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At RCA, Students Blend Theatre With Real Life

Students at the Regional Center for the Arts Brought Musical Theatre to Life in the production of Hairspray

The Musical Theatre Department of the just completed their end of the year production of Hairspray, which had a short three-day run and sold out every performance.

 Matt Johnson, a sophmore at , has been at RCA for the last two years. “At RCA, you are always working towards bettering yourself. Everybody here is so serious about their work here,” he said.

 Jared Smith, a sophomore at Trumbull High School, comes to RCA four afternoons a week. “I think RCA is a really special place. Other schools may do a good job with theatre, but here we get to work with professionals from the theatre world.”

 As dancers in leotards stroll by, other students spoke about the school. “I am really glad I made the choice to come here,” said Rebecca Smith, a freshman at THS (and no relation to Jared). “I have become more confident, and I am better able to express myself. You can really be yourself here. From the minute I joined, I have felt part of the family.”

In a high school of only 260 students who come from 22 different schools in Fairfield County, you will find students laughing, talking and sitting with people they would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. And, boy, are they happy about that.

Walking down the hallway, you will hear musical theatre students working out their harmonies in the bathroom, while serious photographers pass by in a quieter, more focused way. At the end of the hallway, jazz musicians are jamming, and on nicer days, they play their conga drums outside.

 Aubrey Sierer, who played Velma Von Tussle, the evil ex-Miss Baltimore Crabs, described her experience as a third year student at RCA. “People here are so talented. They are all here because they are so passionate about musical theater. Everyone works so hard.”

 Caroline Lellouche, who played Von Tussle's daughter Amber in the show, said, “We have had so many experiences through being here. We just finished a workshop course with Broadway actress Robin Irwin, and we had these incredible wigs, made by the man who made wigs for Hair on Broadway.”

The wigs made expressly for this Hairspray production are beyond extraordinary; Lellouche's wig was the size of a small planet and others simply defied gravity. Wig designer Daniel Koye also made wigs for the Broadway productions of Spring Awakening, Jersey Boys and Patty Lapone's production of Gypsy, as well as for "Law and Order" and other television shows.

Koye's painstaking work is evident in the perfect hairline and styling of every wig. “Each wig is made hair by hair, and some of them can take up to 80 hours to assemble,” he said.

Alicia Richards has been teaching Musical Theatre and other classes at the school since it's humble beginnings 11 years ago.

“When we started, we only had two musical theatre classes. The main focus was simply to keep kids off the street. Now we have 60 to 80 musical theatre kids. It's a great place for kids who are serious. Our ensemble is awesome, they work so hard, and they are probably better than most. In fact, as a job, people who work in ensembles have more lucrative career options.” 

“We can't outdo schools like Westport for sets and production value, but every kid here is passionate about the work and knows why they are here,” said Richards.

 Jimmy Steele, a junior at Trumbull High School, played the part of Wilbur Turnblad, who was married to Edna Turnblad, played by J. Scott Handley. The part has always been played by a man, and Handley received kudos from all of his students who performed with him.

Steele said, “It was the best production I have ever done. The junior class had a lot of roles and there was no personal drama, so we had a great group dynamic.”

 Handley talked about his experience with RCA over the last nine years. He said, “It's incredible to watch these kids grow. We had a kid who three years ago came to this school and was so shy, he wouldn't speak. He kind of stood in the corner with his backpack. This year he played the lead, Link Larkin. I don't even regognize him. It's true with so many of our students, they were just incredible in this show.”

Many students leave RCA and go on to have careers in these professions. “We have had several kids who have gone on to national tours,” said Handley.

 Principal Mark Ribbins, who played a few smaller parts in the play, said the success rate of the school is due to the fact that the kids are so motivated to come to RCA.

“There is a balance here between academics and this program. The kids who want to be here do well, and they work as hard as three season athletes. They may not all go into the theatre, but there is something about having been here that stays with them forever,” he said.

Lucy Moon Fitzsimmons, a junior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, played the lead role of Tracy Turnblad. She was doing her hair up her pin curls with her friend, Caroline Lellouche, and described her Hairspray experience.

“This has been a long process, a lot more work than I have ever done. I loved my character, Tracy Turnblad, I am going to miss her. She always has fun with everything she does and she doesn't care what anyone says,” Fitzsimmons said.

Between lessons learned and cast bonding experiences, it is easy to see why students love to come here.

Lellouche has a special place in her heart for RCA. “Since I was a freshman, this has been my home away from home. It's my life, it's my family. I love it.” And then she broke into song.

Sasha February 03, 2013 at 06:27 PM
GREAT SHOW! This next week, I'll perform The Legend of Frosty the Snowman: the Musical (2013)
Sasha February 03, 2013 at 06:29 PM
It's from the director of "Hairspray". It's gonna be Awesome! Invited ALL the perfect students at RCA!

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