CWHS Madrigal celebrating its 25th year

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By Linda Dillman

Staff Writer

“As You Like It” cast members Adriana Bernabel, left, and Josh Brown, right, rehearse a scene from the Shakespearean comedy in preparation for the Canal Winchester Performing Arts Department Madrigal on Feb. 15 and 16.
“As You Like It” cast members Adriana Bernabel, left, and Josh Brown, right, rehearse a scene from the Shakespearean comedy in preparation for the Canal Winchester Performing Arts Department Madrigal on Feb. 15 and 16.

A quarter century of bringing Shakespeare to Canal Winchester audiences through comedy, singing, dancing and food continues with “As You Like It” at the Canal Winchester Performing Arts Department’s annual Madrigal Dinner.

The milestone will be celebrated on Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. and on Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. at Canal Winchester High School, 300 Washington St., with 120 students in cast and crew roles and a catered meal fit for King Lear, Lady Macbeth, Prince Hamlet or even Cleopatra.

William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” has been adapted for the madrigal format by high school vocal music director Todd Phillips.

“Our version of the bard’s work is true to the original intent, but the speeches have been shortened for this type of production,” said Phillips. “A madrigal dinner is a combination musical and theatre performance, although not in the tradition of the American Musical Theatre.”

He said the play is divided into five portions.

“Between those segments, there will be food and entertainment provided,” said Phillips. “We’ve used a Shakespeare comedy as our play portion each year. Over 25 years, we have repeated plays. ‘As You Like It’ was last produced in 2003.”

Phillips said the school began performing the madrigals 25 years ago to give students an opportunity for a mid-winter performance.

“At that time, the program was fairly active in the fall and spring, but not much happened in the middle of the school year,” said Phillips. “We’ve stayed with the same basic madrigal dinner format, though we’ve added entertainment starting 45 minutes prior to the dinner to welcome our audience.

Phillips said support from the community has grown.

“The most favorite thing our students enjoy about the madrigal is the audience interaction,” said Phillips. “In most theatre productions, guests sit somewhat passively, as if watching the world’s largest television screen.”

In a madrigal dinner, cast members approach and engage the audience, even having them become minor characters in the story.

On occasion, audience members prepare for their role. In the past, Phillips asked people to join the cast during a rehearsal and learn a small portion that organizers felt would surprise the audience. Many years ago, two high school English teachers, Gretchen Gehlbach and Sally Schlaff, engaged in a sword fight in the middle of the play and received a standing ovation.

Despite hours of rehearsal and preparation, Phillips said the biggest challenge is helping students understand that, as an actor, you never know exactly what the audience will do.

“We spend a lot of time with the students working on their characters doing improvisation,” said Phillips. “Their job is to get an audience member to do a certain thing. They have to say or do anything necessary to accomplish that and not be thrown by a guest’s response to a request.”

For senior Adriana Bernabel, this is her first experience acting in a madrigal, although she has performed in other productions.

“Every year I wanted to do this,” Bernabel said, “but I had other priorities. A madrigal is completely different than what I’ve done before. I feel like I’m actually living in Shakespearean times since we interact in character with the audience. It is amazing how much Shakespeare was ahead of his times. His ideas are still relevant today and even people who really don’t care for Shakespeare will enjoy a madrigal. People can get away from watching a soap opera on the television and see a live one in person.”

The performances are appropriate for all ages. Phillips said the show moves along at a quick pace and his actors work hard to communicate the story, so even elementary students can enjoy the evening.

Tickets are $20 for the Feb. 15 show, which includes a full five-course meal and $15 for Feb. 16’s four-course luncheon show. Tickets can be purchased through any high school choir member or emailing Phillips at tphillip@cwls.us.

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