After 700 days, the high school did a fully-mounted musical this spring. I’m so grateful that I got to see it. I’ve seen a few shows here and there, but I’m still overwhelmed every time the lights go up. I wonder if I will ever stop tearing up at the reminder to silence our cell phones and note the fire exits. Seeing a play is such an absolute privilege right now, and particularly a well-produced one.

Program from Chicago at Harrisonburg High School
Do you tend to forget to silence your phone? Make a habit of taking a playbill photo and hitting that airplane mode button.

HHS has always done strong musicals (I still think about their Hairspray from a couple years ago), and for this one, they pulled out all the stops. The curtain rose on at least fifty kids, jazz hands ablaze, and a tremendous orchestra (which was onstage—so fun!). Everything was just straight sparkles, literal and figurative, for two solid hours.

Amber Corriston’s choreography was stunning, as always. One thing I love about her work is how dramaturgical it is. You can tell she knows dance history and has a deep understanding of storytelling, because her dances always do both of those things so well. She’s also great at connecting with what individual dancers are capable of doing well, and giving each person an opportunity to look awesome.

Ken Gibson’s direction found the through-line and the humanity of this, frankly, weird script. He put in a few surprises, too—including a bit with unicycling, fire-swallowing, stilt-walking, and gymnastics. He found ways to differentiate Roxy and Velma, and then highlight their similarities.

The actors playing Roxy and Velma are young women I met when they were first-years, right before the pandemic. They were stunning back then (I had cast them both in major roles in my ill-fated As You Like It), but they’ve both grown as artists tremendously since then.

Their sound engineers did brilliant work. All of the performers were masked for safety, but I could hear them clearly. I’ve been to university shows that were not this well-miked.

That growth—not just in those two actors, but in the program as a whole—is the true triumph of this production. This long intermission has been detrimental to every theater education program I’m connected to (which is a lot of them). HHS has managed to help its students continue to grow as artists and collaborators through this difficult and uncertain time, and I am so impressed.

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