NEW CASTLE — (Video highlights and cast list appear below the story.)
Nowhere is it written that Neshannock High School music director Mike Cavalier has to come up with gigantic productions every year.
But he does.
Cavalier knows that rollicking and razzle-dazzle done with the polish of a Broadway show are what has earned the school its reputation for over-the-top, quality extravaganzas.
This year, a three-act musical comedy set in the 1920s is packed with nostalgia, tap dance, slapstick, a 28-piece orchestra and well-known songs. All those elements bring in a huge yes vote for “No, No, Nanette.”
The actors are on the same page with their director.
“It’s all about giving the audience the most professional production we can possibly put on,” Cavalier said. “This is more than just a high school show.”
DANCE, DANCE, DANCE
Tap dancing is a key component in this year’s offering.
According to Cavalier, “ ‘No, No, Nanette’ was last done at Neshannock in 1983, and there haven’t been any shows incorporating tap for about 15 years.”
For junior Macy McBeth, who plays Nanette, tap dancing makes her as giddy as one of the major songs, “I Want to Be Happy.”
Having danced for 11 years with sights set on majoring in musical theater at Kent State University, McBeth is also pleased with the variety of dances included.
“These are old-fashioned type numbers with couples dancing and soft shoe,” Cavalier interjected.
“We’re bringing Fred and Ginger here,” he said, referring to Astaire and Rogers. “We’ve got two tap numbers and both are huge.”
The part of Nanette’s mom, Lucille, is played by senior Allison Hutchison who studied dance for four years.
“Our shows are always dance oriented,” pointed out Hutchison, who will attend York College of Pennsylvania for music business and recording technology.
Jenna Richardson, a junior who has danced for 13 years, has the part of Sue Smith.
Choreographer Julie Garda works out routines and keeps everyone on their toes.
There was even a session called Tap Boot Camp, and Cavalier credits the eight males and eight females who, on Dec. 17, had never tapped before. They do now.
Stepping beyond footwork, McBeth said there is a camaraderie with those who spend so much time together at rehearsals.
“Everybody comes together and forms a little theater family.”
It’s obvious that bonds are developed. Cavalier instantly pointed out that junior Antonio Blundo’s three older brothers have been in the musicals, and Richardson and Hutchison are the third members of their family to take part.
That cast size of 37 has lessened from the 1980s when it numbered between 75 and 80.
As always, Cavalier plans to awe.
“The mere spectacle of this show will keep those even with the shortest attention span interested,” he predicted.
It’s snappy dialogue merged into dance. Then more zippy dialogue takes place. More dance follows, and the pattern keeps repeating for solid entertainment. Altogether, there are 12 musical numbers, and the director also refers to them as big.
Blundo whose role is Jimmy Smith observed that, “This would be exciting to sit in the audience because you get to watch the characters’ reactions.”
As the group of four gathered in a semi-circle in the auditorium to discuss the presentation, Blundo noted his part is “kind of goofy and that’s fun for me.”
There was laughter all around.
ACTING THE PART
Seniors Alex Covelli who dates Nanette and Fabio Perrotta who plays Billy Early round out the leading roles.
“We have three juniors and three seniors in those parts,” Cavalier confirmed, adding there are also three age groups represented — the 18-year-olds, Lucille and Billy who are between 35 and 40, and Jimmy and Sue who are in their 50s.
Playing a woman nearly three times her age was a challenge for Richardson.
“It took a lot of practice. Last year, I played a flapper and this year I have to be kind and motherly.”
It was also a stretch for Blundo who said, “I’m 17, not 50.”
“No, No, Nanette” involves three couples of different ages who go to Atlantic City in the midst of a blackmail scheme. The focus is on Nanette who, as a young, fun-loving Manhattan heiress runs off for a weekend, leaving her unhappy fiancé. Meanwhile, her father, Jimmy Smith, has become a millionaire and becomes the beneficiary for three beautiful women. His wife, Sue and the wife of his lawyer friend, Billy, become suspicious that Jimmy is having affairs. Eventually, he realizes he is bound to get himself in trouble and enlists Billy to try and get rid of the three women.
There are also three sets — which Cavalier says is rare for high school musicals — and two, 10-minute intermissions. The sets and costumes, which have a Great Gatsby feel, are rented.
And of course, timeless and delightful “Tea for Two” is fun for both players and watchers.
Blundo, who calls “No, No, Nanette” one of the greatest shows ever, noted it also adds some historical significance that references the Curse of the Bambino — Babe Ruth.
Cavalier concurs that the show appeals to all ages, and doesn’t include hokey or corny music.
EXPECTING THE BEST
This is Cavalier’s 19th year at directing musicals at Neshannock. His philosophy is to do auditions first, pick the show later. That way, the production is matched with the talent of the students
It’s a strategy that works time after time.
Another credo is “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it.”
Hutchison remarked that, “To get the best out of the cast, you have to expect the best, and Mr. Cavalier expects nothing less that the best. “
With his customary quickness at making creative descriptions, Cavalier said, “This show is like air. It’s frothy. It’s bubbly. The audience members should be walking around smiling.”
The director and company are confident the musical numbers will stick in peoples’ heads.
“It’s a Valentine of 1925,” Cavalier summarized. “C’mon. ‘I Want to Be Happy.’ That’s what this show is all about.
“American musical theater was based on having a good time.”
If the reaction is that a good time was had by all, the director and cast will be happy, too.
NO, NO, NANETTE
Cast of characters
Pauline: Taryn Brown
Lucille Early: Allison Hutchison
Sue Smith: Jenna Richardson
Jimmy Smith: Antonio Blundo
Billy Early: Fabio Perrotta
Tom Trainor: Alex Covelli
Nanette: Macy McBeth
Flora Latham: Carly Edman
Betty Brown: Katie Socash
Winnie Winslow: Brittany Moses
Nanette’s Friends: Gino Cicconi, Maria Acosta, Kevin Dess, Kenzie Covelli, Joe Dolin, Gabriella Giangiuli, Steve Kennedy, Lizzie Manickas, Evan Lucas, Gina Morgan, Tyler Lucas, Miranda Nichols, Austin Moose, Brittney Nocera, Christian Na, Alaina Oprean, Logan Nawrocki, Madison Shaftic, Steve Pinter, Alison Vitale, Chris Price, Jeri Wethli. Eric Salle. Jacob Senchak. Max Watters, Grant Weaver, Jonathan Wherry