Monday, April 26, 2010

2001: Take a Bow

Did you know there’s a theater in Culver City dedicated to preserving the art of the Great Broadway Musical? Its playbill has included Anything Goes, Damn Yankees, Grease, West Side Story, Little Shop of Horrors, Guys and Dolls and a host of other classics—and each season you can count on this theater to showcase the best and brightest in new talent. 

It’s The Willows’ theater, of course—and since its 2004 opening this stage has been home to numerous standing-room only plays performed by students across the grades.


“Giving Our Regards to old Broadway”
Broadway has been part and parcel of The Willows’ program since the School’s earliest days, long before the beautiful 200-seat theater opened its doors. One reason: Head of School Lisa Rosenstein loves musicals. “I think my love for Broadway musicals may have had something to do with this tradition,” Lisa says. “The music is wonderful, and the stories are fantastic. It’s a great opportunity to introduce our students to an important part of American cultural history.”

The First Musical
Interestingly, the very first Willows musical was actually an original production. The show, entitled Heritage, was a unique collaboration among the eighth grade performers and Ali Mandelbaum, the music teacher at that time. As part of their study of immigration to the United States, students researched the stories of their own families’ journeys to America. These stories were the starting points for monologues told from the perspectives of the students’ ancestors as well as music composed by Ali.

Since that first production, most grades in the middle school have mounted a musical production each year. “Not every school makes the effort to include every student in a grade-level production,” says Liza Monjauze, director of many of The Willows’ shows over the years. “Of course, not every student wants to be on stage, so we find ways for everyone to be involved in a meaningful way, whether it’s running a follow spot, painting scenery, or running the sound board. The point is for everyone to take part—it becomes a team effort and a shared experience they will always remember.”

Graduation Musical
A unique Willows tradition is performing a play as part of the 8th grade graduation. Each year, the 8th graders perform for their assembled friends and family, usually an abridged version of a well-known production, followed by The Willows’ traditional graduation ceremony.

“The process of coming together for one final group project is incredibly meaningful,” notes Lisa. “It’s the last thing they do together as a class, and their performance is a wonderful gift to the rest of the school community.”

Elizabeth Rich, ’05, who played Audrey in her class’ production of Little Shop of Horrors remembers, “It was a great way for us to bond as a group before all going in our own separate directions.”

Dash Nathanson, ’05, also a Little Shop castmember, manipulated the arms of the giant man-eating plant featured in the show. “I remember there were so many distractions at the end of the year, but this was a fun project that we could all focus on.”

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