Despite numerous challenges, West Orange thespians will be the first high school in the country to perform “Bright Star.”
WINTER GARDEN At the start of the year, the familiar face of longtime Theater Department Director Ken Rush wasn’t there to greet this year’s theater students at West Orange High School.
But the show must go on, and the Warrior thespians are prepping for an unprecedented start to their 2017-18 season.
With opening night set for Thursday, Oct. 5, the West Orange thespians will be the first high school in the country to perform the musical “Bright Star.”
The show, written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, follows the story of a woman named Alice Murphy and jumps between her experiences as a pregnant teenager in the 1920s and her adult life in the 1940s as she connects with a World War II veteran.
Theater Director Tara Whitman dreamed of performing the musical after seeing it on Broadway more than two years ago.
“I just really love the music and the story,” Whitman said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is a show we have to do.’”
When Rush announced his retirement last year, Whitman began planning for the 2017-18 season, and immediately began researching “Bright Star.” However, obtaining the script wasn’t easy.
The script first had to be rewritten, which Steve Martin did and sent to Whitman. Whitman had to agree not to perform the “Bright Star” while the Broadway version toured in the Orlando area. The producers of “Bright Star” had to give the rewritten script their stamp of approval.
At the start of the school year, Whitman was still waiting for official approval and had decided to go with her back-up plan instead. That’s when the call came that West Orange could perform the musical.
But the list of challenges did not end there.
Because the show has never been performed by a high school before, there are no set designs. It was a challenge that senior Cameron Hayes embraced.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to be the first,” he said. “It’s making a design that other schools may be following in the future.”
And the set isn’t made up of just a few walls. It also includes a train track for a miniature train that is used throughout the show.
“The biggest challenge was figuring out how to make the train run back and forth,” Hayes said.
Another challenge facing the department was the show’s music. For most fall musicals, the department relies on the show’s accompanying soundtrack. “Bright Star” has no soundtrack.
But because of the show’s unique music - Whitman calls the show a bluegrass musical - Whitman was determined to have life music.
Thanks to a combination of efforts from several students in the orchestra and community members volunteering their time, “Bright Star” will feature an eight-piece bluegrass band. But they won’t be hiding in the pit. They will play on stage with the rest of the performers on a moving platform.
Although the department was faced with changes and challenges from the start of the year, Whitman said her students have stepped up to meet them.
“My senior class is one of the strongest we’ve had in many years,” she said. “They’re a good group of kids with a great work ethic.”
Many of the student said they have felt the changes, but now it’s all about the new show.
“I’ve definitely noticed the difference, but it’s a great environment here,” said senior Matt Guernier, who will be playing the World War II veteran. “The show itself is beautiful.”
Leading lady Kassidy Weideman, playing the role of Alice Murphy, has loved “Bright Star” for a while and is thrilled West Orange will be the first to showcase it.
“It’s amazing,” said the West Orange senior. “It still shocks me (to think about).”