As every teacher/director knows, putting together a school musical can be a daunting task. The director must rehearse a cast with scores of students -- usually teens and preteens. The kids have to be directed not only in speaking roles, but musical numbers, as well. Sets have to be created, costumes fitted, and ticket sales and parent involvement have to be managed.
Two Roger Ludlowe Middle School teachers, Keith Smolinski and Gregory Superty, have decided to take this already enormous task up a level. They have written an original musical that will be staged at the school this weekend. That means they have written every word that is spoken by the young actors -- every note that they sing, every dance step they take. And, of course, all the sets and props and costumes have to be managed by them as well, with the help of their colleague Leah Brown-Wilusz, who is the producer and stage manager of the show.
"We did this from scratch," Superty said as he watched a recent rehearsal in the middle school auditorium.
The musical, "Reizendheim ... A Classic Fairy Tale Retold," is their version of the Hansel and Gretel fable. It was inspired by Superty's fairy tale unit in his seventh-grade classes, and by an anniversary trip Smolinski took with his wife to Germany and Austria to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. There, the Tyrolean landscape and Bavarian music delighted him so much he wanted to incorporate it into his own music writing. Adding that to Superty's work with traditional folk literature made for a good collaboration, resulting in the new musical, the teachers said.
Smolinski, a science teacher, is also a musician who has written numerous pieces of music, including science-related songs that are in use by teachers around the country, he said. He wrote the science music as part of his doctoral dissertation. He has also directed productions at Sacred Heart University's Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts and has been involved in area community and high school productions, he said.
Superty is an actor who studied musical theater in college before switching to English literature, which he now teaches. He has also performed in community theater.
Together, they're quite a team. "He focuses on the acting, and I focus on the music," Smolinski said.
One afternoon during the last few weeks of rehearsals, a professional atmosphere prevailed in the RLMS auditorium. Some student actors in the cast of 54 were on stage blocking out their positions, rehearsing their songs and dancing. Others were reviewing their lines offstage, and still others were quietly working on homework, waiting for their scene to be called. They expected to be there well past 6 p.m., and many of them have been rehearsing since November.
Despite all the hard work and precious time taken away from other pursuits, the students said they love being part of the show.
Seventh-grader Matt Weinstein, who has the role of Hansel, has acted in productions at Curtain Call in Stamford and at summer camp, he said. Although he enjoys other pursuits, such as playing sports, he plans to continue with his passion for the theater and has especially enjoyed working on this original play. "The whole school is excited about it," Matt said.
Another student who plays a townsperson in the ensemble, Logan Ciuci, 14, has been part of the middle school musicals for the past three years.
"It made me venture out and come out of my shell," Logan said. She has loved meeting new people, and especially enjoyed working with the directors. An eighth-grader, she said she definitely plans to continue with her participation in drama in high school, she said.
"I'm really looking forward to next year," Logan said. "I really enjoy it; it's always so much fun."
Smolinski and Superty have worked together before on musicals at Ludlowe middle school, including "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" last year and several other productions in previous years. Smolinski has been there the longest, and originally collaborated with teacher and director Wendy Long. When Long retired, Superty began the collaboration with Smolinski that eventually led to the creation of their new musical together.
The project took three years and a lot of the teachers' time over several summers. And with only a few weeks left of rehearsals before show time and lots of rehearsals canceled because of snow, they were still tweaking the play.
"We took this on with the understanding that it's an original work -- there's no referencing from something else ... it's all new," Smolinski said.
The two teachers hope that other schools can use their already-copyrighted script and musical score, and produce their play in the future, and they have invited area school drama directors to preview the play on Thursday, March 6.
Will they ever take on such an enormous undertaking again?
Probably, they said, "but not next year."
"Reizendheim ... A Classic Fairy Tale Retold," will be performed at Roger Ludlowe Middle School, 689 Unquowa Road, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 7, and Saturday, March 8, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 9. Tickets cost $12, $10 for students, and can be purchased on showtix4u.com. There will be a director's preview for local school, drama or theater directors at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 6. For more information, email KSmolinski@fairfieldschools.org or call 203-255-8345.