NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Tuesday afternoon, director Craig Duke walked effortlessly across a stage entirely cluttered with cords, lights, students painting props, and pieces of scenery yet to be placed in their rightful spot. All while being peppered with questions; “Should I paint this door?” “Where does this go?” He answered every question with an easy-going style and without breaking his stride. You would never know by his demeanor that a whopping production of The Sound of Music would be on it’s feet in three days as the curtain goes up Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at New Providence High School.
Duke, the long time drama teacher and director and producer of the spring musical, sat down for a few minutes to discuss his production, ”The Sound of Music wasn’t really on my radar, but as we started talking about what kids were coming up, the talent pool we always assess, the voices and the number of girls and guys, the pieces started to fit together and it dawned on me, this should really be the year we do this play.” He liked the fact that he could cast children the elementary school, “It’s a classic, and we had success last year with Mary Poppins using some of the younger kids.” This is the first time The Sound of Music has ever been produced at NPHS. “The play is a little different than the movie,” said Duke, “it has a slightly different emphasis to it, but it has been a lot of fun to work with.”
The play, written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, was based on the memoir of Maria Von Trapp. The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in 1959 and took home five Tony Awards. It was the final and definitive collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein whose credits include Oklahoma!, The King and I and South Pacific. Between them they collected 14 Tony Awards and 3 Academy Awards, but they will forever be remembered for the blockbuster masterpiece that was the 1965 Academy Award winning movie staring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
In the lead is Lara Gavagan, a senior, who is finishing up her high school years in the drama department by playing the iconic role of Maria. This is her fourth musical at NPHS, having been in Mary Poppins, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Crazy for You.
Gavagan feels lucky to have been chosen to play the central character, “I am so fortunate to have been cast into this role. Maria is someone who embodies every aspect of joy and she is truly a great character to be. She acknowledged the significance of the role made most famous by Julie Andrews, “When I take the stage, I try my best not to let her down and I try my best to portray Maria in a similar fashion,” said Gavagan. “Overall, being Maria is really great. I love being able to come to rehearsal and fool around and laugh just like Maria.” Some of Gavagan’s other credits include The 39 Steps, The Night Visitors, Bye Bye Birdie and Thoroughly Modern Millie. After graduation, Gavagan will be pursuing a degree in Musical Theatre.
John Ertman steps smoothly into the role of Captain Von Trapp. Ertman is a senior at NPHS and is very excited to return to the stage as Georg von Trapp, “The captain is a role that I feel I can relate to in several ways and I have had great fun discovering what goes on in his head.” The role isn’t without its challenges, “The most challenging part of playing the Captain is being able to find a balance between being the stone cold captain of the ship and the truly emotional person he is deep down.” Ertman has performed in seven productions in his time at NPHS as well as the Paper Mill Playhouse and the National High School Institute Musical Theater Showcase. Ertman will begin studying theater at Northwestern University in September and he feels he has been well prepared by the drama department and Mr. Duke, “I have noticed more and more the parallels that exist between our program and professional and collegiate productions and companies,” said Ertman. His younger sister, Katherine, is a freshman and also in the cast playing Brigitta.
Leslie Ditta, has been choreographing productions at NPHS for the last six years, “Each production has its own unique set of choreography challenges. The first challenge for me was to create original choreography that fit the spirit of each song but wasn't a carbon copy of the film. The second was the choreography for the party scene at the von Trapp villa. I wanted the choreography to be as authentic as possible, which meant including ballroom dance.” She rehearsed for weeks with the cast, giving them a crash course in the Viennese Waltz, the Slow Waltz and the Foxtrot, “These are not easy dances to learn nor can they be mastered in a just handful of rehearsals, but the cast members rose to the challenge.”
With a cast spanning many different age groups, Ditta remarked on the different grades working together, “The elementary cast members look up to the high school cast, and have been very kind and nurturing of the younger students, especially the cast members playing the von Trapp family. Early on, they formed a bond and camaraderie offstage akin to that of siblings which has been a joy to watch develop. I believe that bond has translated into their performances onstage.” Gavagan commented on how fun it has been to work with the younger students. Ertman was impressed by their professionalism, “Their energy has helped to liven up the room and makes the family feel complete. It has been a joy to work with them and I can't wait to see how they do this weekend.”
Rounding out the cast is Jeffrey Blitt as Max Detweiler. Blitt is a senior at NPHS who has performed in every musical during his four years at NPHS. Natalie Pereira, a senior, is cast in the role of Liesl. Her past credits include Godspell, Mary Poppins, and Crazy for You. Baroness Schraeder is played by senior, Emily Peterson. Peterson is performing in her eighth production at the NPHS. Jessica Trackim is senior stage manager and is finishing up four years as stage manager for the NPHS stage productions.
The Musical Director is Pam Crockett; this is Ms. Crockett's fourth production as the vocal music director for the NPHS musical. She is the music teacher at Salt Brook Elementary School and enrichment choirs.
The Sound of Music will be performed on Friday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday March 11 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
For tickets to The Sound of Music at New Providence High School go to SeatYourself.