Thirty hardworking musical theatre students are ready to transport audiences back in time this weekend with their production of A Little Princess.
The Singer’s Theatre’s senior intensive musical theatre workshop challenged singers from age 14 to 24 for the last two weeks to rehearse and stage an entire musical.
The musical by Brian Crawley and Andrew Lippa is based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1905 children’s novel. It follows the story of Sara Crewe who is sent to a school in London when her father heads to an expedition in Timbuktu in 1878, but her heart is in Africa, where she’s from. She uses her imagination to escape from her less-than-ideal surroundings.
Producer and music director Amanda Brunk has a specific criteria for choosing shows.
“It has to be something that features a lot of people, that allows for a large cast, a large ensemble that’s active, but also for the singing, for the vocal, choral element. And it has to be a moving, stirring storyline, maybe a few tears can be shed,” she said.
A Little Princess has all those elements, making it a good choice for director Gord Davis. He started the drama program at Elmira District Secondary School in 1971 and taught drama there for 34 years. Now his efforts are largely focused on The Singer’s Theatre.
He says Brunk does the digging for musicals and he figures he can take anything and make it look good, so long as there’s the good music to begin with. Once he got a copy of the script he agreed it was the right choice for this year.
“I’ve been trying to persuade Amanda to do The Secret Garden, the musical, for a long time but this one is based on the story written by the same lady, so it’s sort of a similar story and so this satisfies me,” Davis said.
Two Elmira students are performing in the cast, Jasmine Thuroo and Carmen Read.
Thuroo is a dancer and in the ensemble. It’s her second year in the senior intensive musical theatre workshop. On Monday, while breaking for lunch she said rehearsals have been going well.
She says the biggest challenge she’s found is switching characters on stage.
“We have costumes that we put on while we’re on stage, that is the hardest part because you really have to switch your character, you have to connect with different people different ways. It takes a lot of focus,” Thuroo said.
Her favourite part of the musical is the song “Good Luck – Bonne Chance,” because of the variety of elements.
“There’s drummers on stage, there’s dancing and it just feels like a community effort,” Thuroo said.
Read plays a native woman and one of the school girls. This is her first year at the workshop. She auditioned with Brunk to become one of her new vocal students and she recommended the workshop.
“I love musical theatre, I love all aspects of musical theatre. And I used to do more stuff like this but then I got more into sports and I focused more on that for a few years,” Read said.
For her, singing while moving on stage is her biggest challenge. She says the song she most enjoys – along with the whole cast – is “Timbuktu.”
“I think it’s because we feel so unified in the song because we’re all together in a circle surrounding the main characters and then we all interact with each other. I think it’s a really cool song,” Read said.
Staging the production has been a bit more difficult than Davis originally imagined, but it’s coming together. The whole cast is on stage for nearly the entire show, something that’s important for them when choosing a musical to put on.
“I would say that this year we have maybe a little more than half of them who haven’t done Singer’s Theatre before. My style is different than what kids are used to, what a lot of people are used to, and so I think the biggest challenge is to get over those first couple of days when they’re getting comfortable with what I’m asking them to do,” Davis said.
He says it’s a family friendly story with incredible ensemble singing and an exciting visual aspect.
Despite the main character, Sara Crewe, undergoing some misfortunes at the hand of her headmistress, Davis assures there’s a happy ending in store.
He challenges all of his former students to come see the production for themselves.
“I think the most important thing for me is working together to create something to share with others. There’s all the technical theatre type stuff and that’s all there too, but I think no matter whether any of these kids ever go on to theatre that they’ve had an experience where they’ve worked together and created something that then will become part of their life,” Davis said.
Both of the Elmira students encourage interested singers to audition next summer.
“It’s an experience that you’re not really going to get anywhere else,” Thuroo said.
Read’s enjoyed the chance to meet more people outside of Elmira through the workshop.
“It’s just a really fun experience. I would have never thought I could do anything like this,” Read said.
The Singer’s Theatre production of A Little Princess hits The Conrad Centre this weekend for three performances only. Show times are Aug. 19 at 7:30 p.m., and Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $21 for adults and $15 for children and are available at www.ticketscene.ca.