BWW Interview: Lane Napper and Andrew Deprisco Of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL Master Class At Axelrod Performing Arts Center
High School Musical, the phenomenon both in film and on stage, is revered by fans of musicals throughout the world. Not only has the film managed to maintain its popularity in the years since its release, it has defied the odds and continued to amass a new generation of fans thanks to those who fell in love with the coming of age musical series nearly ten years ago taking the time to introduce the films to their friends and family. These same fans have helped make the stage version of the show a massive success, with countless theaters across the U.S. regularly performing the production. While fans may believe they have seen all iterations of the show imaginable, Andrew DePrisco of Axelrod Performing Arts Center and renowned Choreographer/Director Lane Napper are intent on providing fans of the series a new way to experience the musical. The duo and their cast and crew want audiences to know that this production is not one to be missed.
What is High School Musical?
In case you're unfamiliar with the show, it follows the lives of Troy (Joseph Bach), Gabriella (Elizabeth Ritacco), and the students of East High as they struggle with issues relatable to all those in high school; namely first loves, friends, family, and figuring out how to balance your classes with your need for a social life. Like all schools, East High is rife with cliques. Jocks, brainiacs, thespians, and skaters are just a sample of the many students who roam the halls. While the status quo may lump everybody into neat little groups, not everybody is comfortable with their identity being so one-sided. When Troy - the jock basketball team captain - discovers that Gabriella - a mysterious Brainiac that he sang karaoke with while on a ski trip - has enrolled in his school, he makes a choice that inadvertently begins a march towards a change in the school's formerly strict hierarchy. Troy realizes that he loves singing, possibly as much as he does basketball, and decides to team up with Gabriella to perform in the high school musical. While this change to the norm upsets some, in others it leads to an emergence of individuality, allowing students to realize that they too could stand outside the lines that the school's hierarchy had drawn for them.
What's Unique About This Particular Production?
For this production, Axelrod Performing Arts Center decided to throw out the normal multi-month production schedule in favor of a two-week intensive Master Class. This proves to be a rather bold choice in the sometimes cutthroat, and often extremely regulated, theatrical world. Throw in the fact that the theater has spared no expense for this production, hiring professional actors and talent from various walks of life to help local actors pull off this seemingly incredible stunt, and you've got a show built on quick decisions, energy, and pure talent which will pour out on the stage for those lucky enough to get seats.
I had a chance to speak with Axelrod Performing Arts Center's Artistic Director Andrew DePrisco and Director/Choreographer Lane Napper about the production. We talked about what drew them to this particular show, how this two-week intensive Master Class works, their thoughts on the production, cast, and crew, and what audiences should expect from these performances.
Thoughts From Andrew DePrisco, Full-Time Artistic Director For Axelrod Performing Arts Center
"This is Axelrod's first musical-theater intensive," explained Andrew DePrisco, speaking about the unique method used for this production of High School Musical. "An opportunity for school-age New Jersey performers, mainly high school age, to work with industry professionals in a fast-paced environment. In addition to Lane Napper directing and choreographing, there are two assistant choreographers from NYC, a dance captain, and four mentors working with the cast."
With only a two-week time frame for this show - from the day the actors walk into rehearsal to the day they step on stage for their first performance - there is little time for any doubt or tweaking amongst the actors and the production staff. This timeline creates a sense of excitement among those involved and helps all strive while under pressure, allowing the actors and staff to show off their talents. Still, despite the fast pace of the program, those involved manage to find time to hone their skills. "While the end result is a fully staged production of a musical," said DePrisco. "The performers also have the opportunity to do workshops in acting, improv, auditioning, character development, and so forth with Lane and visiting professionals." These workshops are crucial for young talent to sharpen their skills and give them the necessary tools to stand out amongst a crowded theatrical scene.
Choosing High School Musical as the focus for this two-week intensive was a process, with many plays in the running. "We reviewed several shows before we decided on High School Musical," said DePrisco. Ultimately, the fan favorite musical won out. "We love that it is a Disney property and that we could cast the show age-appropriate. The two adult roles in the show are played by professional adult actors, which gives the young performers yet another opportunity to work with individuals with experience." The popularity of the show will almost certainly ensure a great crowd for opening night, allowing the performers and crew to receive the recognition they deserve for their hard work.
After choosing the show, DePrisco had to round up the crew necessary to pull off the two-week intensive. Enter Lane Napper, well known choreographer and Nickelodeon star. "Lane has been a popular teacher for our Master Class series," said DePrisco. "He was my choice to lead the summer intensive." Napper's past work with Nickelodeon allowed DePrisco to be confident in his choice. "He has a natural affinity for working with young talent, and his enthusiasm is infectious with teenagers. Of course, his affiliation with Nickelodeon and Disney make him a 'rock star' to the young people who know him from iCarly, Victorious, and other shows." This experience working on television let DePrisco have faith that Napper could keep up with the strenuous deadlines of the program. "Lane's experience choreographing casts on TV also gives him an advantage to work as quickly as necessary to make a show happen. Traditionally, TV choreographers are given 15 minutes to set a number as opposed to 15 days!"
The show features a mixture of professional actors and local talent, with some of the crew stepping in as well. "The professional actors are playing a few of the lead roles," said DePrisco. "The dance captain, Chris Tsiantoulas, who lives in Toronto, and James Little from NYC, both perform as jocks in the cast. Local performers include Evan Schultz (Sharpay), Joe Grisanzio (Ryan), as well as 25 others!"
DePrisco wants audiences to rest assured that this production will be one to remember. "Audiences can expect a fast-paced, colorful, funny production of High School Musical with a talented cast who's never worked as hard, or as fast," DePrisco said. "Lane inspires the absolute best from his performers."
Director/Choreographer Lane Napper Speaks About the Production
Lane Napper, a well-known choreographer and actor who has been attached to popular Nickelodeon properties such as Victorious, iCarly, Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, and All That, immediately jumped at the chance to work with DePrisco and Axelrod Performing Arts Center. "I had worked with Andrew DePrisco on a few workshop based projects and have always loved his energy and vibe," said Napper. "He believes in the performers and he believes in the theater. When Andrew calls I never ask, 'what's the project?', usually I just say, 'where do you need me and what time!?"
Napper added, "I believe in him so much."
Napper believes there is a great future for the Axelrod Performing Arts Center and enjoys playing a part in its history. "The theater is truly up and coming. Last season they brought in Tony Award winning performers like Sutton Foster and Kelli O'Hara, not to mention staging shows like Newsies and In the Heights. How could I not want to be a part of all that?"
"I've been Directing and Choreographing for a while now," said Napper when explaining why he attached himself to the production, "but when Andrew asked me if I'd be interested in setting High School Musical, I jumped at the chance! What's weird is everything I had done prior in my career has led me to this moment." Napper is no stranger to musicals, especially those taking place in a high school setting. "When I was working on the hit television show Victorious, I choreographed 95% of the dance numbers during the entire run of the show. Victorious took place in a Performing Arts School and High School Musical is about a performance that's about to take place in a school!" Napper joked, "I speak that language! I know how those kids move! I had to be a part of it!" Despite his background in high school-based musicals, that wasn't his only reason for helping - Napper also happens to be a fan of the movie. "I'm a huge fan of the movie! I love that style!"
Napper has taught several Master Classes in the past, but this new two-week intensive has come with a new set of trials. "The main challenge for me is trying to stage, direct, and choreograph an entire show not knowing who you're going to work with or their abilities until the day I walk into the theater," said Napper. This lack of knowledge forces Napper to look at the production differently than he would a normal show. "Because it's an intensive you get different levels of technique, energy, confidence, and professional experience. In a perfect world I would love to have experienced performers to work with but the great thing about this program is it's designed to help the individual find what they might be lacking in and encourage them to step up, do the work, and reach for their highest potential." Napper added, "the program is truly changing lives."
Napper, not one to leave out credit where it's due, spoke about how having the right people by your side can make or break a tough production schedule such as this. "I've been blessed to have three awesomely talented people next to me," said Napper. "Cooper Flanagan, Ali Kerner, and Chris Tsiantoulas. Cooper has been with me the longest. She has helped me with many projects including television and film. She is an assistant's dream!" Napper makes sure to surround himself with individuals that have a strong work ethic. "I love people who will get in there and make it happen. I need people around me who make my job flow, not slow it up."
Napper added, "By the way, keep your eye on Chris (Tsiantoulas). He's definitely someone you will be hearing about in the future."
"I had never worked with our Troy Bolton (Joseph Bach) or Gabriella Montez (Elizabeth Ritacco) before," said Napper. "They are amazing! Because of their work ethic, I'm going to try and help them outside of High School Musical to further their careers. They would be a blessing on any project!"
A good cast can only perform as well as the crew who backs them, and Napper had no shortage of praise for his crew. "My Assistant Director Jacob Wahba makes it possible for me to sleep at night. His attention to detail is everything! Rounding out the experience for me is Lisa Goldfarb and Wendy Roman. The Theater is Lisa's 'baby,' she knows everything there is to know about it," said Napper. "If I have any questions, she's my go to stage manager. I'd be lost without her. Plus, her smile and vibe make it a better environment for all."
As for Wendy, her and Napper have known each other for years. "Wendy is the reason I'm here! She and I used to take class together in NY. She remembered me and, I don't know how, but found me years later and thought I'd be a good fit at the Axelrod Theater! She was right and she will always be my angel on earth."
As for potential audiences, Napper wants you to know how hard everyone has worked to bring you the best performance possible. "Everyone on that stage and behind the scenes are living their best lives when they get an opportunity to do what they love," said Napper. He goes on to speak about how he hopes the show inspires others to pursue their dreams. "I would like for every audience member to leave with a new energy of going after what THEY love. We are on earth for such a short time. Dance, travel, bake, create, live for your wildest dreams! Never let anyone stand in your way."
In parting, Napper said, "Get off the bench and 'GET'CHA HEAD IN THE GAME!'" Laughing, he adds, "ha! Did you see what I did there?"
Tickets for Axelrod Performing Arts Center's production of High School Musical can be purchased online or via phone at (732) 531-9106 EXT 14. Student tickets are $20.00, while Adults are $28.00, and Seniors are $26.00. Additional information can be found by visiting Axelrod Performing Arts Center's website.
Show dates are July 29th, 2018 at 7:00 PM, and August 1st and 2nd, 2018 at 8:00 PM and August 5th, 2018 at 3:00 PM.
Performances will be held at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center located at 100 Grant Ave, Deal Park, NJ 07723
You can e-mail the box office at: email@example.com
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