High School Musical: Turning Panthers into Wildcats


How the Potomac Falls drama department created their version of the classic movie turned musical. 

Despite having a year full of unknowns, the Potomac Falls drama department has shined a glimmer of normality upon us. Proving their capabilities once again after successfully performing The Elf Who Came for Christmas and their “One Act Festival” under complete COVID-19 protocols, the next production that the Potomac Falls theater brings to us is High School Musical. The process of putting together a production as intricate as a musical is naturally difficult in fashion. Add a pandemic and a cast full of students who are completing a virtual school year for the first time, and you have a plethora of new challenges. Never doubt the diligence of this drama department, however, as they have pulled off yet another production for the community to enjoy. 

This production of High School Musical is the product of hard work from the actors, crew, and director. The rehearsal process this year was unlike any other, but resilience and dedication pulled through. “With a normal year we [would] have [had] all in-person rehearsals. However, with this whole virtual life now, we only had one in person Monday [rehearsal], and we had to learn everything else online, including the songs,” said lead actress Miriam Aslam. Aslam plays Gabriella Montez, and this is her first lead role in a panther production. 

“[Preparing for High School Musical was] unlike any other rehearsal process I have been a part of,” said ensemble actress Lily Rossi. “I really only had rehearsals on Mondays and Thursdays, but I know that the leads and those with speaking lines had google meet rehearsals before school.” This is a shift in dynamic for a cast, who are used to consistent, in person rehearsals where they can collaborate with each other with no restrictions. 

The creative process behind any theatrical work is an essential factor to making sure the show is perfect. One of the pros to having more independent rehearsals was that actors were able to experiment with characters and find new ways to improve their acting. “Watching the actors grow throughout the rehearsal process is always a beautiful journey. You see them experiment with acting choices that sometimes work out or sometimes fail. It’s a lot of awkwardness and trial and error, but that moment when inspiration strikes is really magical to watch,” said the director of the musical, Corinne Fox.

Challenges were inevitable in the musical-making process, but the cast and crew were able to overcome the roadblocks placed in their way. Stage manager Isabella Bishop said that the most stressful part of the musical for her was “having only one day to prepare for the show.” This is an unusual occurrence for the stage manager because “normally, tech week would be four days of hard work from the cast and the crew that would give the tech time to practice whatever they needed to do for the show.” Through lots of communication with other members of the tech crew, Bishop was able to make tech preparations happen in such a short period of time.

Bishop had experience with managing The Diary of Anne Frank in 2020, but this time around there were a lot of changes to the process. “We were able to have rehearsal every morning before school, and I was able to really have a feel for the whole play as a whole. Because of covid this year, though, I had to do a lot more work with my crew and just in general in order to stay on top of the show [in order] to have the best results possible.”

“[The biggest challenge with rehearsing the musical this year was] the constant changing of protocol and the uncertainty. We had to change choreography to make sure that we were following the guidelines put in place, even if those guidelines changed in the middle of our rehearsal process. Our audience sizes kept changing, both for the drive-in and for the small family-only viewing that was on Monday,” said Rossi. 

The musical was made with the audience in mind, and bringing it together was still an amazing process despite the safety restrictions. “I’m most excited for the community to see it. It’s great to bring something normal back into people’s lives,” said Aslam. 

My favorite part of the rehearsal process is when I unexpectedly get goosebumps. It always happens. It’s usually when a certain song comes together or when there’s a certain chemistry between actors that I’ve never seen before,” said director Corinne Fox, who was on the journey of making this musical long before anyone else. “Even before we even have auditions, I build the entire rehearsal schedule. That means hours of pouring over the script and deciding how much material we can cover at each rehearsal…Choreographing an individual dance number can take as little as four to five hours or as long as a few weeks… I sit in front of a script letting a vision reveal itself. And then rehearsals begin,” said Fox.

Spending weeks together to create something as comprehensive as a musical enabled the cast to build strong relationships.  “I just love how supportive everyone is of one another. Everyone always claps and it makes you feel so comfortable and welcomed,” said Aslam.

Even behind the scenes, bonds remain strong. “Leading in this position has allowed me to get to know so many people in the theater. I love everyone because of how inclusive the community is, I think being a part of tech has really allowed me to experience that,” said Bishop.

Members of the cast have been working together on productions for years, but the unique circumstances this year took them through a whole new level of mutual experiences and bonding. “Yes, we would be close during a normal show, but I think all of the added difficulty and uncertainty made us come together ever more,” said Rossi.

It’s no doubt that the students and teachers involved with the process of bringing High School Musical will always remember the journey that brought them to opening night. Excitement builds up throughout the months, all releasing once the final show is complete. So how does the cast and crew plan on relaxing once the show is over? “The cast and crew had a little celebration near the Potomac River that was covid safe and socially distanced. It was coordinated outside of school and just amongst the students, so it was a lot of fun,” said Bishop. 

Aslam plans on celebrating her lead actress debut by “not [putting] makeup on at 7 am. Also I ate a mini bundt cake.” Rossi will be celebrating the end of this process by giving back to the drama department and “volunteering at the drive in” after watching the stream with her friends and family. 

The musical will be able to be viewed via a live stream from a performance filmed on April 12, 2021. There will also be a drive-in for those who wish to view the musical with others in a socially distanced, outdoor enviornment. High School Musical opens on April 16, 2021 at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased online at https://www.potomacfallsdrama.org/tickets.html#/ for virtual streaming or drive in. Other show times are April 17, 2021 at 2 pm and 8 pm. Be sure to buy your ticket before opening night to support the Potomac Falls drama department and all the students behind it!