Cleveland Hill students get master class from Broadway actor

Broadway actor Clay Thomson talks with Cleveland Hill students on February 19, 2019. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Broadway actor Clay Thomson talks with Cleveland Hill students on February 19, 2019. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

CHEEKTOWAGA – While a majority of their peers are enjoying winter break this week a select number of students at Cleveland Hill High School are preparing to present the school’s annual musical next weekend, and they’re getting a little help straight from Broadway.

Broadway veteran Clay Thomson flew into Cheektowaga from the Great White Way to give a few pointers during a master class held in the school’s auditorium Tuesday.

“Every single person’s journey throughout the show should be specific and detailed,” he said.  “The process of putting a show together is the same; you rehearse, you put it on stage, then you add the lights and costumes, and finally do the performance.  The work that they did today and in the past couple of weeks is the same that we would do on Broadway, it’s just on a different scale.”

Broadway actor Clay Thomson gives advice to a Cleveland Hill student on February 19, 2019. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Broadway actor Clay Thomson gives advice to a Cleveland Hill student on February 19, 2019. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

He watched as the students ran through each scene and song during the four-hour master class pausing to critique and give suggestions as to how the students could improve their performance.

High school senior Sean Jones enjoyed the fact that Mr. Thomson was there to give him ideas to develop his character.

“It really helped me to figure out who my character is because prior to this I was struggling to figure out what I should be doing.  He’s been in the show before and knows how people should interact with each other, and he really helps me with that,” said Mr. Jones.

Jones plays Race in the school’s production of Newsies, Thomson played the role of Spot Conlon when the show was on Broadway.

Newsies is such a good show.  It’s such a family show, it’s Disney, and it has a great message.  I love the show,” said Mr. Thomson.

Around 120 students comprise the cast, crew, and musicians of Newsies.

Cleveland Hill students rehearse Newsies on February 19, 2019. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Cleveland Hill students rehearse Newsies on February 19, 2019. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

“Everything is student-centered. They do the sound, the lights, we’re building the sets, and painting the backdrops,” said Director Betty Haynes.  “It’s about 10% of the school population; it’s a big show.”

They started to work on the show over the summer bringing in another Broadway veteran Danny Quadrino to help the students with choreography.  The students have been in full rehearsal mode after official auditions were held in November.

Megan Hillery has taken over the duties of the choreographer.

“I give the kids the moves and its pretty amazing to see what they can do with them.  I give a lot of the credit to the kids because I teach them a couple of times and they really take it to the next level and make me look good for not being a real choreographer,” she said.

Newsies is the story of homeless New York City newsboy Jack “Cowboy” Kelly and his fellow newspaper boys who are scraping their way through life and selling headlines to survive.  When publisher Joseph Pulitzer sets new rules that make it harder for the young newspaper salesmen to make a buck, the boys go on strike.  The show was a Disney movie and later adopted for the stage.

“We choose shows that sell out,” said Ms. Haynes.

The soldout ticket sales from the shows and the fact Cleveland Hill recycles and builds their sets rather than renting them from a New York City production house allows the school to bring in actors to teach master classes.  Mr. Thomson says the students need to keep learning.

Broadway actor Clay Thomson talks with Cleveland Hill students on February 19, 2019. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Broadway actor Clay Thomson talks with Cleveland Hill students on February 19, 2019. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

“I’m still in class all the time.  Learning from people who have done what you want to do is so beneficial because they’ve been through what you’re going through and they can help guide that process,” he says.  “Don’t give up – no matter what.  Even if it’s not in musical theatre, just work hard, train, and do what you want to do because there’s always room for more talented people.  Prove anyone wrong who tells you that you can’t do it.”

Newsies opens March 1st and tickets are $10 at the door or $8 in advance.  Despite the show opening next week, the students are ready.

“We’re pretty nervous right now, but there are a bunch of pieces that we’re missing right now,” said Mr. Jones.  “We’re still working on set pieces that would help out. We don’t have costumes.  We still haven’t fully worked with the pit yet but once we bring it all together, we’re confident it will come together.”

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