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Schools score a musical high

Wicked, Peter Pan in Neverland, Smike, Snow White: A Love Story! Calcutta’s school calendar rivals a Broadway showlist.

Musicals are trending on the school circuit, sometimes outdoing professional productions in scale and scope. Students and parents adore the tights, fights, frills and footlights — and schools are more than willing to play along.

La Martiniere schools staged Wicked in July last year. Modern High put on Shakuntala with 200 characters.

Birla High School for Boys, Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan and Mahadevi Birla World Academy toed the musical line too but on a smaller scale.

St. James’ School returned to Smike Revisited a quarter of a century since it staged the play for the first time during its 125th-year celebrations when John Mason was the principal. The school revisited the play in association with The Telegraph, powered by TTIS.

National Gems Higher Secondary School staged Snow White: A Love Story in December.

Musicals have hit the high note because the more-the-merrier format allows a huge cast. Unlike low-prop plays where the backstage crew gets only a few high fives, a three-hour musical lets the entire line-up share the spotlight.

“A regular play may require a cast of 20. A musical can easily accommodate 40 students, not to mention backstage roles such as stage setting, arrangement of props or costume change and the choir,” said Sunirmal Chakravarthi, the principal of La Martiniere for Boys.

Having successfully staged The Man Who Came to Dinner, the 1939 play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, at La Martiniere in 2006, Chakravarthi knows the mojo of musicals.

Director Dana Roy explained the power of props, scenery and set arrangement. “The costumes section, for instance, must understand the roles before selecting the dresses for characters. For lighting, there has to be a person who knows the musical cues.”

All these cost money, something between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 6 lakh. Many schools hire hard-grafting pros to direct such high-budget plays and book large theatres, which entails an additional Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 7 lakh.

For Smike Revisited, St. James’ spent Rs 1 lakh on costume, Rs 1.2 lakh for the music and Rs 1.3 lakh for sound.

La Martiniere had to fork out about Rs 1 lakh on costume and close to Rs 3 lakh for sound and music.

“Since you are spending that much money, you might as well involve more children. It brings out their talent and cuts out monotony because of the song-and-dance sequences,” said Michael Shane Calvert, the principal of National Gems. Besides Snow White: A Love Story, the school had staged Lion King, Peter Pan in Neverland and Bombay Dreams.

Snow White had an assemblage — on stage and the choir — of 150 children from classes I to IV.

In 2009, Modern High School for Girls staged Under the Sea with a cast of over 400.

Most of these operas were staged in popular theatres because school halls don’t have the required acoustics, lighting and backstage space for big-ticket productions.

“Sets have to be changed quickly and moved out in such a way that they don’t obstruct the movement of actors and crew. School halls normally don’t have enough space to accommodate everything… props, green rooms for a large cast and room for the choir,” a director said.

Halls are often booked for full dress and technical rehearsals with lighting and sound so that everybody knows exactly what to do in the actual performance.

Musicals involve acting, singing and dancing — all rolled into one. Since miming is a no-no, the production sticks to live music and songs sung by the characters. The choir provides the background score.