By Gillian English
It’s summertime, and school is out for students all over Chittenden County, except for 25 students at Champlain Valley Union High School. They’re putting in eight-hour days, working on “The Lion King,” CVU’s first-ever summer musical production. The curtain goes up on Aug. 11.
It has taken almost a year of hard work and planning by 2016 CVU graduate Benjamin Recchia, who launched the project nearly singlehandedly. He began by proposing the idea to the school activities board, then designed an elaborate set with many moving pieces, and choreographed and blocked the entire show.
Why has there never been a summer musical at CVU before?
“There’s been no one to do it,” Recchia answered. “So, I graduated and I was like, oh, maybe this is a little niche we can fill—maybe we can do a show after the Flynn does theirs and build a program for the summer to get more people interested in the arts at CVU.”
Recchia directed two shows at Charlotte Central School while he was a student at CVU, “Peter Pan Jr.” and “Seussical.”
“Ben is so connectable,” said Schuyler Edgar-Holmes, a rising ninth-grader in the cast. “We can really ask him anything. He’s so organized.”
Despite his passion for directing, Recchia is pursuing a zoology degree at the University of Vermont, where he will be a sophomore in the fall. He says directing is just something he does for fun.
“I’ve been [at CVU] every single day since school’s been over,” Recchia said. However, the students, who are all rising freshmen and sophomores, will be there only for a three-week program.
Recchia based the program on the three-week model that the Flynn Theater uses for a lot of its shows. After eight hours of working on the show, the 25 cast members have to complete homework, memorizing lines, songs, and blocking as they lead up to opening night.
“This is the first show I’ve been absolutely excited about,” said Kianna Ayer, who plays Simba, “because it’s ‘The Lion King,’ and I was really into doing it, and [I wanted] to meet all the new freshmen.” Ayer will be sophomore this fall.
The show also gives incoming freshmen a chance to get to know the school.
“We’ve got several sophomores on the cast, too, so they’ve been talking to freshmen, telling them where to go to classes, what to do,” Recchia said. “It’s been cool to see that happen very organically; we haven’t forced that or anything.”
Adam Franz, an incoming freshman, agreed. “It’s cool because I now know a lot of people that I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” he said.
“I’ve made a lot of new friends,” said Maya Phelan, who also will be a freshman in the fall. “It’s only been four days and we already have inside jokes.”
The show’s music will be played by an ensemble of nine, a mix of CVU students and professionals led by Carl Recchia, CVU’s choral director and director Recchia’s father.
“I make no bones about it,” the elder Recchia said. “I’m doing this work because I want [the students] to sing with me when [they] come to high school.”
He may be on to something. When asked if they thought they would be involved in the choir and drama programs when they get to high school, all the students in the cast raised their hands.
Carl Recchia has been teaching for 40 years and acknowledges that the work they are asking the students to do this summer is hard, but not impossible.
“They’re a little overwhelmed. But as I’ve found, if you set a bar, they’ll rise to it,” he said.
Performances will be Aug. 11-12 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 13 at noon. Tickets: $7 for students, $9 for adults. Purchase tickets at the door or online at sites.google.com/a/cssu.org/cvu-theater-summer-musical/.