Because of politics in Illinois, mainly those of a Republican governor who took about a year to approve a state budget, times have hardly ever been as bad for the schools in Illinois as they are now. In spite of that, the students at one Aurora high school used their talent and hard work in May to shine a light on another Republican politician in a Broadway musical production that celebrates young love and the craziness it often brings out in us all.
Metea Valley High School opened in 2009, and the musical hallway was completed in 2010. The cost to build the school came to $124.7 million, and it definitively addressed the issue of overcrowding at the Indian Prairie School District 204’s two other high schools, Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley.
Fine arts programming in District 204, including drama, benefits year after year from high collaboration levels between students and staff. One can’t help but notice the stark contrast between this school and those in areas that aren’t quite as affluent as Naperville and east Aurora, where funding shortfalls make schools consider nuking program after program.
At one point in the musical—The Addams Family, music & lyrics by Andrew Lippa, book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice—Lucas’s parents are debating the pending marriage of their “normal” young son to Gomez and Morticia Addams’s daughter, Wednesday (a commanding Sushmitha Suresh). His father says she’s “named after a day of the week,” for crying out loud. His mother responds that “crazy is underrated.”
In today’s political climate, something like that wouldn’t even make the list when it comes to what constitutes “crazy.” We could say Donald Trump, for example, a real estate billionaire and the nominee of a major political party for president of the United States, is just a reality TV star, for crying out loud. Yet his candidacy is real.
Although it may appear equally crazy, Uncle Fester (senior Conner Arnold, who has been in four musicals at the high school and invites us to “embrace our own darkness”) is really in love with the moon: he even flies away with it at the end of the Second Act, using a carefully built trapeze harness and about a dozen beautifully synchronized dancers.
In the First Act, he simply inquires, in song, about the many actual events that might be considered ‘crazy.’ “Was Napoleon right for Josephine?” he asks, and so on. Little do we suspect as theatergoers that words like ‘Josephine’ and ‘Sound Machine’ rhyme with this presidential year: “Is Donald Trump right for two thousand sixteen?” he asks, giving a raised-eyebrow look to the audience as they erupt in applause and cause a grand pause in the orchestra pit.
One trumpet player in the pit, David O’Neill, also caught my ear. As I took my seat, which, thanks to the online ticketing service used, had the same seat number as another patron, I was treated to him warming up, so I had an idea something mind-blowing was coming. The top brass book in this musical features several glorious notes, every one of which was delivered with agility and dexterity.
The keyboardists, Emily Hensley and Etienne Morakotkarn, whose pipe organ gave the show its unmistakable embrace of the ghostly dark side in us all, along with 22 other musicians from this Grammy Award-winning school, proved their well-earned spot as members of such a unique ensemble. The other two high schools in the district have also won Grammy Awards, but Metea Valley’s came just this year. The talent in this auditorium left no doubt as to why.
“Here at Metea theater we are always pushing our own art form,” the Chicago Tribune quoted Metea Valley teacher and the musical’s director, Nathan Bramstedt, as saying. “We have some really cool special effects, an amazing live pit orchestra, and many surprises in the show. As far as production value goes, we have raised the bar and this show really features our extremely strong cast.”
He also said students studied other productions of the musical in order to bring their characters to life, “even the ancestor characters who are dead.” Months after the musical closed, the only remaining question is, Can anyone—anyone—bring this crazy political year to life?