After presenting the altered world of "Alice in Wonderland" last fall and earning a record 15 Cappie nominations, including a win for Best Musical, for its production of "Seussical the Musical" last spring, Stone Bridge High School is taking on a new challenge with its end-of-year musical: tragedy.
In May, Stone Bridge will present Elton John and Tim Rice's "Aida," a Broadway musical based on Giuseppe Verdi's Italian-language opera of the same name. The show will take the audience into the world of ancient Egypt, following the lives of Aida, Radames, captain of the Egyptian military, his father, Chief Minister Zoser, and the Pharaoh.
"We always do comedy," Glen Hochkeppel, the show's director and Stone Bridge's drama teacher, said. "This is our first serious musical."
HOCHKEPPEL WAS not familiar with "Aida" when some of his students approached him with the idea of doing the show.
"I had a group of students who had been listening to the soundtrack and played it for me," he said. Hochkeppel said it only took one listen for him to fall in love with the music.
"It was just really well written," he said. "Where else can you get reggae, that girl group sound and Motown. It is fun, really fun, music."
Senior Zach Kopciak, who is acting as assistant director for the production, was one of the students who encouraged Hochkeppel to choose "Aida."
"The score is very incredible," he said. "Deep, but not too heavy. I really saw our entire department really excelling with this show."
Hochkeppel said that even the students who were not familiar with the show became excited when they heard the score.
"The score really speaks for itself," he said.
Catie Brown, who plays Aida, said she fell in love with the music the moment she first heard it.
"It's totally different than any other music we've done," she said. "I walked around singing the songs all the time."
THE CHANGE FROM comedy to tragedy has offered an interesting challenge to a group of actors Hochkeppel calls "very talented."
"Since they are so used to doing comedy, sometimes their instinct is to take it too far and try and make it camp," he said. "When you're being wacky you can get away with a lot of things. Now we have to keep this [serious] tone going. It's very different for us, but they're all game for the challenges."
"These characters are not the typical characters you get," Brown said. "They are more serious."
To meet the challenge head on, many members of the cast have been working with Kopciak on enhancing their performances.
"These characters are pretty complex for a Disney show," Kopciak said. "The character development is very difficult. It's really just a matter of working with them. We have so much talent at this school that it isn't that hard."
Senior John Manning, who plays the villain Chief Minister Zoser, said the camaraderie among the cast members has really helped him and the other actors reach outside their comfort zone.
"The big challenge has been trying to find a character that isn't something that I am usually doing," he said. "But there are really good people who help each other out. Those that study acting are able to approach me and help me."
EVEN WITHOUT creating the zany worlds of Dr. Seuss or Lewis Carroll, Hochkeppel said he hopes that Stone Bridge's production of "Aida" will still transport the audience.
"I really want them to get sucked into this sort of dream, ancient world," he said.
Both Kopciak and Hochkeppel said the entire production, between the costumes, the sets and the songs, has an over-the-top feel that the audience will be able to believe in.
"I would love to translate that epic feeling to the people in the audience," Hochkeppel said. "I would ask them to take a leap with us into this kind of transformative world."