Arts & Entertainment

Spring Play Preview: 5 Area High Schools Have Ambitious Plans

PLAY_jurorsThe greater Falls Church area’s five public high schools launched their spring play season last week. First up was J.E.B. Stuart’s “Grease, followed by McLean’s “Twelve Angry Jurors,” George C. Marshall’s “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” Falls Church’s “Workings” and George Mason’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Already in the middle of its run is J.E.B. Stuart’s, which premiered last weekend.

The greater Falls Church area’s five public high schools launched their spring play season last week. First up was J.E.B. Stuart’s “Grease, followed by McLean’s “Twelve Angry Jurors,” George C. Marshall’s “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” Falls Church’s “Workings” and George Mason’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Already in the middle of its run is J.E.B. Stuart’s, which premiered last weekend.

From acrobatic fairies to supped-up classic cars, Northern Virginia theatre lovers are in for a treat. The local high schools have pulled out all the stops this spring to entertain and thrill, not to mention one group of actors will be stalked and slain.

Want to see a musical? Head to Stuart for “Grease” or Falls Church High for “Working.” For those in the mood for classic drama, McLean has “Twelve Angry Jurors” waiting for you. Farce more your thing? Marshall’s got “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.” And for those thespians who only like their dialogue in couplets and iambic pentameter, George Mason has The Bard’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”


J.E.B. Stuart’s “Grease”




J.E.B. Stuart High’s spring production, “Grease,” premiered last weekend, but continues this Friday and Saturday, April 16 – 17. (Photo: Courtesy Shannon Lynch)


Leading off the spring series of plays and already revving their engines is J.E.B. Stuart High School with its performance of the high school theater classic “Grease.”

The Stuart theatre has been transformed into Rydell High School and the students have made themselves into “greasers,” for their version of the original stage play and not the tamed-down high school version.

“I just don’t think the original “Grease” is all that taboo anymore. Smoking and teenage pregnancy are realities that a lot people have to face,” said Stuart Theater Director Shannon Lynch.

Most everyone can whistle the tune to the film’s popular songs, which made the decision to put on the play easier.

“I chose it because we had to really push to put it together. A lot of the kids had a familiarity with it, so they took right to it. We got it all together in just six weeks, but it doesn’t look like it,” Lynch said.

Just because the musical came together in a short period of time doesn’t mean the Stuart theatre department skimped on the details.

The Raiders’ stage has the obligatory major “Grease” set pieces, such as the steps out front of Rydell High and the beauty school. But unlike some other high school productions, Stuart has a custom-made car.

“George May, one of the student’s parents, volunteered his time and put together a car that can be rolled on the stage. He made us a beautiful ‘Greased Lightening.’ It looks really great,” said Lynch.

Stuart pulled out all the stops with the choreography, as well. They hired professional dance and fight choreographers.

As far as the classic “Grease” music is concerned, Stuart isn’t cutting any corners there either. They have an orchestra pit, consisting of a piano, two saxophones, bass, drums and a pit conductor. Half the pit is students and half the pit is professionals.

Grease continues its run in the J.E.B. Stuart Auditorium (3301 Peace Valley Ln., Falls Church) on Friday, April 16 and Saturday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m. There will be a 2:15 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 17. Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults. For more information, call 703-824-3900.


McLean’s “Twelve Angry Jurors”




Deliberations in order, McLean High School students rehearse for their production of “Twelve Angry Jurors,” set to premiere next Wednesday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. (Photo: Courtesy Jamie Richardson)

The stage is set in the Craighill S. Burk Theater at McLean High School in a simple and minimalist way. There are no lavish sets, nor orchestra pits.  A table, twelve chairs, twelve actors and actresses and one boy’s fate make for somber set pieces.

“It is a very dramatic play and we have decided to present it in a very straight-forward way. That is why we went with a minimal set. That, along with the lighting, really helps set the tone,” said McLean Theatre Director Denise Perrino.

The McLean theatre department will be putting up “Twelve Angry Jurors,” a co-ed take on the popular play/film “Twelve Angry Men.”

The play is an examination of twelve jurors who are brought together to deliberate after hearing the “facts” in a seemingly open-and-shut murder trial case. They retire to a jury room on a stifling-hot summer’s day to do their civic duty and serve up a just verdict for the frightened teenager whose life is in the balance.

When an almost foregone conclusion starts to unravel this murder soon becomes a mini-drama of each of the jurors’ prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused and each other.

“Even though it is set in the 1950s, it could very well be set today. There are a lot of universal themes that run throughout the play,” said Perrino.

To make the audience connect further with these themes, Perrino and the drama department will abandon the classic proscenium-style presentation – where the stage is in the front of the room – and present it in “the round,” where the stage is placed in the center of the theatre.

“We decided that performing the play as theater in the round would make it a more intimate setting. Part of the audience will be on stage with the actors,” Perrino said.

Twelve Angry Jurors will also be McLean High School’s competition piece for a Cappies award. The Cappies are awards given to high-school productions through the Critics and Awards Program. The program trains high-school students how to be critics and sends them to different schools to review plays. At the end of the year, all the critics vote and the winners get presented with awards at a formal Cappies gala.

To cap it all off, after 34 years of teaching theater in Fairfax County “Twelve Angry Jurors” will be Perrino’s final play at McLean. She is retiring at the end of the year. Like most story arcs, her career has come full circle.

She did this very same play 25 years ago when she was the theatre teacher at Oakton High School.

“I will miss my students at McLean. It was always a wonderful feeling to direct a group of students on the journey of discovering various aspects of a play,” Perrino said.

Playing the “Twelve Angry Jurors” will be Meredith Bloom, Hannah Menchhoff, Matt Parent Higginbotham, Kate Marlette, Ruby Branscomb, Damian Leverett, Elaina Kaiser, Vanessa Bretas, Sara Lavenhar, Julia Katz, Elliot Duffy, and Ethan Stackpole. The Foreman is Lexi Shoabi, The Judge is played by Mufaz Syrus. Max Johnson is the Guard and the Clerk is Erin Ginnerty.

Performances will be held in the Craighill S. Burk Theater at McLean High School (1633 Davidson Rd., McLean) from Wednesday, April 21 – 24 at 7:30 p.m., with a special Cappies critics’ matinee on April 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets for adults are $21 at the door or $19 in advance. Tickets for students are $15 at the door or $13 in advance. For more information, call 703-714-5700.


Marshall’s “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940”




George C. Marshall High’s spring production, “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.” Pictured (left to right) are Mace Smith, Reese Wold, Scott Anderson, Robin Crigler, Meara O’Malley, Peter Nguyen, Mackie Quirk and Lizzie Gray. (Photo: Courtesy Peggy Pridemore & Keith Conway)


The stage at Marshall High School is dressed to transport the audience to the inside of a mansion in Chappaqua, N.Y. circa 1940, where students will be preforming John Bishop’s “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.”

“It’s kind of a Agatha-Christie-meets-Monty-Python-type show,” said Marshall Theatre Director Trena Weiss-Null.

A not-so-classic “who-done-it” production the play centers around the murders of a maid and theater’s harshest critic: The Stage Door Slasher. It is about a team of Broadway musical writers that convene in a mansion to work on another musical. Their last attempt had been shut down because of a string of murders that happened every time the production moved to a new city.

“I chose to do this play because, while it is funny and a great farce, it is also a great murder-mystery. Both the comedy aspect and the murder-mystery aspect are very strong and neither is compromised by the other,” Weiss-Null said.

Viewers shouldn’t let the name fool them though, nor should they judge a play by its title. The play does have a couple of songs, but it is by no means a musical. Most of the action is staged around a piano, which a couple of characters play.

An ensemble cast, the play only has ten characters, each very important to the plot and direction of the play.

“When you have a cast of ten people, everybody is important and gets a really good amount of stage time. Even if they end up getting killed, they have been on stage for a long while. It really gives the actors and actresses a chance to showcase their talents,” Weiss-Null said.

Being set in a single location, the library of a mansion, it gives the students a chance to concentrate on making one set as elaborate as possible.

“It’s an interior set and a very lavish room with a lot going on. There are even some surprises hidden in the walls,” Weiss-Null said.

The play is an ensemble cast starring Ellen Chapin, Meara O’Malley, Robin Crigler, Scott Anderson, Mojan Nourkabahsh, Walter McCoy, Peter Nguyen, Elizabeth Gray, Mace Smith and Mackie Quirk. The understudies are James Lex, Austin Hoskins, Sarah Chapin and Reese Wold.

“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” opens at Marshall High School (7731 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church) on Friday, April 23, with subsequent performances on Saturday, April 24, 29 and 30. It closes Saturday, May 1. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students. For more information, call 703-714-5400.


Falls Church’s “Working”



Falls Church High’s spring production, “Working.” Pictured (left to right, bottom to top) are Brennan Jones and Katie Davidson, Syd Bechet and Sam Johnson, Alena Gilmore and Lucy Santa Cruz, Rebecca Suubi and Tierra Moreland, Cassandra Matondo and Sterling Pino, Melanie Reuter and Britnee Dorn, Rakeb Teshome and Jimmy Miller, and Sara Samson and Reggie Herold during the song “Traffic Jam.” (Photo: Courtesy Valerie Karasek)

A minimal set, a large cast and a slice of American life – these things are the basis for Falls Church High School’s spring theatre production, “Working.”

Penned by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, “Working” is based on the book of the same name by Studs Turkel that tracks a single day in the lives of 26 average American workers. It contains music from popular musicians such as James Taylor, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant and Mary Rodgers.

The characters in “Working” are a cross-section of Americans, each looking for their piece of the American dream.

“I chose to do this play because it is about a community very much like our own. It is about working people. Some love their jobs. Some hate their jobs. When it comes down to it though, it is a celebration of the American worker,” said Falls Church High School Theatre Director Valerie Karasek.

Some of the many roles that Falls Church High School students will embody are that of an ironworker, a waitress, a stone mason, a trucker, a housewife, a UPS delivery man, a teacher, a millworker, a supermarket checker and a retiree.

“The kids are doing a really great job getting into these characters. It is a large cast with over 50 student actors, where each of them get a chance to shine,” Karasek said.

But it just isn’t Falls Church High students taking on these rolls. Karasek had an idea to cast differently than might be expected of a typical high-school production.

“Because the play is about a community, I decided to cast some people from the community. We made the play a community,” Karasek said. She brought over eight kids from the middle school, enlisted three teachers and even got one alumni to return to take a roll.

Karasek decided to set this large cast of characters on a minimal stage that consists of platforms.

“I decided to go with a high theater concept set with a conceptualized design. It’s minimal and a lot of the tone and background is controlled with lighting,” Karasek said.

Due to time constraints, she wasn’t able to secure a large orchestra or choral group for the music. Instead, Karasek decided to have a person record live music that can be played during the shows.

“The music came out really good. It is going to be special,” Karasek said.

To promote the show and help gather some word of mouth buzz, she has decided to show a few snippets from the show in a student sneak-peek on Thursday, April 22 during the school day. “We hope to give students who aren’t familiar with the show a glimpse of it and entice them to see it,” Karasek said.

Falls Church High School will open “Working” at the school’s theater (7521 Jaguar Trl., Falls Church) on Thursday, April 29 and has subsequent shows scheduled for Friday, April 30 and Saturday, May 1. The curtain goes up at 7:30 p.m. on each of those nights. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students ($5 if purchased in advance). For more information, visit or call 703-207-4059.


George Mason’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”


Fairies? Check. Star-crossed lovers? Check. A character who becomes a donkey half-way through? Check. All this and more makes up George Mason’s spring play, William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” One of Shakespeare’s more popular comedies, “Midsummer” is a play with three different and interconnecting plots. One involves the Duke of Athens and his wedding, another involves fairies in Fairyland, and finally, one circles around a group of workers trying to ready a play for the Duke.

“I chose this play because we have so much talent and so much female talent and it is one of the few plays that has enough roles to showcase it all,” George Mason Theatre Director Pamela Spicer said.

Spicer has a clear vision on how she is going to use all the talent available to make a 500-year-old play come to life. She is going to split the play into two courts, with the fairies acting as “forces of nature” on the rest of the characters. Both courts will represent two elements, Oberon will represent Earth and Fire, whereas Titania will represent Wind and Water.

“When they fight it will cause natural disasters that we will play out using lighting and dance,” Spicer said.

One of “Midsummer’s” favorite characters, Puck, the mischievous woodland sprite, will also be getting some special treatment, as well. Played by George Mason Senior Miles Butler, Puck will be able to perform acrobatics and his trademark slapstick antics upon trampolines they intend on installing on the stage, so that Puck “can really fly around,” Spicer said.

But the action won’t only be occurring on stage. Characters will be running through the audience, and even the stage itself will “bleed into the audience and give even the most passive of viewers an active role in the production,” Spicer said.

Spicer, with help from Costume Designer Lisa Ensign and Technical Director John Ballou are not cutting any corners in bringing Shakespeare’s words off the page.

Be sure to check out senior Becca Ward as Helena, junior Sophie Knudsen as Hermia, junior Mikey Larcamp as Demetrius and sophomore Bryan Ward as Lysander, senior Tom Shapiro as Oberon, junior Aleeya Ensign as Titania and sophomore Sean Driggers as Bottom.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will premiere on Thursday, May 20 and run through Saturday, May 22. All shows will start at 7:30 p.m. with the possibility of a matinee being added on Saturday, May 22. Tickets will be $7 for adults and $5 for students. For more information, call 703-248-5500.