Tag Archives: MSJ Spring Musical

A behind-the-scenes look at the casting, producing of a Mount St. Joseph performance

Mr. Mike Hartsfield, MSJ’s drama director

Casting and directing a show here at Mount Saint Joe, especially in high school takes a lot of work from both the director, and the cast. I got the chance to interview the Mount’s drama director, Mr. Michael Hartsfield, as well as senior Brennan Hyde, an experienced cast member in the shows. I was able to get from them both angles of producing a show at Mount Saint Joseph from the side of casting, directing and acting. 

Auditions are the real start of the process, when director meets actor. Here at Mount Saint Joseph, Mr. Hartsfield both directs the shows themselves, and casts the actors. That is a lot of responsibility right there, having to make all of the casting decisions in a short amount of time, not to mention the fact that Mr. Hartsfield doesn’t cut anyone from casting, and everyone gets to participate. 

When it comes to auditions, Mr. Hartsfield looks for certain things from his actors, varying from show to show, play and musical. So if you’re a student looking to audition for one of our shows, you’d better pay close attention. Preparedness is a top quality that our director looks for in an audition. He wants to see people that have done their research on the show, and that have practiced their audition, whether it be a song or a monologue. There are also some general things that Mr. Hartsfield wants to see on stage. Strong projection of their voice, personality on stage, clarity, and for a musical; obviously, he wants to hear their singing abilities.

Senior Brennan Hyde, one of the stalwarts of St. Joe’s productions.

Brennan Hyde had never done any real shows, and only began his career here at the Mount. He has since risen in the ‘ranks’ in theater, and has landed himself a number of strong roles, including the part of Tony in “West Side Story.” Brennan has been in the driver seat of a lead, so it’s safe to say, he knows his way around the stage. Brennan had very similar things to say, despite these being separate interviews. Brennan does his research on the show he’s going to audition for, and finds out the theme. For musicals, Brennan says it depends on the musical, but he makes sure to research them, too, so he can pick the best song for his vocal range, as well as the range of a part he wants to get.

A question or topic that has come up when it comes to casting decisions is awarding roles based on your grade level. The concept comes from students wanting ‘a chance’ to have a bigger role, before they leave high school. According to Mr. Hartsfield, that is a “constant critique of…every high school director in the country.” Mr. Hartsfield also says he does not factor grade level into his casting decisions, but he does; however, use it as a neck and neck tiebreaker for a part. When Brennan Hyde was asked if he believed Mr. Hartsfield made casting decisions based on grade level, he also disagreed. The same story came up in both interviews about another student, Patrick Scott, who was cast as Ren, the lead in “Footloose,” when he was ‘only a freshman.’ Scott is now a junior at MSJ, and has since also played the part of Riff in “West Side Story.” With that in mind, it seems that the process is based on the audition itself, with grade level being a minor aspect of the decision-making process.

Body microphones used in MSJ’s productions

After Mr. Hartsfield has created his cast list, the first thing he does is call the entire cast for a read-through of the show. This is done to familiarize the cast with the show and the feeling of it, before they get on stage. This also builds chemistry between the cast members so they become accustomed to who they will be working with. After that, the process of rehearsing a play is quite simple: walk and act through the scenes chronologically on stage to practice and get the blocking down. Musicals; however, can be quite a different story, with the order in which the scenes are practiced can be completely out of order. When Brennan was practicing as Tony in “West Side Story,” he spent a lot of time reading his part, and understanding what his character was going through. Brennan says it wasn’t a difficult transformation for him, although he had some trouble pretending to be as “sad” as the character.

Tech booth microphone box

The final piece of the drama puzzle before the actual show is Tech Week. Tech Week is the week leading right up to opening night where everything is supposed to come together – the sound, microphones, actors, major set changes, and stage lights. The biggest trouble that Mount Saint Joseph has had in recent years, is the sound system. Mr. Hartsfield calls it the “bane of our existence” for MSJ shows. When MSJ does musicals; however, there are even more things that need to be accounted for, tested, and incorporated into the show: the pit band and the singers, and managing the sound for both.

At the end of the week, Mr. Hartsfield and his stage and tech crew always manage, and the show is ready to be put on. So when MSJ puts on their show each night, where is Mr. Hartsfield? Is he back stage helping the stage crew? Is he at home taking his well-earned nap? No.

View of the auditorium and stage from the tech booth

Mr. Hartsfield is still hard at work, stressing it out up in the tech booth “calling the show.” That means Mr. Hartsfield has a walkie-talkie and is still directing, in a way. Instead of cueing the actors, Mr. Hartsfield gives cues to the stage crew in the wings (off to the sides of the stage) to make important set or curtain changes. Being in the tech booth, Mr. Hartsfield also calls cues for sound changes, lighting, and specific sound effects they need.

As you can tell, there is a plethora of moving parts that go into each of the productions here at St. Joe, thanks to Mr. Hartsfield, his crew, and of course, all of the talented actors that participate. Another special thanks to my interviewees, Mr. Hartsfield and Brennan Hyde, for their time and a bit of an inside scoop.

Christopher Kelleher is a senior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.

Drama Club puts on a show with West Side Story

image1Mount Saint Joe has never failed to give us amazing plays and musicals. This spring, the drama club performed the 1957 Broadway show West Side Story. Junior Brennan Hyde played a lead role as Tony with sophomore Patrick Scott playing his best friend Riff. Riff is the leader of the gang, the Jets, and deals with the feud between the Jets and the Sharks. The Sharks are a gang full of Puerto Rican boys led by Bernardo, played by senior Ezra Melchor.

While the two gangs fight for territory, Tony meets the love of his life, Maria, who is the sister of Bernardo. Mount De Sales junior Maya Nellum played Maria, as she and Tony fall in love and can’t wait to spend their lives together. Unfortunately for Tony, Maria is already engaged to Chino. For those of you literary scholars, West Side Story is obviously a modern twist on the classic story, Romeo & JulietAs the two star-crossed lovers deal with the affair, it causes conflicts between the gangs. Maria and Tony fight for the freedom to love, while the gangs fight to end the feud once and for all.

Cast members Brennan Hyde and Patrick Scott during rehearsals.

As the cast and the crew were preparing for their performances, I had the chance to speak to Mr. Ader, who played the lead role of Tony when he was a student at St. Joe. Mr. Jason Ader, reflecting on his past performances, playing the role occupied by Brennan Hyde, said, “There was a lot of nostalgia watching some of my students play the same part I played 15 years ago…I’m really impressed and it was better than what we did!” Mr. Adam Kauffman, who was also in the show while a student at St. Joe, played the role of Jet member, Baby John. Sophomore Zach Polignone occupied the role this year, which was once filled by Mr. Kauffman. Mr. Kauffman said in the lead-up to the show, “I had a lot of fun in 2003 doing the show, I’m excited to see it. I have many students who are in the show [acting, stage crew, and in the band].

“There was a lot of nostalgia watching some of my students play the same part I played 15 years ago…I’m really impressed and it was better than what we did!” – Mr. Jason Ader

The show was seemingly a great success, as the audiences were overwhelmingly positive in their reception of West Side Story. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, I definitely recommend checking out the link below of all of the photos taken of the show. As a cast member, it was a cool experience playing a role in the production, and something I hope to hold onto, just like Mr. Ader and Mr. Kauffman. The production was led by theater director, Mr. Mike Hartsfield, who has guided this, his 30th show in his 15th year at Mount Saint Joe! As a cast member, I hope you enjoyed the show if you attended one of the performances. If you weren’t able to attend, I hope you come in the fall to see our next production!

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To check out the full album of pictures from West Side Story, click here.

img_0071Ethan Webber is a freshman member of the Quill.


“The Wiz” – A Review of the Spring Musical

It’s that time of the year again! MSJ’s Spring Musical has concluded, and it’s time to go through and nit-pick everything that happened during the show.

DSC_6368Well, not really, but what I am going to do is give you all the highs and lows of this year’s show, The Wiz. The show ran through the weekend of April 16th starting Friday night at 7 PM and ending on Sunday at 2 PM, and I am basing my review on the Saturday night performance.

We can start with the actual Music/Pit Band performance. The music was great! The band was able to create emotions with their instruments to an extremely high degree. Shout-out to Chris Arreza, ’17, who did an amazing job playing the drums during the performance. If there were any negatives, it would be that the band played a bit too loud, making it hard to hear the actors throughout the performance.

On to our first role: Dorothy, played by MDSA junior Azaria Oglesby. She commanded the stage and the audience’s attention throughout the whole performance. Having a great amount of power in her voice helped her achieve this. One thing that I noticed was how committed she was throughout the whole thing, especially in the choreography. Never missing a beat, she danced in circles around some of the other actors, to her benefit and their deficit. Even while running throughout all of the Marion Burk Knott Fine Arts Center, she was able to stay  on beat and hit every note. Great job Azaria!DSC_6824_crop

We move on to the role of Aunt Em, played by MDSA senior Meghan Hanlon. In Cinderella, she was an A+ actress, but I think this role was a less than perfect match. Aunt Em seems to be a huge role vocally needing a huge range to sing. “The Feeling We Once Had,” which is a song in the very beginning of the show, is basically a solo. It is a very challenging song, and in my opinion, it was a little pitchy. However, her characterization and acting was excellent and reminded us of the great performances of past. Overall, it was a solid performance. She pushed through and gave it her all. Well done and good luck in your future performances Meghan!

DSC_7545Moving onto our first MSJ performer: Mark Haver, ’16. The role of the Tinman is one of the most important in the show.  Mark brought something to the MSJ stage that I had yet to see, tap dancing. In his introductory scene/song, “Slide Some Oil To Me,” he separated himself from the rest of the group when he broke out into dance. His voice was also the epitome of what a Broadway voice sounds like: vibrato, drama, and attitude.

“Steeeeeeeeeeeeeve” could be heard throughout the whole auditorium when MSJ fan favorite Steven “Big Steve” Alford, ’16, bowed to the crowd at the end of the performance. Steve was able to get the crowd laughing, especially with the line, “Imma get the hell outta here!” It was definitely cool seeing a 6’1″, 340-lb lineman on the MSJ stage (Yes Steve, I know you’re going to read this, and yes, I looked at your Hudl to get those stats, lol.). From his performance you would have had no idea that it was his first musical while in high school. There were some times though where the choreography seemed a little fuzzy,  but who am I kidding? It was awesome! Congrats Steve on a job well done, and good luck at McDaniel!

DSC_6612One actor that seemed particularly well-cast to me was senior Kyle Starling as the Scarecrow. He played the character with mindlessness and humor totally appropriate for the part. There were times when I lost Kyle on the stage, and that was a real shame. He had the most stage time with Dorothy compared to all the other roles, and I thought his solid performance suffered a bit simply by its comparison to Azaria’s star turn. Also, I felt like the acting like the Scarecrow couldn’t walk was way overdone. It was funny the first 2 times, but continuing to do so 3/4 of the way through got a little old. On the other hand, Kyle did use some excellent comedic timing though in his dialogue which really got people laughing and enjoying the show. Although mixed, I think it was a positive performance! Good luck Kyle in your future theatre productions!

DSC_7732_cropLet’s continue and look at the role of the Wiz, played by MSJ junior Connor Hurley. Again I felt mixed about this performance. I didn’t quite get this characterization/interpretation of the Wizard, which I think needed a little explanation. Just imagine Evel Knievel and David Bowie having a child. That’s what this was like. It wasn’t a major problem though, and I might be the only person who felt this way. The actual performance Connor displayed was very well-executed. He definitely made the most out of the time he was on stage. And Connor once again brought that great Broadway-esque voice that the MSJ stage has now heard for some time. Bravo!DSC_6708

Bridget Edmondson, my favorite actress from MDSA’s Cinderella, once again put on a performance for us that night. It wasn’t a very big role, but she definitely made the most of being Evillene (Wicked Witch of the West). “Shut Up!” rang throughout, and the laughter quickly followed. Bridget has great comedic timing which benefits her no matter how big her role is. Could I say it was enough to be a repeat of my favorite individual performance? The answer is no, it just wasn’t enough. If she would have had any more stage time, she probably would have stolen the show again for me. Way to go Bridget!

DSC_6982The Good Witches of the North and South were played by Seton Keough junior Pria Graham and MDSA senior Amelia Congedo, respectively. Both had pretty small roles but together did a great job in adding to the play. Pria was able to bring in a modern feel that just added to the performance and freshened it all up. Amelia sang a beautiful ballad while on stage and was visually captivating in an elegant costume to fit the part.

Other notably positive performances were that of senior Peter McKernan (Royal Gatekeeper), those who performed the Poppy Field Dance, and my dear friend Greg Rogers (Leader of the Winged Monkeys).

DSC_6398My expectations for this musical were pretty high. Coming off a great Winter musical (Cinderella), I thought that all of a sudden his would become a Broadway cast. And I also didn’t do my research. When I heard that this musical was written in an urbanized vernacular, I expected it to be 21st century, R&B or Hip Hop style music. The Wiz was written and originally shown in the 70’s, which explains why I felt like the urbanized feel I expected didn’t shine through. If I were to do one thing to improve the musical for today’s audience, it would be to update the music to a more modern style of R&B and Hip Hop, just so the modern idea of urbanized would show through and make it more contemporary.

The cast did a good job and I was entertained, and that’s all I can ask for. I rate it 4 stars out of 5.

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