Woodson High Premieres Musical 'Waiting'

Woodson High Premieres Musical 'Waiting'

Seated right onstage, the audience becomes part of the action when Woodson High presents an original musical, “Waiting.” It presents a slice of teenage life, as seen through the eyes of servers at a diner.


Portraying servers are (from left) Lexie McEntire, Jacob Lamb and Hannah Thomas.

The cast and crew of nearly 70 have been rehearsing since February, and the show is the world premiere of a play by Sarah Motes Ashley. She and Woodson Director Terri Hobson attended Woodson together as teens.

Motes is now a successful songwriter and playwright based in East Tennessee. And she wrote this play in college about a restaurant and the people who work there.

“It was fun to think that waiting on tables is a kind of being onstage, and the kitchen is the backstage,” she explained. “Terri was in the original production at JMU and she asked if she could produce the show at Woodson. So I rewrote it, and now I get to go back to the auditorium where I first discovered musical theater to see it performed.”

“The script was written in the 1980s, so she’s now made it modern-day,” said senior Isabel Jabaley, the stage manager. “I helped her with the language – things high-school students would say. We did it in our Tech Theater class and it gave the script fresh, new perspectives.”

The story’s about waiters and waitresses in a Virginia diner called The Red Kettle. It focuses on the three, main servers who are 17. “Megan is in foster care and has had a difficult past,” said Jabaley. “But she can relate to her co-workers, makes friends with them and can talk with them about their [mutual] concerns about the future and their families.”

Kayla’s story comprises the main conflict; she’s bullied because of a photo taken of her, and the other servers support her. Brandon, gay and in the closet, is also bullied. But together, the three servers bond and sympathize with each other. And despite the serious subjects, it’s a positive and happy show.

“It’s an upbeat musical – a mix of pop music with some hip-hop, jazz and Broadway influences,” said Jabaley. “I love being a stage manager, working with the cast and seeing their progress. And the music, choreography and script are all really fun.”

Portraying Megan is senior Lexie McEntire. “She’s a foster kid who was taken away from her alcoholic mother, so she has lots of emotional problems,” said McEntire. “She just started working at the diner and isn’t very trusting. She’s kind of sarcastic and sometimes short-tempered, but also likeable and a loyal friend. I usually play the friendly, clean-cut girl, so I’m having fun being gritty, which is more challenging.”

McEntire also choreographed most of the numbers. “I started out as a dancer and I teach at a studio, so it’s a big part of my identity as a performer,” she said. “My favorite number is ‘Famous,’ a dream sequence of cheerleaders making fun of Kayla [Hannah Thomas]. It was exciting putting cheerleaders moves and stunts into the routine.”

She said many high-schoolers will relate to the characters’ struggles. “And this show’s really new and innovative because the audience will be seated at tables onstage for an up-close experience,” said McEntire. “They’ll be in the diner with the customers; and, since the actors will perform all around them, their characters will seem like real people. Four walls will create the diner and, through a window, the audience will be able to see a live, four-piece, street band performing.”

Sophomore Jacob Lamb plays Brandon, who hopes to go to New York and become a dancer on Broadway. “He’s gay, but hasn’t told his parents; only his close friends at the diner know,” said Lamb. “He’s very welcoming and is Megan’s first friend at the diner. He’s open and a good listener, but can also be showy with a big personality. And he’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.”

Lamb loves his role because he, too, wants to act on Broadway and his personality is similar to Brandon’s. “It makes the character more real to me,” he said. Lamb especially likes the number, “That’s Not a Tip,” because this show’s a realistic portrait of waiters’ lives – “working really hard and not receiving as much money as they should. There’s no singing; it’s a rapping step routine.”

He said the audience will like the show’s scene structure with “multiple, interweaving storylines. Lots of different things are going on at the same time, which makes it even more realistic.”

Portraying Brody, one of the high-school jocks eating at the diner, is sophomore Juston Carter. “He’s a jerk, a little childish, and looks up to his brother,” said Carter. “He’s lazy and laid back and is a former football player. He’s an interesting character to play and a new type of role for me. I usually play the sympathetic one, but Brody’s the opposite.”

Carter likes the song, “Counting the Days,” sung by most of the cast. Brandon, Kayla and Megan can’t wait until they’re 18 and can leave their small town to pursue their dreams. “I like the upbeat music and dancing that go with it,” said Carter. “And the words mirror how I feel in my own life.”

Director Hobson said it’s all been a great experience for her students because they’ve had input into the script, songs and scenes and the play’s been personalized to showcase their talents. “The challenge was converting the stage into a restaurant; the audience will enter right into it and sit down,” she said. “And because the actors will be so close, we have to use different makeup techniques.”

She’s pleased that, besides the veteran actors, many younger actors are also in this musical. “The whole cast is doing a great job adapting to this new experience and brand-new show, music and characters,” said Hobson. “They’re taking this risk and journey together and are good at it.”

She said the audience will love being part of the action and will enjoy the story. “It’s a coming-of-age play, but woven into an honest depiction of what teenagers go through; and it’ll appeal to teens and adults alike.”

SHOW TIMES are Friday-Saturday, May 1-2 and May 8-9, at 7:30 p.m.; plus Saturday-Sunday, May 2-3, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10, adults; $5, senior citizens, at the door or via www.wtwdrama.org. Online sales are encouraged due to limited seating. Not appropriate for children under 14.