Arts & Entertainment

2 Somerville High School Students Perform in Elite Musical Theater Showcase at Rutgers University

Hayden Verbanas, 15, a sophomore at Somerville High School, will perform in a musical showcase at Rutgers University on Saturday, Feb. 4 Credits: Courtesy Rutgers News Service

SOMERVILLE, NJ - Hayden Verbanas and Robyn Wassermann, sophomores at Somerville High School, have learned a valuable lesson outside the confines of a classroom as they pursue their passion for theater, music and dance.

They’ve learned to juggle.

Class work, homework, learning and practicing new dance routines or songs, performing solo or working in ensembles, preparing for auditions - it’s a never-ending swirl of practice, practice, practice – and they wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Hayden, 15, a borough resident, and Robyn, 16, who lives in Branchburg, are two of the 17 high school students from around the state  selected to perform in a showcase sponsored by the Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy, with performances of conceptual renditions of Broadway songs and ensemble dance numbers.

Hayden and Robyn have joined with other selected students from Allentown, Branchburg, Bridgewater, Elizabeth, Fords, Freehold, Green Brook, Highland Park, Milltown, Tuckerton, Warren and Philadelphia, Pa. every Saturday since September to learn and practice their routines for the show, which is on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 3 p.m. at the Loree Studio located at 70 Lipman Drive on the Douglass campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

Robyn wants to major in musical theater in college, with a minor in music education. She is a member of the Drama club, Photography club and Science club at SHS, and is a member of the school’s Chamber Choir. She is taking private voice lessons and plays the guitar.

For Hayden, this is his third year working with the elite group of high school performers at Rutgers.

He, too is a member of the Somerville High School Chamber Choir, the Drama club and also takes private voice lessons. He plays piano and the ukuklele.

In college, he’d like to pursue a musical theater business degree.

He is taking college prep classes through the auspices of the Somerville Academy of Liberal Arts, which is an adjunct of Raritan Valley Community College. He will earn an associate degree from RVCC when he graduates Somerville High School.

“It requires a lot of studying,” Hayden said. “Some nights I get home at 8 p.m., and I want to practice at least one hour a day, on monologues, songs, dance, but it’s hard sometimes and I have to say ‘I can’t do anything else.’”

Despite the grind, he maintains a 90-91 average in the classroom.

Both Hayden and Robyn say they get by with 6-7 hours of sleep each night.

Robyn is an honors student at SHS; her grade point average hovers around 88-90.

There’s homework to be done on those nights when she comes home late after practice with the drama club or chamber choir: she said it is sometimes difficult to stay focused.

“I get distracted doing homework,” she said.

Not so when it comes to music.

“I think I excel most at voice, acting and dancing in that order," she said.

“I’ve been in choir ever since I could, second- or third-grade,” she said.

She credits longtime Somerville High School choral director Karen Grozynski for helping to nurture her love of music.

“Mrs. G has really pushed me and encouraged me to pursue singing, she’s been very supportive; she’s definitely been a big influence on my singing career,” she said.

The Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy, now in its fourth year, is offered through the Mason Gross Extension Division.

The academy aims to provide talented high school students from the tri-state area with the skills needed to excel in the professional world of musical theater. Students, who are accepted by audition, undergo rigorous training in dance (jazz and ballet), voice, acting and stage performance.

Additionally, conservatory students receive audition and industry coaching as well as technical feedback from New York theater professionals. 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 invited to attend.

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

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