Actors sing their way into spring (4/9/09)

CVU student directs school’s musical

April 9, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

For Champlain Valley Union High School senior Theresa Keller, directing a musical play has been a labor of love. It’s also been one of the most challenging projects the Hinesburg senior has ever worked on.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Konnor Fleming (with sword) as Capt. Shang and other cast members run through a dress rehearsal of Champlain Valley Union High School’s ‘Mulan Jr.’ on Monday afternoon. As Capt. Shang, Fleming leads a rag-tag band of Chinese soldiers into battle during the play, which is directed by senior Theresa Keller as part of her Graduation Challenge. The play opens Thursday, April 9.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Kate Farley of Charlotte, playing Mulan, the young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man to become a soldier, performs a scene from ‘Mulan Jr.’ during Monday’s dress rehearsal.

At CVU’s auditorium on Monday afternoon, Keller was busy assembling her cast for the first dress rehearsal of the school’s spring musical, “Mulan Jr.” In the span of a few minutes, Keller was checking costumes, making sure the sound equipment was ready and coaching actors on how to move on stage.

“It’s been exhausting, but amazing at the same time,” Keller said.

Keller is the first student in CVU Drama’s history to direct a musical rather than a straight play, said Sebastian Ryder, the program’s director.

And after 2.5 months of rehearsals and production, “Mulan Jr.” will kick off its run this Thursday night. Keller admitted to having some nerves in the days leading up to the April 9 opening show, but she’s confident everything will come together.

“Right now, we’re in a really good place,” said Keller, who is directing the play as part of her Graduation Challenge.

Members of the cast agreed. Charlotte senior Kate Foley, who plays the lead character, Mulan, said Keller’s commitment and vision have already made the play a success.

“I knew she’d do a really great job,” said Foley, who’s participating in her first CVU theater production.

“(Keller) knows what she wants and she gets it because we all have such respect for her,” Foley said.

“Mulan Jr.” is written specifically for middle and high school performances and is based on the 1998 Disney animated feature, “Mulan.” The story follows the title character, who disguises herself as a man to join the Chinese army and take her ailing father’s place in the ranks. Mulan is joined by a dragon named Mushu, who initially tries to stop her plan but eventually joins her in the fight against the Huns. The play and movie are based on an ancient Chinese folktale from the sixth century.

The main differences between the film and the play include a few scenes of different dialogue and added musical numbers, Keller said. She said the play is almost operatic, with 15 musical numbers spread across the 75-minute performance.

Keller said she’s been a fan of “Mulan” since she watched the film in a movie theater as a little girl. In choosing a play for the spring, Keller wanted to do a musical, even though she realized it would be harder to direct musical numbers.

“I knew (“Mulan Jr.”) would be really awesome to stage,” she said.

Keller, who’s acted in previous CVU productions, was happy to have prior theater experience. Many of the students she cast had little theater knowledge, which proved to be an added challenge for Keller.

“I’ve never directed peers before and this is an extremely young cast,” Keller said. “So many haven’t had any experience with this.”

Charlotte sophomore Konnor Fleming has never acted in a high school production, but did some theater at the middle school level. Fleming, who plays one of the leads, Capt. Shang, said Keller has been instrumental in helping him learn staging and on-stage coordination during the songs. And she’s easy to work with, he said.

“She’s good at finding the right balance with everyone,” Fleming said.

Ryder said Keller has excellently managed the 25 cast and crewmembers.

“She’s done it in a way that hasn’t alienated her from her peers, and that’s not easy to do,” Ryder said.

Keller said she’s not sure what subject she’ll focus on when she attends college next year, but she knows she wants to carry on her theater work.

“I really want to continue, especially after this,” Keller said.

Show times for “Mulan Jr.” are 7 p.m. on April 9 and 10, and 2 p.m. on April 11. Tickets are $7 for adults and $4 for students, children and seniors.