By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Cast and crew of the Shrewsbury High School (SHS) performing arts students’ upcoming production of “Urinetown: the Musical” are meeting regularly for rehearsals. Their Feb. 7 gathering, however, was unique. They participated in a four-hour workshop led by Nancy Opel, who performed in the original Off-Broadway production of “Urinetown” and its transfer to Broadway for which she earned a Tony Award nomination for best leading actress in a musical.
Also attending the workshop was the SHS production’s director Nathan Colby, theater coordinator and faculty member at St. John’s High School. He has been involved with the SHS spring musical in various capacities for two decades and as director for the second year. Colby appreciated Opel’s valuable input.
“Nancy knows the material intimately because she has lived it for so long,” he noted. “She can boil every moment down to its simplest form and explain it in a very clear, concise way. Her comment to the students was, ‘Everything you do in this production is life or death.’”
The licensing agency Music Theatre International describes the show’s synopsis: “In a Gotham-like city, a terrible water shortage caused by a 20-year drought has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens must use public amenities, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity’s most basic needs. Amid the people, a hero decides he’s had enough and plans a revolution to lead them all to freedom.”
Opel coached students with some of the show’s scenes and songs. She offered individualized attention to the principal performers, as well as the musical’s two groups of chorus players portraying citizens and executives.
“Nancy critiqued them and made suggestions for improvement throughout the course of the day,” Colby explained. “She worked with all of the students and really helped bring their performances to a new level.”
Drawing upon her experience of performing eight shows weekly, Opel also relayed to the students how to stay physically and vocally healthy while rehearsing and performing. After working on scenes and songs, she shared other sides of her entertainment experience through a question and answer session.
When a student asked the most memorable moment of her career thus far, Opel spoke of the first time she performed in the Broadway production of “Evita” after understudying the role for a year. She recalled how the spotlight blinded her and she stumbled over a bundle of cables, causing her high heels to tangle in her hoop skirt. She crawled on the stage floor as her prelude to the show’s act one finale, “A New Argentina.”
“Nancy has a really great personality,” Colby declared. “She had a great way of offering critique and suggestions in a lighthearted way. The anecdotes she shared along the way were really fun for the students and kept the pace moving.”
Colby is equally grateful to the Shrewsbury Schools Music/Theatre Association (SSMA) for its significant financial contribution to the workshop.
“It wouldn’t have been possible to bring Nancy here without the support of the SSMA,” he said.
The SHS cast consists of about 80 students with over 25 on the production crew. Once again serving as music director is SHS music and theater teacher Michael Lapomardo. Nancy Freeman is producer.
A preview performance of “Urinetown: the Musical” will be presented Thursday, March 3, 7 p.m., at SHS, for which tickets are $10 and free for senior adults. Performances continue Friday and Saturday, March 4 and 5, 7 p.m.; adult tickets are $15, students and senior adults $10. Contact 508-841-8300 extension 1088 or [email protected]. Note name, and specify show date and number of tickets for students/children, adults or senior adults.