This year’s high school musical, A Class Act, will make its debut tonight at Ursuline High School in New Rochelle.
Directed by Marci Schein, A Class Act tells the story of Ed Kleban, who wrote the lyrics to the famous musical, A Chorus Line. The musical explores Kleban’s struggles as a lyricist and composer in a very competitive field.
A Class Act stems from a series of trunk songs which Keban had written throughout his life, but never used in shows. After his death, Linda Kline, Kleban’s girlfriend at the time of his death, released his work and compiled the songs into a musical. The musical first opened on Broadway in 2001.
To decide what musical to pursue for this year’s high school performance, Schein selected a play to fit to the number of students auditioning. Auditions took place at the start of the school year, and the cast has been preparing four times a week since.
To prepare for their performances, cast members used a wide range of methods to embrace each of their respective roles.
Junior Ron Wolf, for example, decided to learn more about his character Lehman Engel, through extensive online research. He also added that his director’s experience with the play helped him take on this role of a “playful” teacher, who “doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Senior Justin Coby Pellis, who plays the part of Ed Kleban in addition to serving as the role of assistant director of the musical, explained that he forces himself to wear his reading glasses as much as possible because Ed wears glasses. Pellis said, “[in my daily life], I even ask myself sometimes: what inspired Ed to do this?”
As stage manager, senior Sophia Cohen has a role in the play that is different than any other role. Cohen said, “I’m the kind of person who likes a lot of responsibility, so I really enjoy taking on as much as possible and trying to help as much as possible to make the show the best it can be.”
Much of the cast is very pleased with their experience thus far.
“Just to come at the end of the day and always know that I have [play rehearsal] to end my day, It’s a really nice way to end my day after the craziness of school,” Senior Matthew Feiler said.
Senior Michal Weiss, who has participated in the Schechter Westchester musicals for all her high school years, said, “[It is] different being a senior. I’m able to guide some younger cast members who haven’t done the show and that’s a unique experience, having been on the opposite side of that experience myself three years ago.”
As with many undertakings of this sort, the cast and crew have encountered several difficulties while producing the play.
Many cast members have found running and memorizing lines to be the most difficult piece of preparing for opening night.
Junior Rebecca Bond said, “We have a very small cast and a lot of seniors graduated, so it’s a different group of people that you have to learn to work with and thrive off of and put on a good show together.”
Sophomore Ariel Abergal said that one challenge members of the cast face is “adapting to a new theater and to a show which may not resonate with high school students as much as Rent has or other productions that Schechter [Westchester] has done in the past.”
Schein said, “The most difficult thing as with any production is the commitment it takes to be part of a musical; the commitment it takes to be a student. Trying to balance that is so difficult and so many times, life gets in the way. We do our best to work around it.”
A Class Act is a musical with a lot of meaning. Being a part of this production has taught the cast a host of valuable lessons.
“I know [the cast has] already taken away the struggle, the plight of the artist to get somebody to listen to their music, somebody to listen to their lyrics or the poet: somebody to listen to the poem or read the story or whatever art medium,” Schein said. “[They have] already taken away what it’s like to feel that pain, but also what it’s like to receive the accolades after they’ve put in the amount of work to something.”
Cohen said, “I think what I’ve learned which is also similar to the message of the show is that there is no task that is too big. If you can set your mind to something, and you’re driven, and you want it to be good, it can be done.”
Several cast members also added the audience appeal which the musical brings.
“It’s about a real person; we have to do it right,” said sophomore Emma Listoken. “It’s out of respect for these people in the play, so that’s something that really needs to be pulled off. I think we’re going to do it.”
Bond said, “I hope the audience takes away the message that it’s important to stay true to yourself and tell the truth and to never give up on your dreams.”
“I think if students come to the play, it’ll be the first step they could possible take in supporting their peers that actually matters,” Pellis said.
At the end of a long journey and a lot of preparation, Mari Schein leaves the cast with these words from Ed Kleban’s will, “To my friends, I leave the song self portrait. And this is the struggle for the artist, the struggle for the artist. It is my wish that my friends will arrange for the songs to be performed, preferably in a large building in a central part of town in a dark room as part of a play with a lot of people listening, who have all paid a great deal to get in.”
Schein continued, “What else does my cast deserve most of all? An audience to share their art with. I think in the arts, that’s the message. We just want to be recognized.”