Wauwatosa West brings 'A Chorus Line' to the stage

April 17, 2013

Wauwatosa West's musical "A Chorus Line" is a homecoming performance for new theater director Adam Steffan.

This will be his first full production as director in Wauwatosa, but he is no stranger to the city. Steffan grew up here, graduating from Wauwatosa East High School.

This isn't his first foray as West's director, either. He helped take over the production of "Cats" in November when the previous theater director, Tim Catlett, resigned.

Steffan may have left, but he came back. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he took a job in North Carolina working in children's theater as a director and teaching artist. He was looking for a job in the Milwaukee area when he got the call about the West job. While he had a few jobs lined up around the area, he immediately accepted and returned.

"It's been a wonderful homecoming and to reconnect in the community and with the students here. It has been great," he said.

A welcome challenge

Steffan and the student cast members agree that the theater department's strength led to his smooth transition during "Cats." Many students wanted to quit, but the department pulled through and was able to pull off the demanding production.

"He really helped to put the icing on the cake of the show because he was able to pick up right where we left off," Susie Shively, president of the Tosa West Trojan Players, said. "We spent one day getting to know him and it was right back to business."

She thinks he's a strong director but acknowledges that he has a much different style than what she was familiar with in her four years of theater department involvement.

He has been making many changes, focusing on more organization, and mirroring a professional theater style. He has added a call board and sign up sheet, and brought on help from many local working professionals including a lighting designer and choreographer.

"This and the professional world are kind of the same, but they're like passing trains in the night," he said. "They're the same and then they're very different. That's something I have to remind myself of. This is educational theater and not professional theater. That's not to say I don't like to run it in a professional manner."

According to Shively, "A Chorus Line" is ahead of schedule compared to previous shows. The cast has been able to practice the show from beginning to end twice before tech week started, which is nearly unheard of. Steffan says they're right on time.

Hometown advantage

Steffan has developed many professional connections throughout his years living in Wauwatosa and going to college in Milwaukee. He's bringing those connections into the West theater department.

He brought in a professional choreographer to help students deal with the demanding dance pieces of "A Chorus Line." Another professional helped students with the lighting. Even the gold costumes for the show's finale come from Miller and Campbell Costume Service, a Milwaukee-based company.

On enlisting professional help, Shively said, "I like it. I feel bad because it's taken away jobs from our technicians and other students, however the techs are more than willing to help. Personally it's a nice change and it's helping a theater grow."

One such professional is technical director Rebecca Beaudoin, who graduated with Steffan and helps Wauwatosa East with their productions. She said that her favorite part of helping students is watching them grow.

"I love that we're so hands-on," she said. "I start at the very basics of how to use a saw and using safety glasses, and then it's just watching them take over and watching the leaders come up."

Students ready to go

"A Chorus Line" is especially demanding for the cast, most of who will be on stage singing and dancing for more than three hours.

The show is centered on 17 dancers competing for eight spots in a dance line. The story follows them as they reveal their back stories and get to know their new director through song and dance.

The set is sparse, but the crew has erected 10 14-foot-tall mirrors to reflect the massive light show that enlivens the finale.

"I really hope that the audience gets to know the characters on an individual level and root for them at the end," senior Jordan Llanas, who plays Diana Morales, said. "As actors we work off the audience, and if the audience is excited, it's something extraordinary."

Just the facts

WHO: Wauwatosa West High School Trojan Players

WHAT: A Chorus Line

WHEN: 7 p.m. April 19, 20, 26, 27 with a 2 p.m. show on April 21

WHERE: Wauwatosa West High School

COST: $15 for adults, $12.50 for senior citizens, $10 for students and $7.50 for kids 6 and under


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