by Zac Gordon, Staff Writer, June 2022

Some students are feeling “Les Miserableabout casting patterns in school productions, specifically “Something Rotten. Student concerns are centered around role distribution and re-casting leads across recent musicals. 

Much of the discontent surrounding these concerns arose from the fact that there were only two female leads in “Something Rotten:” an alto and a soprano. “We had a lot of soprano and alto singers, so we knew that the [two] roles would be highly competitive,” Madeline Li (Class II) said. Li added, “We would all find the musical more interesting if different people were cast as leads each year.” Li believes the Nobles Theater Collective should offer more actors the opportunity to star in shows.

Director of Theater Dan Halperin agrees that there are benefits to seeing new people assume lead roles. Halperin works collectively with the Music Director Nhung Troung and Dance Choreographer Jillian Kinard to make casting decisions based on who they believe will excel in each role. We don’t have people penciled in literally or figuratively for roles going into the audition process. We want there to be new and different people, and there’s a long track record of that” Halperin said. 

However, Halperin acknowledges picking the best fit for each role may lead to certain students being re-cast in lead roles. “Sometimes, some of the strongest people emerge multiple times due to their understanding and ability regarding how to prepare for and conduct themselves during auditions,” Halperin said. These auditions consist of singing, dancing, and acting; oftentimes, auditioners are asked to engage in all three at the same time in an integrated way.

Halperin acknowledges that there is currently no formal way to imbue these three skills into students. Li proposes one solution to address this and include more students in larger roles. She said, “I think that if there were more understudies cast, it would acknowledge the capabilities of different, previously unrecognized people in the cast and give the director a better sense of who may be capable of taking on a main role in the future.” Li suggests this proposal “could widen the pool of people who are available for a role in coming years.” Will Grimes (Class II) stepped up to the role of Nigel Bottom when the lead in “Something Rotten” was unable to fill that role. Grimes had to learn the entire role in a week, demonstrating that someone not originally cast in a lead role could handle the lead’s material. “He did amazing,” Li said.

However, Halperin is not convinced that increased understudy casting would improve student chances at landing lead roles. Rather, he believes that engaging in ensemble roles will provide performers with the necessary skills to excel. By performing in the ensemble, students can grow as performers, gain a better understanding of musical theater and increase their chances of assuming a lead role in the future. While Halperin is correct in that some students do go from the ensemble to principal roles, he added, “It is not as often as we would ideally see.” 

There also lies a disparity between the experience gained from undertaking a principal role versus undertaking an ensemble role. Those who are cast as leads one season, with greater material and responsibility, will most likely have a greater chance of excelling at their auditions the following year as a result of their in-depth experience in a principal role. “These auditions are a whole different world, because you are asked to learn material on such short notice in addition to managing your school work. This is especially true when for people who are not accustomed to learning difficult material,” said a member in this year’s “Something Rotten.”  Li too recognizes this and advocates that this disparity could be addressed by increasing the number of understudies. This is because understudies, like leads, traditionally have greater opportunities to practice solo lines, songs, and choreography. Those in the ensemble often receive less individualized attention during rehearsal, compared to their lead and understudy-lead counterparts, which in turn provides them with less feedback on their performance. 

As with many aspects of Nobles, casting is a competitive process where many talented people are turned down for lead roles because there are simply too many people. Whether through understudy casting or the ensemble, theater should provide opportunities for students to develop their acting, singing, and dancing skills. Lead roles may be the shining glory of a production, but the value of the ensemble should not be underestimated.