‘An exchange of energy’: Upper School Musical ‘Leader of the Pack’ sparks ‘connection’ and ‘enthusiasm’

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Photo credit: Jullie Cach

Glory Chase (‘22) dips Isabelle Verdery (‘23) during an upper school musical rehearsal of the “Hanky Panky” number in the amphitheater courtyard. On Nov. 1, members of the musical had their costume parade outdoors, which consisted of the performers all trying on their costumes so they knew what the actual show would look like.

By Audrey Chang, Staff Reporter

Archer’s upper school theatre program prepared to perform their first in-person musical since November 2019, “Leader of the Pack,” a story that mirrors the friendship, connection and joy that students have felt after a long time of being disconnected. 

“Leader of the Pack” takes place in the 1960’s following the life of singer-songwriter Ellie Greenwich as she pursues her music career. Incorporating music that connects to specific moments of the story, this musical highlights an exciting energy with lighthearted dance, movement and music, according to arts teacher and musical director Samara Kelly.

The upper school musical rehearsals took place Monday through Friday and also occasionally on Saturdays in the Blackbox Theatre, where students were required to wear masks. Next Friday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m., marks opening night, which will then be  followed by additional performances on Saturday, Nov. 13, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The faculty performance will also take place next Thursday, Nov. 11, after school at 3:30 p.m.

“I’m so glad we’re back in-person because, for me, that’s what makes live theatre theatre,” junior stage director Ella Poon said. “That liveness really builds a connection between people that I find to be irreplaceable in other pieces of media, so not having a screen blocking that connection is really important.” 

My favorite thing about this production specifically is that there’s so many group numbers, and there’s a lot of interaction between us. We’re happy and smiling and at times it doesn’t feel like acting. There’s really no community like the theater one.

— Anaiya Asomugha

Students involved with the musical this year also participated in Archer’s online productions last year. Sophomore Anaiya Asomugha, who was cast as Darlene Love, is now even more appreciative of the connection and creative spontaneity in-person acting provides. 

“During the pandemic, it didn’t even feel like a play, it felt like a movie, because anytime we messed up, they would say cut and we could do it again,” Asomugha said. “Which was cool because you get to change your mistakes, but in theater, it’s the unpredictable improv that’s so amazing because you really get to see people act super quickly.” 

Poon said this musical is unique because it was the first performance after a year online, which gave performers and those involved with the production a renewed friendly energy that helped to strengthen bonds.

“There’s definitely an enthusiasm,” Kelly said. “I think part of that is that hunger for being in-person and experiencing that exchange of energy again.” 

In addition to being teacher, this is Kelly’s first year as the musical director teaching theater and dance. While the performers no longer had to adapt to singing, dancing and acting over Zoom, she said they still faced challenges due to adjustments they had to make to ensure students’ safety while being back in-person.

“Not really knowing what the other actor is giving them in terms of facial expressions or emotional cues, having to just go off of the eyes, and structurally having to communicate with stage managers [has been a challenge],” Kelly said.

According to Poon, other difficult factors of being back in-person included having a full day of school before rehearsals and having to power through.

“I don’t think we’re all used to [rehearsing] in-person every day after having a full day at school, which is again, exhausting,” Poon said. “I think it’s a lot to adjust to, doing rehearsals in-person because online you could be more low energy because it was harder to tell.” 

The story of “Leader of the Pack” reflects the strengthened sense of community and fun creativity that comes with being back in-person. The musical includes themes of friendship and persistence, as well as upbeat music and dances. The setting provides a vibrant backdrop of completely normal life during a carefree, joyous and pre-pandemic period, contributing to a nostalgic and escapist aspect as well. 

“I love this musical because it really takes the audience back to a very different time [and] it’s very fun,” Kelly said. “I love that it focuses on the power of female friendships specifically and leaning on those who you love to lift you out of hard times in life.” 

Just as the performers and those involved with this musical have found a strengthened connection with each other, Kelly said this musical and other relatable stories have the power to bring the Archer community as a whole closer together. 

“There’s a high level of gratitude to be interacting in the way that we have been [with in-person rehearsals again] and telling stories that we feel are important to connect our community,” Kelly said. “There’s just this very intense renewed enthusiasm, and a deep, deep heartfelt appreciation having gone without it.”