This weekend, Manchester High School Central presents Fame — its biggest show in years.
The musical, produced by the Maskers Drama Club and Central Community Players, hits the stage Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25. It’s based on the 1980 film of the same name and centers on students from New York City’s High School of Performing Arts, who all dream of making it big someday.
Director Dan Pelletier said they chose Fame because of its accessibility (it didn’t require intensive props or sets), its ability to accommodate a large cast and, of course, its relatability to high school students. Who can speak better on the issues and pressures teenagers face than people living it?
“We thought the play offered a variety of different types of roles and that it would allow us to give students the best chance to succeed,” Pelletier said via phone, just over a week before showtime.
Even so, the production has required a great deal of work for everyone involved. Many cast members, even the eldest, have very little musical theater experience. Some have performed in small middle school shows or with local youth companies, but for most, it’s all new.
Central used to have two student drama clubs. Maskers traditionally produced student-run plays, while the Central Community Players tackled musicals with the help of adult advisors. But about a decade ago, the latter group disbanded, and musicals disappeared at Central until 2015, when the school hired Pelletier to direct Is There Life After High School? followed by Godspell in 2016.
For dance- and music-heavy Fame, rehearsals began in December — a bit early for a late March production, but Pelletier wanted to give kids time to learn the lines, music and choreography, and the medium itself.
“We’re basically re-introducing musical theater to the school, and I wanted to move at a pace that allowed us to give them a foundation for acting and dance and musical theater,” Pelletier said.
The kids aren’t complaining; they’re happy to have the extra time.
“For the majority of the people here, this is their first show and their first time dancing. This is a new thing for a lot of us,” said Lydon Philbrook, who plays Schlomo Metzenbaum, a violinist.
Every day from 3 to 5 p.m., cast and crew members can be found practicing in the auditorium or hanging posters around the school. Between rehearsals, they’re making costumes with the help of parents who lived in the ’80s and a Pinterest board loaded with ideas. (Emma Sarette, who plays dancer and singer Mabel Washington, said she was altering her mom’s maroon leotard from the ’80s.)
Students, parents and grandparents built the set the weekend before the musical’s premiere, and local companies like the Nashua Actorsingers and Seacoast Repertory Theatre lent costumes and equipment.
The messages and themes in Fame hit home for many of the actors involved.
“I think the things I connect with most are the relationships and the pressure. The pressure is unbelievable for these students. And all of us have experienced pressure, whether it’s school or family or something else,” said Dustin Blake, who plays Joe Vegas, during a recent rehearsal.
And then there’s the uncertainty of what comes next, which hits harder for the upperclassmen, who are applying to colleges and deciding what they want to do and how they’re going to get there.
Pelletier thinks Fame presents the most difficult acting challenge for Central students thus far. The stories may be relatable, but the musical spans years, and so actors need to show growth in their characters.
“We get to see some of these characters over the course of four years,” Pelletier said. “The biggest difficulty with the show is figuring out how we can show they’re not the same at the beginning of the play as they are at the end of the play. For some of the younger members of the cast who might be freshmen or sophomores, they might not have had the opportunity yet to experience that growth.”