The Wizard of Oz at Pierrepont School
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Jennifer Gonzalez
Pierrepont School will be presenting The Wizard of Oz this week and upcoming weekend. This is Rutherford spoke with two of the Directors and the Musical Director to learn more about putting this show together and what they cannot wait for audiences to see.
TIR: After two years without a performance, what is especially exciting about this year’s musical?
Courtney McManus (Director): Our 2020 production of Annie never made it past the rehearsal phase. So many of Rutherford’s talented theatre artists went without productions for a couple of years. Since then, we have decided to open auditions to all students (4th-6th). We also have two new members on our production team: Ms. Aaliyah Jordan and Ms. Danielle O’Connor. We are just grateful to be back doing what we love with our Pierrepont theatre family.
Matthew Vaccaro (Director): I am excited to get back into working with the younger kids and their excitement for theater again. It was sad that we have not been able to really do anything in Pierrepont due to the pandemic, the turnout this year was amazing and I can't wait to see what these kids can do.
TIR: The musical will take place in the New Gym at Pierrepont. This will allow for a bigger audience. What are some other reasons why you are excited that the performance will be in the new gym?
CM: The most exciting thing about our new space is the fact that there is SO MUCH of it! We have wings on the stage now, which allows us to have a true stage crew for the first time at Pierrepont. We have had students making our props, organizing backstage, helping with our costumes, and designing our lights. Now our students will learn valuable skills earlier which can benefit them as they continue on in theatre.
MV: The lights...100% the lights. We have an amazing lighting system that is going to really change the way we do shows. We have been trying our best over the last couple of years to implement different lighting systems. When we did Seussical Jr a couple of years ago, I worked with Board Member Chris Conti to figure out ways to bring and beautiful scene to life with the lights we had. Now, this new system brings a whole new life to our show. I am so excited to show it off on our large stage.
TIR: The Wizard of Oz is a family favorite with so many iconic characters. What can audiences expect to see when they attend the performances?
CM: It seemed like just the right time for us to put on this production. “Oz” is beloved by many and it is something that the students can easily connect to. We also love the messages throughout the story. Dorothy uses her brain, follows her heart, and musters all of her courage to find her way back to Kansas. The journey down the Yellow Brick Road had many twists and turns and she never lost faith. In the end, she found out that she had the power all along within herself. After being away from our theatre for so long, the saying “There’s No Place Like Home” rings a little truer than before.
MV: Love. Our students love their roles and show it. Especially from our core named actors and actresses. They have sat down and watched the movie, looked at other people play these roles, and have sat on facetime working so hard on getting their lines down. The audience is going to see that and I can't wait.
Gerald Moran, 6th grader (Lion) told TIR, "It is fun working on this show with friends. I want the audience to see all the hard work the teachers did."
TIR: What has been the most rewarding part of putting this show together?
CM: I love watching students find their passion for theatre. Many of our students this year have never been a part of a musical production. Seeing them perform and come together as a cast makes me come back every year.
MV: Seeing the kids back in the theater. It also is exciting seeing the 4th and 5th graders on the stage for the first time. We normally only do a 6th-grade show but with the larger stage and the growth of the program, seeing how passionate they are about being in the show is amazing. It is so rewarding seeing how happy they are.
"I have liked getting to know everyone and all of the funny laughs. My favorite part is when the Tin Man enters," explained 6th grader Leo Correa (Tin Man).
TIR: Is there a particular scene or number you think your actors are most excited to perform?
CM: Our actors have really been loving our Jitterbug number, which is not something seen in the 1939 movie. The Jitterbugs, which are in the novel, are replaced with the poppy fields. The Witch sends her Jitterbugs upon Dorothy and her newfound friends to dance the ruby slippers right off of her! It has a fun, big band vibe to the music and the kids light up as they dance!
MV: I think the intro of each character. They are all so good and the chemistry between each character together is amazing to watch. I can't wait for others to see it on the stage.
Val Weiss, 6th grader (Wicked Witch) told TIR, "My favorite part of doing the show is getting the chance to perform for real instead of in a 'kiddie' show. I can't wait for the audience to hear my laugh."
TIR: As the Musical Director for The Wizard of Oz, what has been the best part of teaching the actors the music for the show?
Aaliyah Jordan: The best part of teaching the actors the music for the show was spending extra time with the wonderful talent at Pierrepont School. Hearing them sing songs from one of my favorite musicals has made this a true joy. There were many students who shocked me with their energy and amazing singing voices. This musical has given students another opportunity to express themselves in ways that they are not used to which is through music, acting, and dancing. It has truly been a joy and I am already looking forward to next year.
Avery Ben-Ami, 6th grader (Dance Captain and Munchkin) told TIR, "It has been great getting to spend time with my friends and getting to be excited to do something we can all be proud of. I love the Jitterbug dance because we could really have fun with it."
TIR: Which songs do you think are the most fun for the actors to learn?
AJ: "Munchkinland", "Jitterbug", and "Merry Old Land of Oz" were my favorite songs to teach and definitely the most fun for the actors to learn, musically. When they pair the singing with the choreography for these songs, it is obvious that they are having so much fun! These songs are high energy and upbeat which makes it fun for the performers and the audience!
"My favorite part of being part of this show is being with my friends and doing something that I love. I am excited for the audience to hear my singing," explained Antonella Felix, 6th grader (Dorothy).
TIR: What are you most excited for the audiences to see?
AJ: I am most excited for the audience to see and hear the Munchkinland sequence. This features talent from all grades in Pierrepont School and I think that the audience will be in awe. There is acting, choreography, and singing in this sequence which is going to look amazing with the wonderful costumes put together by Mrs. McManus along with the set pieces of Munchkinland.
Charlotte Ersalesi, 6th grader (Scarecrow) told TIR, "I am happy that we can perform this show and be comfortable being ourselves in rehearsal. I am excited to show the audience all the hard work we have done."
TIR: This is your first musical at Pierrepont School. What has it been like to be part of the team helping to put this show together?
AJ: When I first took on the job of music director, I was a little nervous because I did not know what to expect, especially with the new gym. Mrs. McManus and Mr. Vaccaro welcomed me in with open arms and immediately let me know that I am part of the family, which is this production team as well as Ms. O'Connor. It has been an absolute honor to be a part of this musical and I am already looking forward to the next one. I have had a lot of laughs and fun moments with the production team as well as the cast. Being a part of this musical is just another reminder of why I teach music.