By Stephen J. Kotz
The scene inside the Pierson High School auditorium on Sunday afternoon as the cast and crew of “13,” this year’s middle school musical, ran through their tech rehearsal, bordered on the chaotic.
“Quiet, people! Let’s go!,” shouted Paula Brannon, the play’s director, as she tried to marshal her charges, who were being fitted with their portable microphones, to their positions on stage. “Stop talking! If you are backstage and you talk, everybody will hear you!”
Organizing the kids, who had been grabbing a slice of pizza in the lobby during lunch break or lounging about in the auditorium seats, was about as easy as shoveling smoke with a pitchfork in the wind.
It didn’t help that members of the lighting crew, made up of high school volunteers, were interrupting things as they checked their stage lights. Or that the musicians were going over last-minute changes. Or that one girl, who could be identified as having a major role by a handwritten sign hanging from her neck, had a stomach ache that would soon send her home for the day.
Somehow, Ms. Brannon said, when the curtain goes up on Thursday, March 27, for this year’s four-day run, things will have fallen into place and a lead character, who was battling a cold this weekend, will find his voice, confusion surrounding the prop changes will be ironed out, and the stage lights, which were flickering ominously at times on Sunday, will remain lit.
This year’s musical, “13,” was written in 2007 by Dan Ellish and Robert Horn with music by Jason Brown.
“It could be called a coming-of-age show,” said Ms. Brannon, who by day is the account clerk for the Village of Sag Harbor but serves as director of the school district’s musicals, a position she has held for more than a decade. “It’s about the angst of growing up and trying to hold onto being a child.”
The play tells the story of Evan Goldman, a 12-year-old Jewish boy from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, played by seventh-grader Thomas Lawton, who is looking forward to his 13th birthday and the over-the-top bar mitzvah party that will come with it.
Evan’s dreams are dashed, though, when his parents go through a messy divorce and his mother moves, for reasons not explained, with her son to the small town of Appleton, Indiana.
In his new town, Evan tries to salvage his bar mitzvah party dreams by befriending Brett, the star quarterback, played by Graham DiLorenzo, and his buddies, Malcolm (Aidan Mega) and Eddie (Jack Nolan). Evan hopes that by helping Brett get Kendra (Anna Schiavoni), the most popular girl in the school, to be his girlfriend, Brett will get the other kids in the class to attend his bar mitzvah.
It becomes a serious uphill climb. First, Evan has to reassure his friends that a bar mitzvah is not, as the duplicitous Lucy (Saneya Graves),says “a weird Jewish thing where they make you talk backwards and everyone gets circumcised,” but a “a party with a hot DJ and wild dancing.”
Along the way, Evan finds himself betraying his only two true friends, Patrice (Charlotte Johnson) and Archie (Yani Bitis), as he devises ever more elaborate schemes to be accepted by the popular crowd. Not surprisingly, by the end of the play, Evan realizes the errors of his ways and makes giant strides in growing up.
“They throw themselves into this 100 percent,” said Bethany Dellapolla, an Amagansett native who comes out from her home in Queens to choreograph the musicals. “I try to choreograph it so it is doable, but challenging for them. I think they like that too.”
Despite the many lose ends in the production, Ms. Dellapolla said she could see real progress. “Last week they couldn’t sing and dance at the same time,” she said.
Besides Ms. Dellapolla, Ms. Brannon is joined by English teacher Melissa Luppi, who is the musical’s producer; music teacher Eric Reynolds who will conduct a pit “orchestra” made up of Bridgehampton School music teacher Dave Elliot and pianist Amanda Jones; vocals coach Karen Hochstedler, and about a dozen Pierson High School students who handle the backstage work and lights.
Ms. Brannon agreed that the musical was rounding into shape, despite the fact that the group lost a solid week of rehearsal time this year because the Pierson sports seasons started earlier than usual.
“It’s a job juggling all their schedules and the adults involved as well,” she said. A typical rehearsal day starts at 2:30 p.m. with vocal lessons with Ms. Hochstedler and dance lessons with Ms. Dellapolla until about 5 p.m. when Ms. Brannon takes over until 6:30 p.m.
About 55 students signed up to participate in the play, and xonly about five dropped out, mostly because of conflicts with sports schedules.
“I could never have done this demanding a schedule when I was their age,” Ms. Brannon said. “I am constantly amazed at their stamina, talent and drive.”
The Pierson Middle School musical, “13,” will be performed in the Pierson High School auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 27, Friday, March 28, and Saturday, March 29, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 30. Tickets are $7 and can be reserved by calling the Pierson High School office at 725-5302.