Neither Cold Nor Wind Nor Rain Could Halt the Freaky Friday Show


By Gianna Montalbano, Writer

Given the circumstances and challenges that we all have been facing this year, there were concerns about producing the traditional Spring musical at all let alone a successful one, but the WHHS theater group did just that on April 29 through May 1 with its production of  Freaky Friday.

Administrators, advisers, and students had to clearly improvise this year answering an abundance of questions including would students stay healthy throughout the lengthy rehearsal and production schedule?  Would they be able to learn their lines and practice effectively enough to give a solid performance? Would people come? Would the weather cooperate?

Well, the answer to most of these questions – weather excepted – is a resounding yes.

As a result of the pandemic, Freaky Friday Musical Director Joseph Fleissner, an English teacher,  along with Director Erin Wilbur, Producer Barbara Jeronis and Choreographer Sarah Getzke, had to limit how many people could come to one of the showings to 150 people per night in keeping with New Jersey’s COVID guidelines. Also, it was decided that the play would be performed outside the school for safety reasons.

“So, we rented a stage, lighting equipment, and a generator,” said Fleissner. “We built sets that could be multifunctional but take up little room on stage. That was the easy part. The challenge came in dealing with wind.”   

The wind not only posed challenges during rehearsals but also during production week.  Then rain canceled most of the last rehearsal and the first scheduled performance on Thursday night.  “What should have been our opening night got canceled due to predicted rain (which ended up not coming). Friday night, the winds were so high that we couldn’t use our set, and there was an electrical system issue that caused our lights to keep dimming uncontrollably. And it was 42 degrees (that’s cold!). But then, Saturday night was beautiful and dry, and we fixed our equipment issue. And, luckily for us, that was the night we filmed. This year really presented us with unique challenges, but we rose to meet them and, in my view, succeeded” 

These were all things that Fleissner had to consider, and luckily, everything went well. All the students who were in the performance were all generally healthy. They were able to learn and perform the show well under these circumstances. Many people came in support to watch and enjoy the production they worked so hard on. Of course, the weather was unpredictable, but they went with the flow and worked around it. 

Additionally, the entire process of auditions and casting was dramatically altered this year due to COVID restrictions. 

Like so many things this year, the entire process was different,’ Fleissner said.  “In a typical year, students come to auditions, sing a song with me, read a few lines, and dance for Ms. Getzke. Then, we have a second round where we determine what would make the best cast. This year, students filmed themselves singing and reading and submitted those videos. From that, we made our judgment of which casting would give us the best production, but without that second round. We had to make our decisions much more quickly because our rehearsal process was significantly shorter than normal. But, I think we landed on a really great cast.”

Overall, the play was a great success and the director and cast were all proud to have been able to get this chance amidst a pandemic, to continue to do what they love. 

“I am always proud of the work that we do here, and this year was no exception,” Fleissner said. “In fact, given the difficulties we faced, this may be the production I am most proud of. Our cast took on so much of the responsibility of learning their parts, and they all rose to the challenge. Our crew had to deal with things no crew has ever had to deal with (wind, rain, pollen) and they did it all eagerly. It really was a wonderful testament to their enthusiasm and teamwork.” 

Students who were in the play echoed Fleissner’s positivity.  “I really loved the overall experience,” said Ryan Newman, a sophomore who played the florist and the cater waiter.  “Performing outside was a challenge especially since the weather really affected us. That’s the only thing I had a problem with, the rain cancelled our Thursday show and the Friday show was windy, so it affected our props and sets. But despite all of that we still came together and put on an awesome show. I had so much fun being able to hang out with everyone. I’m glad that we overcame even the COVID barrier and still had fun. This show was one I’ll never forget.” 

“Doing the musical outside this year was strange for all of us,” said Elizabeth Grant, also a sophomore who played Ellie Blake.  “When we blocked-a term used to describe stage directions-  the show, we were all aware that when we got the stage, changes would need to be made. The new outdoor stage was smaller than the one in the theatre, but it definitely did its job. Working outside posed many issues, some of which we could not control. One of those things was the weather. We ended up losing our opening night show due to a weather forecast that was seemingly unsafe. Our Friday show went well, considering the cold-ish weather and the high-speed winds. However, it was all worth it because our final show went super well. I’m so glad we were able to have a musical this year. A lot of people that I’ve talked to or work with didn’t have a musical or drama this year because of budgeting or they just couldn’t get their board to agree due to the COVID guidelines at the time. Though it was a very different experience, I can finally say that I’ve performed in a WHTW musical. Our production team worked so hard to make sure what happened last year didn’t happen again this year, and I couldn’t thank them enough.” 

If you missed Freaky Friday in person, be sure to catch the streamed version on the school’s YouTube channel soon.