Musical theatre plays a small role in most people’s lives, popping up here or there, maybe at the end of a long day on a trip to New York after being sandwiched next to fellow tourists all day, or when you find out your best friend knows all the words to Grease, too.
But for a group of young people, ages 17 to 29 to be exact, who are part of the West Island Student Theatre Association, musical theatre is something they live and breathe every day.
This year, the group is coming at full force by tackling an original production called Show People.
Set in ’80s-era New York, the show follows the auditions for a new Broadway show. The spotlights are set and lines are memorized, until the show’s star abandons her role. Faced with a production missing its biggest cast member, they turn to a producer’s ex-lover to fill the role. However, she immediately clashes with an ingénue chorus girl, leaving room for drama and more than a few dance numbers.
“I’ve been working with WISTA for a long time, so I knew there was a bunch of stuff I wanted to do with them,” said Trevor Barrette, who wrote the script and is choreographing the show. “The plot came after I found a few of the main songs that I wanted do with WISTA, that I want to take forward […] and the story came out of that.”
Calling itself a jukebox musical, Show People will feature songs from some of the most famous musicals through time, from A Chorus Line to Chicago, basically “songs that I’d always pushed for, that I’d always wanted to do with the group,” explained Barrette. Putting on an original production will also allow members to show off their talents.
“Part of what makes WISTA special is that it’s largely student-run, student-produced, student-performed, and I think student-written is just another thing that we’ve taken on before with the Cirque d’Orandour, and that we wanted to highlight again because it’s so much fun to see what everyone can do,” said Stephanie Zidel, who plays the role of Nancy the stage manager.
“It’s our chance to show us at our best, instead of following a script that was made by someone that we don’t know, something that’s already been done,” agreed Megan Magisano, who plays Betty, a chorus girl. “This is our way to really make it ours, and make it WISTA’s.”
Another advantage of putting on Show People is that it allows for a bigger cast. With WISTA’s growing numbers, it would seem that more really is merrier.
“We started off with seven members. We currently have 45 members, whether they be performing or non-performing—so that’s directing, choreographing, helping with costumes,” said Marie Alexiou, WISTA membership representative, who plays bar patron Jen. “[..] This year WISTA is celebrating its fifth year. So in five years we went from seven to 45—that’s huge.”
New York will be created on stage with the help of five set-ups and iconic images from the city, while the wardrobe will range from the classic ’80s dichotomy of Jane Fonda (leg warmers and headbands galore) and Madonna (tulle skirts), with a retro look at ’70s suits for the cast members portraying the management team.
With the entertainment industry cocktail of rivalry, backstabbing and jealousy being a staple of many stories, what will make WISTA’s production unique?
“I think it’s gonna be the fact that, if you look at us, we’re the only type of theatre company that’s student-run,” said cast member Craig Dalley, who plays Steven, the director. “You look at any of the other ones—yeah, there might be students involved, but if you look at our cast, we’re all completely students.”
“Everyone really wants to be doing what we’re doing,” added Zidel. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t work.”
At the end of the day, spectators will get to see what WISTA is all about—a group of dedicated young people who are doing what they love.
Alexiou said people can expect “a good time. A professional-looking and -feeling show, a quality show [..] If they’ve never heard of WISTA before, I think their minds will be blown, and they’ll become just as addicted as we are.”
“I want the people walking out of the show to say, ‘damn, these kids are the real deal,’ and not just some teenage high school show put together,” added Dalley.
“We have amazing performers, some great dancing, some beautiful singing,” said Barrette. “And it’s hopefully a show that will attract a lot of different people who enjoy musical theatre, who are new to musical theatre. I hope people are entertained, in the end.”
Show People is being performed on Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., at Beaubois Theatre (4901 du Collège-Beaubois, Pierrefonds). Student tickets are $13 and can be bought online at www.wista.ca/tickets or by phone at 514-998-7229. For more information, check out www.wista.ca.