Students deel the jitters at auditions

Cranbury School students audition for the spring musical "Once On This Island."

By: Jessica Beym
   A cacophony of sopranos and altos echoed down the halls of Cranbury School on Monday afternoon.
   Right outside of music teacher Jaclyn DiLouie’s classroom, students paced back and forth, practicing their lines and trying to hit the high notes.
   Relieved and no longer anxious, Alyssa Torske sat patiently as she waited for her friends’ names to come up next on the list during auditions for the Cranbury School play.
   Even though she was the first to audition for this year’s spring musical of "Once On This Island," Alyssa, a seventh-grade student in advanced choir, said she wasn’t nervous.
   "I sang ‘A Whole New World’ from ‘Aladdin.’ I sang it for choir tryouts and last year’s play and it brought me good luck," said Alyssa.
   In their six-minute time slot, students had to perform a 24-measure portion of a song from any Broadway musical that would emphasize their vocal range and strength. Then they were asked to act out a short monologue from the play to show their acting skills.
   But before delving into the audition, director Gary Charwin, a high school English teacher in Irvington, started with an ice-breaker.
   "So what have you been up to since the last time we met?" he asked, wondering what music or dance-related activities the students are involved in.
   Mr. Charwin, a Cranbury resident, has been directing the play for the past four years, and said each year he looks for students who are not only talented, but also not too busy with extracurricular activities.
   "It’s a major commitment," said Mr. Charwin.
   Students must be available for practice every day, which means Monday through Friday until 5:15 and also a few mandatory Saturdays.
   Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders could audition for the play, which will run for three nights in the last week of March.
   More than 60 signed up for the tryouts, which took place after school Monday and Wednesday, but only 15 will be picked for the lead roles. Judging the auditions were Mr. Charwin, Ms. DiLouie, who will direct the music, and Emily Benjamin, a math teacher at the Cranbury School who will direct the choreography.
   At 3 p.m. Monday they will post a callback list of students being considered for principal roles. In the final round of judging, students will be asked to learn specific songs from the show, read scenes and dance.
   "Once On This Island," an off-Broadway play full of music and choreography, is based on the novel "My Love, My Love" by Lynn Ahrens, which in turn was inspired by "The Little Mermaid," by Hans Christen Anderson. It is a modern-day story similar to the Shakespearean tragedy of "Romeo and Juliet."
   The musical fable takes place on a Caribbean island and tells the story of a peasant girl who has fallen in love with a rich boy from the other side of the island.
   But the distinctions of class, prejudice and a gated wall that divides the town keep the two apart. On one fateful day, they are brought together, and the tale unfolds with the young girl’s ultimate sacrifice, which reunites the town.
   The students will be performing the "junior" version of the play, which is appropriate for all ages.
   Ms. DiLouie, a first-year teacher at the Cranbury School, said any students who do not land a part in the play may join the village chorus. Those who prefer to avoid the limelight can still be part of the production by joining the stage crew.
   In previous years, a teacher was chosen to oversee the stage management, which includes handling the sets and props. This year, the eighth-graders who have been part of the stage crew in the past will be running the show without a direct manager.
   "It’s really more on the students this year," said Ms. DiLouie.
   Parents also can volunteer with costumes, props, make-up, publicity, backdrop art, or scenery and sets.