Arts & Entertainment

Somerville High School Freshman is a Featured Performer in Musical Theater Academy Showcase at Rutgers University

Hayden Verbanas will be on stage in New Brunswick on Jan. 22 & 23.
Hayden Verbanas, seated on the floor at left, is one of 20 hand-picked high school students enrolled in the Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy. Credits: Kathy Keelan

NEW BRUNSWICK - Hayden Verbanas, a freshman at Somerville High School, is a featured performer in the end-of-semester showcase performed by students at the Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy.

There will be two performances Jan. 22 and 23, beginning at 8 p.m. at the Philip J. Levin Theater, located at 85 George St., New Brunswick. 

The show will feature the troupe of 20 elite student actors in conceptual renditions of Broadway songs and ensemble dance performances.

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This is the second year Verbanas has participated in the program. Last year, he performed at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and at the Davenport Theater in New York City.

He is also active with the Somerville Academy of Liberal Arts partnership with Raritan Valley Community College, and is a member of the Somerville High School Drama Club. Most recently, he played Peter Pan in "Peter Pan: The Musical" at the Somerset County 4-H Fair and at Somerville High School's "Best of Broadway" last fall.

Verbanas says the Rutgers program has helped his personal growth on and off the stage.

"The Rutgers program gave me a sense of confidence — not just in acting and musical theater but in my own life,” he said. “Before the program, I wouldn't talk as much. I would keep my ideas to myself. But I learned how to be confident in my ideas and in my performances,” he added.

“I learned many different skills, like character development, voice, dancing and acting, which helped me land big roles, such as Robertson Ay in “Mary Poppins” this spring at Somerville High School. It transformed me as a person and gave me skills that I can take into my everyday life," he said.

Alistair Williams is program director of the Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy, which is operated out of the Mason Gross Extension Division.

He has high words of praise for Verbanas: 

"Hayden, by far, is one of the program's greatest successes,” he said. “He fully immersed himself in the artistic experience, and his development in our program has been transformational for both him and our team,” he added. “Personally, it has re-enforced my belief in the great power of arts education." 

Students from the tri-state area audition for the rigorous curriculum and undergo intense training in dance - jazz and ballet- voice, acting and stage performance. The young performers meet on Saturdays and typically put in 8-12 hour days.

Classes are taught by musical theater professionals: actors, singers, dancers, agents and producers. Most students graduate and go on to professional musical theater programs at universities or go straight to audition in New York. Hayden was the only 8th grader accepted into this high school conservatory last year. There are no 8th graders this year. 

The focus of the program is to teach all aspects of the craft, including choreography and physical storytelling, character and scene development, vocal technicality and music theory.

At the end of the semester, students present an original performance showcase where industry executives, including talent agents and casting directors, are in attendance.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call 848-932-8618.

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