Arts & Entertainment

High School Drama Students Featured in NJTV Documentary Broadcast on May 17


SOMERVILLE, NJ – The angst, the joy, the doubts and the triumph of six high school drama clubs rehearsing, producing and performing “Mary Poppins” is the subject of a documentary that will be broadcast on NJTV May 17 at 8 p.m.

Somerville High School is one of the six schools featured in the documentary. The others are Franklin High School; Rahway High School; Summit High School; Union High School and Vineland High School.

“I Can’t… I Have Rehearsal” features the casts, crews, pit orchestras and creative teams from each school as they rehearse, perform, and compete for Paper Mill Playhouse’s Rising Star Awards.

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The NJTV preview reads: “For a select few, the high school musical is sacred. Every year those students come together for the Tonys of New Jersey high school musical theatre: The Rising Star Awards. But first, they have to get their shows off the ground. This is the story of six very different high schools from across New Jersey as they rehearse, perform and compete with the very same supercalifragilistic show.”

“Madeline Orton from NJTV went to each of the high schools, conducted interviews with the directors and students, and created a documentary about the process of putting on a high school musical and arts education in our schools,” said SHS English teacher Laura Manziano, director of the Somerville High School production. 

The crews and casts, parents family and friends of all six “Mary Poppins” productions have been invited to a screening of the documentary on Tuesday, May 16th at the 1,300-seat Union County Performing Arts Center located at 1601 Irving St, Rahway, NJ 07065. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the screening beginning at 7 p.m.

Admission is free; t-shirts and concessions will be available for purchase.  T-shirts are $15 and proceeds benefit Public Media of NJ.  

The Somerville High School production of “Mary Poppins,” took place on March 3, 4, and 5 last year.  

Directed by Manziano with co-director Justin Cimino, an SHS graduate and professional actor —“Mary Poppins” took this high school musical to a new level with a fashion industry professional directing costumes and the technical expertise of Flying by Foy, the company that has provided flying technology for Broadway shows such as “Peter Pan,” “The Lion King” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

 More than 100 students participated in the show as actors, set designers, tech crew and musicians.

“One of the things that I love about Ms. Manziano as a director is how she brings an element of fun to the show, which reminds us of why we are in the production in the first place — to have fun,” said Hayden Verbanas, who played “Robertson Ay.” “She took a huge group of kids and brought us all together for a great community show.”

Janet Jacobson, who has worked for decades in New York’s fashion world, was a frequent visitor to thrift shops and designed costumes with an array of color that added a special vibrancy to the stage. She worked closely with set designer Teresa Michalski and set constructor Jeff Carlson to ensure that the costumes complemented what was on stage.

The students said the Edwardian costumes made them feel as though they were transported back to 1910 and helped them bring their characters to life.

Choreographer Nicole Frangione-Zivkovic worked for weeks to perfect complex dance scenes with upwards of 40 actors on stage at one time – a feat considering the somewhat stiff costumes that “Mary Poppins” dictates. “I watched the students move as I was designing the costumes,” says Jacobson. “They had to have the ‘look,’ but still be comfortable enough to dance in.” 

And then there was the flying.

“It is a lot of fun and I felt very safe,” says Lindsey Kazar, a junior who played “Miss Andrew” and one of three student actors who soared above the stage. Sophomore Liam Devlin, who flew alongside Maura Elwood  as “Mary Poppins” in his role as “Bert,” said it was a great experience.

As a professional actor with off-Broadway credits, co-director Cimino worked with the students to perfect their craft. “Justin is a great director,” says Devlin. “He really took us to levels far past anywhere we could have gone last year.”

Beyond the flying and dancing, “Mary Poppins” is all about the music. The students in the pit orchestra, led by Matt Krempasky, worked with the actors and tech crew to hone the details.

 “It’s an exciting time — to see it all come together with the music,” said Karen Gorzynski, who has served as muscial director at the high school for 30 years. “Mrs. Gorzynski worked with us tirelessly to perfect the songs sung by our characters,” said freshman Robyn Wasserman who played “Michael.” 

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