed backstage, in the wings, on the catwalks or elsewhere.

All are our Unsung — and Sung — Heroes of the Week.

Georgia Wright, Justin Dusenbury, Kelley Schutte and Tomaso Scotti could not do what they do in “Legally Blonde” without the help of hundreds of others. (Photo/Kerry Long)

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Staples Players’ “Legally Blonde” Goes To The Dogs

In the mid-1970s, Bill Berloni was an acting intern at Goodspeed Opera House. The director offered him an Equity card — if Berloni could find and train a rescue dog for the upcoming show.

Berloni came through. He got his card.

The musical — “Annie” — went on to legendary success. And Berloni had a new gig.

He trained Sandys for every revival of the show — plus the movie.

Since then — using only rescue dogs — he’s trained animals for dozens of shows, including “Camelot,” “Oliver!,” “Nick and Nora” and “The Wiz.”

He’s done the same for hundreds of Off-Broadway and regional productions, TV and movies. He’s a Tony honoree for Excellence in Theatre, among other awards.

His credits also include “Legally Blonde.” That’s the show that Staples Players premiere next week.

And Berloni is right there backstage in  Westport, training a chihuahua and a bulldog.

Bill Berloni (rear, center) with Staples Players cast members of “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

He’s no stranger to high school musicals. They’re where he got his start, as an actor. He loves working with teenagers. He teaches them how to interact with animals, instructing the actors in exactly how dogs think.

For the Broadway version of “Legally Blonde,” Berloni had to get his chihuahua to “speak” on cue.

He’s done the same at Staples.

One of the many stars of “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Berloni is spending 2 weeks at the high school. He’s shown the cast how to bond with their dogs. For example, a few actors will scratch an animal’s belly backstage. The dog associates that with love — and will only go to those actors on stage.

“Legally Blonde” is an inspired choice for the November production. In addition to being the first Players show with trained animals, it’s both funny and timely.

The play “empowers women,” says director David Roth. “They stand up for each other. There’s an important #MeToo message. Audiences see that you can’t assume someone is who they are just by the way they look.”

Roth and co-director Kerry Long are excited about the show. They enjoy working with Berloni.

And, Roth notes, this is not the animal trainer’s first connection with Staples Players.

He’s worked with dogs on the film “The Greatest Showman,” and Broadway’s “A Christmas Story: The Musical.” The music for both was co-written by Justin Paul — a 2003 graduate, and former Player.

Most recently, Berloni trained animals for “Land of Steady Habits,” the Netflix version of Staples ’01 grad Ted Thompson’s debut novel.

“Legally Blonde” opens next Friday (November 9), and continues November 10, 16 and 17, all at 7:30 p.m. There are 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees on November 11 and 17. Just added — due to popular demand — is a Thursday, November 15 show (7:30 p.m.).

To fetch tickets (and for more information), click here.

Staples High School principal James D’Amico has a role in “Legally Blonde.” He has a musical theatre background, but this is his debut with Staples Players. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Remembering Rachel Doran

Two weeks ago, “06880” reported on Rachel Doran’s battle.

The rising senior at Cornell University  — a National Merit Commended Scholar, talented Players costume designer, and founder of “Rachel’s Rags,” a company that makes intricate cotton and fleece pajama tops and bottoms — was in critical condition.

In July she was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a rare reaction to common medications that resulted in severe burns to 95% of her body. She then developed Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome — another rare and life-threatening syndrome.

Rachel Doran

Last night — surrounded by her family — Rachel died peacefully. Her family said:

 True to Rachel’s spirit and with the same fervor she had for everything she took on, she fought the most difficult health issues with tenacity and grace.

At this time Alan, Lisa and Ellie ask that you keep Rachel’s memory close to your hearts as arrangements are made to celebrate her amazing life. Her beauty, kindness, style and wit were second to none. We will cherish the light she brought to so many people along the way.

Services will be held Wednesday (August 22, Temple Israel), at a time to be determined.

Staples’ 12 Angry Men (And Women)

Nine years ago, Staples Players produced “Twelve Angry Men.” The classic courtroom drama was staged in the Black Box Theater — in the round.

The audience surrounded the set, on all 4 sides. I saw it 3 times — always in a different spot. Each vantage point was unique. I saw 3 versions of the same play.

This week, Players again produce “Twelve Angry Men.” Once again it’s in the round.

“With racial profiling and challenges to justice ever present in the news today, this felt like the right time to bring back the show,” Roth says.

“It feels like the actors are in a fishbowl — being watched and judged by society. That’s what we want.”

“Twelve Angry men” explores the dynamics between 12 jurors, from different backgrounds, as they meet on a hot summer day to decide one man’s fate. Though the play was first performed live on CBS in 1954, the preconceptions and assumptions of the characters are quite relevant today.

Tempers flare as jurors deliberate in “Twelve Angry Men.” From left: Tucker Ewing, Nick Rossi, Sam Gusick, Chad Celini, Jack Watzman and Kristin Amato. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Kristin Amato — Juror #8 — says, “The show really makes you think. It is all about the questioning of morals and personal prejudices. I think many audience members will go home reflecting on their own actions, and how they may have acted if they were in the same circumstances as the jurors in the show.”

She adds, “As much as I love the main stage, there’s something special about the intimacy of the Black Box. I love the interaction with the audience. Because we’re so close, when anyone claps or laughs or even gasps, we as actors can really play off of it. The energy just builds.”

For several seniors, “Twelve Angry Men” — which Roth and Long have cast to include female jurors — will be the final Players show before college.

Sophia Sherman — who will study acting at the University of Michigan — plays a Russian immigrant. Her passion for democracy, and strong statements about immigration, race and class difference, are “eye-opening,” Sherman says.

My eyes were opened — in 3 different ways — 9 years ago. I look forward to seeing the same show, in yet another way, soon.

(“Twelve Angry Men” will be performed this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 24, 25 and 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 27 at 3 p.m., in the Staples High School Black Box Theatre. Click here for tickets. A few tickets may be available in the Black Box Theatre lobby 30 minutes prior to performances.)

“Merrily” Broadway Star Boosts Staples Players’ Show

It wasn’t easy.

Serial snowstorms knocked out crucial rehearsals. Plus there were the normal teenage challenges of putting on a complex show, alongside the usual demands of school, family and social life.

But Staples Players has scored another success with “Merrily We Roll Along.” Opening weekend audiences loved the troupe’s interpretation of the 1981 Stephen Sondheim musical — based on a 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart — that Players first staged in 2003.

Senior Charlie Zuckerman plays Charley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and former best friend of Frank (the lead character, played by Nick Rossi).

Charlie Zuckerman, Avery Mendillo and Nick Rossi perform “Old Friends” in “Merrily We Roll Along.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Lonny Price originated the role of Charley on Broadway. It ran for only 16 performances, and 52 previews. But “Merrily” has since taken on a life of its own. Audiences have learned to love its intricacies.

And in 2016 Price directed “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” a documentary about “Merrily”‘s original Broadway production, and the hopeful young performers whose lives were transformed by it.

Price’s documentary was named one of the New York Times’ top 10 films of 2016.

Lonny Price, Ann Morrison, and Jim Walton in “Merrily We Roll Along,” and today. (Right photo/ Martha Swope; left picture/Bruce David Klein)

Price will be in the audience for this Friday’s Staples production (March 23, 7:30 p.m.). Afterward, he’ll lead Players’ first-ever talkback. Audience members are encouraged to stay, and enjoy insights from the Broadway icon.

In addition to his “Merrily” and “Best Worst Thing” credits, Price directed Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard,” “Audra McDonald in “110 in the Shade,” and Danny Glover in “‘Master Harold’ … and the Boys.” He’s a 3-time Emmy winner.

Price also collaborated with Westporter Andrew Wilk — executive producer of “Live From Lincoln Center” — on broadcasts of “Camelot,” “Candide” and “Sweeney Todd.” For years, he has heard Wilk rave about the high quality of Players’ productions.

Now he’ll see for himself.

“Andrew has excellent taste,” Price says. “So when he asked me to check out their production of ‘Merrily,’ I was eager to see their take on a show that has meant so much to me for the last 37 years.”

You’ll be inspired by “Merrily We Roll Along.” You’ll love Lonny Price’s talkback.

And if you want to get the most out of both, you can watch “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” on Netflix — or right here:

(“Merrily We Roll Along” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24, 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets. A few tickets may be available in the lobby at 7 p.m.)