The Theatre Department at OPRF High School stages more than a dozen shows each school year — from musicals with 100-plus cast and crew, to smaller student-directed productions. But when they take their talents on the road, stars are born.
Four OPRF students are part of the state’s top theatrical production, the All-State Show, at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival. In its 42nd year, the festival is attended by more than 4,000 students, teachers, and others, and consists of workshops, individual high school shows, and more.
OPRF has been participating since it began and 25 students are attending this week from Jan. 5-7 at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. This year’s All-State production, and festival highlight, is Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeny Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a three-hour-long musical.
Tryouts for the All-State Show began last June with actors auditioning and crew submitting samples such as lighting designs and makeup from previous productions.
“The audition process was long and tough,” said OPRF senior Grant Reynolds. “There was a plethora of forms. Then at the first audition, there were 60 kids preparing and it was terrifying. When I got called in, I messed up.” Reynolds received a call-back nonetheless. He tried out for two lead roles but could also be selected for the ensemble. When the list came out showing who would play each role, Reynolds received the news from a friend who congratulated him.
“I didn’t know what for,” he recalled, “and then I saw the list. I couldn’t speak and I was in tears!” Reynolds was cast as Sweeney Todd.
Students are selected from across the state. Up to five from each school may participate. Multiple rehearsals occur over long weekends to prepare everyone for five January performances put on during the three-day festival. Some rehearsal days go as long as 13 hours.
OPRF junior Drew Krueger, an ensemble member, plays four characters and makes five costume changes, ranging from a gravedigger to a lunatic in an insane asylum. “This group is passionate because we know what an honor it is to be part of this production,” said Krueger. “Everyone gives their utmost at every rehearsal.”
Giving their utmost also means the players wear more than one hat throughout the production. At the first rehearsals in August, OPRF senior Flynn Osman, who is on crew for hair and makeup, worked on set building. For dress rehearsals and the performance at the festival, the actors apply their own stage makeup.
“There are 34 actors and only six of us in hair and makeup, so we had to teach the actors to do their own makeup,” Osman said. She and the team created photo templates and descriptions for the styles so the actors could apply their looks. This crew also assists with wig and costume changes. “There is so much going on in this show. There are a lot of quick fixes, such as a shoe breaking because they’re old, or an actor may come rushing over for help.”
Another challenge is the music itself.
“Anyone who knows Sondheim’s music knows how difficult it is,” said Michelle Bayer, Performing Arts Department chair and director of theater at OPRF, “and Sweeney Todd is almost all music.”
The actors find the music, along with other challenges, are ways to experience being in a show on a more professional level.
“Sondheim is a mad genius. The music is hard to tackle,” said Krueger. “It’s a horror show with mature subject matter, blood on stage, and five moving platforms. It’s inspiring to be part of this.”
For Reynolds, the character he plays presented the biggest challenge.
“Sweeny Todd is loosely based on a real person so to understand him, a murderer, and put his life in perspective was difficult,” he said. “Also I thought portraying strong chemistry with the other actors with this type of story and because we didn’t know each other would be hard, but we all got close right away.”
Also part of the production is junior Brian Gallagher who is on the lighting crew.
Krueger also appeared in 2016’s All-State Show, Rent. In the lead of that show — OPRF student Max Gonzalez — is now a musical theater major at New York University.