Student-directed musical debuts Thursday (3/18/10)

March 18, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A funny thing is about to happen at Champlain Valley Union High School this week.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Ethan Tischler, playing the character Pseudolous, introduces the show during Monday’s dress rehearsal.

Beginning Thursday night, CVU Drama will present “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” a popular musical comedy set in ancient Rome. Directed by Shelburne senior Justin Small as part of his graduation challenge, the play is the second spring musical the drama club has performed at CVU.

Small has participated in nearly every facet of CVU’s theater presentations during his four years at the high school; he’s acted, produced and worked behind the scenes, including writing a student play. This is his first time taking over directorial duties; he wanted to have that experience through his graduation challenge, a yearlong project all CVU seniors must complete to graduate.

On Monday afternoon, Small sat in the middle of the CVU auditorium, waiting for the curtain to open on the musical’s first dress rehearsal. So what does a director think at that specific moment?

“The show’s not mine anymore,” Small said with a laugh. “You just give it up and you pray.”

Small relaxed noticeably following the opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” which features an elaborate introduction by Ethan Tischler playing the character Pseudolous, and ends with a rousing finish by the entire cast.

The play debuts at 7 p.m. on March 17, with additional shows at 7 p.m. on Friday and at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults.

The musical comedy features an array of characters in an involved plot focusing on Pseudolous, a lazy Roman slave looking to earn his freedom. First produced in 1962, the play featured music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, with Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. The story takes its plots and themes from different farce writers dating back to Roman times. The musical also became a motion picture in 1966 starring many from the original stage cast.

Small said he chose “Forum” as his play because it was the first live theater production he experienced.

“It really made an impression on me and really stuck with me,” Small said. “It was an easy decision to pick this one.”

From there, Small held auditions in December and began rehearsals in January. He cast 18 students for the various roles and included freshmen through seniors.

Sebastian Ryder, CVU Drama’s co-curricular director, said Small has done an excellent job managing a stressful project. Ryder, who directed the CVU fall productions for the past eight years, said the final days before opening night can be the hardest, yet most exciting period for first-time directors.

“It’s the final push and everyone is doing what they need now to make it successful,” Ryder said.

“Forum” is also completely student produced. Producers Ryan Nick and Kelsey Jensen have been busy putting together programs, as well as advertising the musical to community members. Jensen, a Williston senior, said spring productions aren’t as well known to the general public.

“It’s a lot more work, although I don’t think people realize it,” Jensen said.

Small now knows firsthand the work in preparing a school musical. On top of his school work and graduation challenge assignments, directing the play became an all-encompassing project. But Small said he’s gained a lot through his experience.

“I learned you shouldn’t second guess yourself in front of the cast,” Small said, retrospectively. “A lot of times, you go with your gut.”



CVU Drama Co-Curricular Director Sebastian Ryder is leaving the Champlain Valley Union High School club to focus on her full-time work at Barnes & Noble.

For the past eight years, Ryder has directed fall musicals and helped students produce their own productions in the spring. She said she’s made countless friends through her theater work, including faculty members and student actors.

Ryder said her experience at CVU was “incredibly rewarding.”

“I think there’s something in the water down there in Hinesburg because the kids are just amazing,” Ryder said.


— Tim Simard, Observer staff