Page To Stage
Premiere Performance Of ‘Cast Party’ Set At CLCS
Sometimes all it takes is an idea.
And for Jennifer Davis’ idea, it will be realized Friday and Saturday as an original musical “Cast Party” will premiere At Chautauqua Lake Central School.
Davis, the musical’s director said the idea came to her in March of 2019 when she was talking with other colleagues at an event at SUNY Fredonia, also attended by Brian Usifer, a Fredonia graduate.
“There was a group of us talking about the same shows being performed by different schools each year. He made a comment there so many up-and-coming songwriters that it would be nice to get more new work focused on, so that was where the seed was planted,” Davis said.
Usifer is a New York City-based music director, pianist, orchestrator/arranger, producer and composer.
Usifer, according to his website, brianusifer.com, is currently the Music Director of Disney’s “Frozen” on Broadway. Prior to that he was the Music Director of “Kinky Boots: on Broadway,” which won six Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score. The cast recording won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. He is also the Associate Music Supervisor of “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway and on tour as well with “Kinky Boots: on Tour” in London and Toronto. Usifer has played in the Broadway and off-Broadway orchestras of “Spelling Bee,” “Avenue Q,” “Altar Boyz” and “The Book of Mormon.” Credits also include more than five years of regional theatre including “Follies.” Concerts include Clay Aiken “Tried and True DVD,” for PBS. He holds a bachelor of music in piano performance from Fredonia and a masters degree in collaborative piano from NYU.
Because he is connected in the New York City area, Davis reached out to Usifer and asked if he could nudge her in the correct direction to get started with her idea.
Enter Adam Wachter.
“Brian referred Adam, and then I contacted Adam and said instead of getting rights to a musical, we’re looking to have one written, and let the kids be part of the process. He (Adam) was amenable to it,” Davis said.
Wachter is a composer, lyricist, and music director featured on six episodes of the Disney Plus series “Encore!” produced and hosted by Kristen Bell. He is the recipient of the 2018 Stiles + Drewe Prize for songwriting, and his original musical “Tarrytown” won the 2017 San Diego Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Musical. He composed the music for the ballet On Lincoln Square, which premiered at the Vail Dance Festival as the choreographic debut of Tiler Peck, and wrote both the score and screenplay for the award-winning short film “Sign.” His Broadway keyboard credits include “War Paint,” “Allegiance,” “Finding Neverland,” “Peter Pan,” and “The Addams Family.” Wachter received a bachelor’s from the University of Michigan and master’s from Goldsmiths, University of London, and is currently on the faculty of Point Park University’s musical theatre department in Pittsburgh, Pa.
In the summer of 2019, Davis with support from the CLCS Board of Education and Administration, reached an agreement to have Wachter write a musical for the school’s secondary musical, as well as provide students a peek inside the process so that students are involved from page to stage. A core team of students videoconferenced with Wachter in October 2019 to ‘meet’ the composer and share possible themes and ideas for a show as well as ask questions about his process.
“He (Adam) delivered the script and the music to us at the end of December,” Davis said. “We had arranged that he would come visit with us after learning the songs. We always planned that there would be an interactive piece of his visit, so we opted to do it sooner rather than later, so that would give him a chance to make sure the keys that he’d written songs in the voices of the kids and there were some changes that needed to made.”
Davis said she really liked how all the parts came together.
“He has been great to work with the entire process,” she said. “He is very in tune to the kids’ feedback asking them for questions. A couple (students) approached him about lines that were awkward, so he modified those (lines) and in a couple weeks got changes to us. It was great for him to share his process with us. By the time we had everything ironed out with the agreement, it didn’t leave him much time to write it.”
“Cast Party” is an original musical by composer and lyricist Wachter that celebrates the magic of theater for performers and audiences alike. The story follows Madison, a loud-and-proud lover of musicals who has finished her final performance of her school’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance,” and is preparing to host a cast party at her house. She is plagued by her younger brother Jordan, who despises musicals, but is ecstatic when her best friend from theater camp, the extremely talented Abigail, arrives after watching their performance and congratulates her on her success.
As the rest of her cast begins to arrive, Madison’s perfect party is disrupted by her cast’s drama. Hannah, who couldn’t star as the show’s leading lady due to an allergic reaction, blames her understudy Emily for stealing her EpiPen and robbing her of her role, while Emily insists she did nothing wrong and says someone else must have stolen it. Alex, the local heartthrob of the school, tries to discover who he is even when everyone else has already decided what to label him with the help of Tyler, an out- and-proud gay cast member. Josh, Tyler’s best friend, has to overcome the stereotype of guys who like musicals being gay. He wants to ask out Ava, a girl who is more comfortable fighting the patriarchy than she is admitting that she likes him back. Noah has to find a way to deal with his social anxiety and fight off a panic attack at a party while also being constantly surrounded by Grace and Sophie, a pair of best friends who have an enormous crush on him. Madison gets caught up in the drama and must face the idea that she really isn’t as good of a performer as she thought. Throughout the party, the cast discovers who they are through song and dance, and they rediscover their love for being able to let go of all their troubles when they go onstage.
Davis said auditions were submitted online after the characters were developed and the synopsis was written, allowing Wachter to have input in casting, which was completed in November. Wachter produced a working draft of the work in late December 2019, and visited the school in January to meet with the cast.
During his two-day visit students had a chance to ask questions about the show, sing through all the songs, as well as complete a read through of the show so he could review and decide what edits and adjustments needed to be made.
Davis said she had a form that students filled out with their name, past shows and unique talents. They had to upload a headshot and record a song of them singing. There are only 12 principals — speaking and singing soloists — and a total of 34 students in the cast.
“He was willing to give me full license for casting, but I wanted him to be a part of the process and have input,” Davis said. “I know the kids, but he knew the visions for the show. Adam has given me a lot of liberty to direct the musical. The only adaptation that we had was for the set. We moved the party to the basement because it was easier to create a set for the show.”
The performance begins at 7 p.m. Friday at the school, 100 N. Erie St. Mayville. There will be one additional performance Saturday at 7 p.m. For more information call 753-5881 ext. 1141.
“There are things that you just don’t anticipate that are going to take longer than you think,” Davis added.