Nancy Sasso Janis / Watertown High School presented 'Leader of the Pack The Ellie Greenwich Musical' this snowy weekend. This was a new musical for me and I knew that the talented bunch of students at WHS would bring out the fun under the direction of their fearless leader Foster Evans Reese.
This was a Broadway musical retrospective that celebrates the life and times of Ellie Greenwich, a songwriter whose doo wop sounds skyrocketed to the top of the sixties charts. The show features many of her hits like "Chapel of Love," "Da Do Ron Ron," "Be My Baby," "Hanky Panky," Do Wah Diddy," "And Then He Kissed Me" and, of course, the title song. Probably because of the title, I was expecting something along the lines of 'Grease' but it turned out to be closer to 'They're Playing Our Song.' Very much a jukebox musical, it was created before the term was coined. 'Leader of the Pack' probably lacks the strong script of 'Jersey Boys," but kudos to the school for choosing something off the beaten track.
Singer Darlene Love serves as a singing narrator of the show. Senior Danielle Fusco brought her big voice to the role and looked amazing all the while. Ms. Fusco is a Halo Award winner for last year's 'Leap of Faith.' Sophomore Jen Beveridge played singer and actress Annie Golden and also sang very well; she dedicated her performance to "The Lady" Denise Brown. Ellie's two best friends were nicely played by Marissa Ingerson and Melissa Kosloski. Senior Emma Karpinski played Rosie, Ellie's mom, and will head to Penn State next year to become a high school art teacher.
In the leading role of Ellie Greenwich, young and old, Kristen VanDerlyn was the perfect choice. She sang beautifully as she composed hit after hit and other numbers were performed full hilt. Her acting ability convincingly brought the audience on the journey that was the life of the singer/songwriter.
Junior Joshua Viltrakis played Jeff Barry, Ellie's writing partner who she marries and divorces and he did well with the emotional requirements of the role. Senior class member Nicholas Ciarlo played Gus Sharkey, a music producer (based on Phil Spector) who is always in search of a hit. The cast also included Matthew LeBlanc, Josh Rodis, Allison VanDerlyn, Ruba Khazzaka, Mary Ryan, Julia Squillace and Madison Rimick and a ten member ensemble. All of the students did an amazing job with Mr. Reese's challenging and inspired choreography. Special congratulations to the young men in the chorus who danced well enough to stand out.
The look of the show was all the more impressive because of the costumes by Renee Purdy and her assistant Nancy Harrell. The girls sported sheathes in solids and prints, as well as sparkly party dresses, while the boys wore sixties period garb. Darlene Love's ensembles and Ellie's wardrobe were standouts. The costumers and Patty Paganucci designed the makeup and beehive hairdos. Kudos to this team on another hit.
I always enjoy how the producer Joanne Chenkus asks the WHS alumni in the audience to stand to be welcomed home. The school also has the musicians file in right before the show begins to be welcomed with appreciative applause. Mr. Reese makes sure that the curtain call is as well-staged as the rest of the show.
The student musicians, under the direction of music teacher Joseph Hahn, did a great job with the doo-wop score. Bradley Scoville served as vocal music director and played synthesizer in the pit. The stage crew pulled off lots of moving parts.
I didn't recognize every song in the show and I have since discovered that some were written especially for the show. However, I can't get "River Deep, Mountain High" out of my head. Congratulations to the Watertown students on another fine production.
Photo courtesy of Watertown High School Musical Theatre