A special guest was watching Jan. 27 as students from Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn gave a spirited performance of “Ghost the Musical.”
Jim Hoare, an executive with Theatrical Rights Worldwide, traveled from New York to view the students’ interpretation of a version of the Broadway musical that was adapted for use by high school theater groups. He wanted to observe several innovations the students made in set design and stagecraft, to see whether other schools could also use them.
Hoare’s company licenses performance rights and represents the musical’s authors, Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard (music and lyrics) and Bruce Joel Rubin (book and lyrics). Hoare’s responsibilities include writing the director’s notes, which provide guidance on staging the play, and revising them based on what he sees during performances.
Hoare, a former high school theater teacher, said afterward that he loved the enthusiasm and diversity of the Rock Ridge cast and that he was particularly impressed with the fact that students had designed the sets, lighting, costumes and makeup.
“I love it when a theater teacher is not just putting kids on stage and giving them scripts, and then doing all the work themselves,” he said.
Rock Ridge’s production was the first performance of the school adaptation of the play in Virginia, Hoare said. Until this version was developed, high school groups had shied away from performing “Ghost the Musical,” he said, because the Broadway version had expensive special effects, such as ghosts walking through doors and objects appearing to float.
The school edition has simpler effects and relies on audiences to suspend their disbelief for the ghost scenes, he said.
Hoare worked closely with a high school in Ohio to test the show and write the director’s notes. He said he’ll revise the notes based on some of the things he saw in Rock Ridge’s performance, including scenes in which stage directions needed to be clarified.
He also noted several technical innovations the Rock Ridge students had made, such as a rotating floor and projections on a large screen used as a backdrop.
In one scene, two characters appeared to be walking in the moonlight, although they did not move across the stage. Instead, they were walking in place on the rotating floor, and the moon projected on the screen behind them moved slowly across the sky.
“I thought they used [the rotating floor] beautifully,” Hoare said. “I very much liked how they integrated the lighting and all of the slides in the backgrounds.”
Noam Denenberg, a junior, was in the cast and was also the show’s scenic designer. He worked with a California company to develop the projections, said the production’s director, Tony Cimino-Johnson. The projection package will be available for use by school theater groups around the world, he said.
Cimino-Johnson said students are able to take risks with the production because they are not concerned about financial or technical limitations.
“They’re dreamers and innovators,” he said. They “can produce some of the most creative work ever, and then we provide the resources to make those designs come to life.”
After the show, Hoare met with the cast and crew and asked whether they had enjoyed the experience. It’s always his first question, he said.
“For many kids, to have something you’re going to school for that you love, it makes your attitude about going to school better.” Hoare said.
Cimino-Johnson said he and the students were honored that Hoare came to see the production, and excited that he will provide feedback to the play’s authors.
“It’s not every day that somebody like Jim comes into your theater program,” he said.