The stage is quiet as a red beam of light cascades down, simultaneously illuminating and silhouetting a young man centre stage with an electric guitar. A familiar track begins to crescendo as the bellowing sounds of rock emanate from the corner-stage drumkit enveloped in theatrical blackness.
As the lights adjacent to the seated crowd brighten, the thumping of a dozen pairs of feet can be heard coming down the aisles. Alice Cooper’s School’s Out peaks in volume as the actors weave in a choreographed fashion, making their way to the stage to join the mystery guitarist and drummer.
School’s Out fades into Are You Ready for the Summer as the VSS drama students enliven the stage in their program’s final production, Much Ado The Musical, running at the VSS Theatre on the Hill June 6-10.
“I feel like it’s been my life the past few months,” says VSS senior Ezri Jones, who co-wrote the play with drama instructor Laurie Anne Lorge. “We normally do one production a semester, but this year we decided to do two.”
Much Ado The Musical is a reworking of Shakespeare’s classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Set in a ’70s summer camp, the musical explores typical Shakespearean themes of love, betrayal, and deception with a musical backdrop featuring the likes of Elton John, the Village People, and ABBA, among other classics.
“Last year, I went up to her and said, ‘Hey, what would be really cool is if we did a themed musical.’ And then she said, ‘We could do a decade musical,’” says Jones, who plays Ursula in the production. “So this idea has kind of been around for about a year, but it really came together in February when she proposed to do Much Ado About Nothing, which is one of our favourite Shakespeare plays.”
As Jones had approached Lorge with the idea, she was asked to help write the script, and the play began to take shape.
All VSS drama students played integral roles in crafting the final production, with each student playing a role in building the sets, painting, or writing song verses.
“Everything coming together, it’s been a lot of hard work,” says Tyler Riva, who wrote a verse in their track Park Rangers. “We’ve had people come in after school, on their spare. Thousand hours, all of this time we’ve been putting in. Then we have rehearsals all week after school — we’re here for probably two hours just going hard putting in the work we need to put this show on the road.”
Riva plays Boraccio in the play, a “baddie” who adds comic relief.
“I’m just here to mess things up and make it crazy,” he laughs.
The musical brings in 13 songs, each with unique and tangled choreography.
“From an audience standpoint it looks so simple, but the choreography — 13 songs worth of choreography,” Jones stresses.
But the performance is the product of more than just those on stage.
“People think it’s like the actors and everything, but no, you have to give a huge shout-out to everyone in the booth,” Riva says. “They’re here doing the lights, getting the lights on our verbal queues. The booth does so much work, without the booth, the show would be nothing.”
Rhiannon Lutzke, who built the immense cliff scene on stage and who plays Hero — the innocent girl who garners blame for all the bad that happens — says it’s the most intricate lighting they have put on to date.
“There’s so many lighting queues and sound queues in this show,” Lutzke says. “It’s not just the acting that makes the show. It’s all of the little things.”
And all of the little things come together to create a show the VSS students and Lorge are proud of.
“We’re really excited to see the end result and how people like it when we put the show on,” Riva says.
Not only do they hope the audience will enjoy the performance, they hope they will leave feeling enlightened.
“It’s a generic story that everyone can relate to, but it’s done in such a crazy way,” says Austin Wells, who helped Lorge with the choreography and portrays Benedict in the performance. “Everyone can relate to young love and figuring that out. It’s just a story that never really dies.”
Lorge, who directed the play, agrees.
“It’s an important production just because it makes Shakespeare accessible to everyone and the stories don’t die,” Lorge says. “So even though we’re changing the language, the story is the important thing and this idea that love matters, and treating people respectfully matters, and that whole romantic we hate each other we love each other thing is an endless story. And it’s great to experience this music through new eyes.”
Much Ado The Musical weaves in representations of the darker sides of humanity through exploring themes of sexism and other societal downfalls.
“It’s crazy how Shakespeare, even though it’s so old, can still be used and can still portray a message that’s still valid today,” Lutzke says.
“This show is one to remember for our grad year.”
Much Ado The Musical runs nightly at 7:30 p.m. at the VSS Theatre on the Hill June 6-10 with a matinee performance June 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at the VSS office or at the door. The evening performances are $10, and the matinee is $7.50.