CW’s annual Madrigal is dinner theatre at its best

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of CWHS Performing Arts
The Canal Winchester High School Performing Arts department will present Shakespeare’s “Two Gentleman of Verona” at is annual dinner theatre madrigal. Tickets are on sale—and sell out quickly—for the Feb. 18, 7 p.m., and Feb. 19, 2 p.m. performances and are $18, which includes the play, music, dancing and meal. For information or tickets, email Phillips at tphillips@cwls.us. Pictured here are two student actors at rehearsal.

A musical tradition started more than 30 years ago is still going strong under the leadership of Canal Winchester High School teacher and director Todd Phillips, who is retiring at the end of this school year.

Phillips is stepping down from daily classroom duties this summer, but the originator of the district’s annual madrigal dinner theatre production—which takes place this year in the Canal Winchester High School cafetorium, 300 Washington St., on Feb. 18 and 19—still plans to help out with after-school theatre activities after he retires.

For now, he has one more production to bring to the stage and a memory full of past performances.

“Our first show was in Feb. 1990,” said Phillips. “We started the productions for two main reasons: first, there was nothing going on at that time of year and second, we were only doing one theater production per year. We didn’t have enough experience to start doing full musicals. I thought this would be a nice bridge into musical theater. Little did I realize that it would turn into a three-decade plus tradition.”

According to Phillips, madrigal dinners are a popular style of dinner concerts for many choral programs. However, Canal Winchester has taken the theatrical form in a direction unlike many others.

While period dinner concert performances, interactive theater and Shakespeare productions are available in many communities, Phillips, along with student actors and his production team, decided to marry the three popular aspects into one complete production.

Over the years, Phillips penned and rotated a dozen adaptions of various Shakespearean plays for the madrigal format. This year’s production is “Two Gentleman of Verona”—one of Shakespeare’s earliest works.

“I wanted a new challenge,” said Phillips. “The other shows I have done two or three times. The first couple of years we did not do a Shakespeare play. The initial introduction of Shakespeare plays was a bit of a shock to our students. Once they realized how great these stories are, they realized they can actually do them.”

As the years moved on, the number of students and their dedication to the quality of work grew. Phillips now has two to three times more students auditioning than parts available.
Audience involvement is a major selling point for the annual production. However, included in the mix—and from the very beginning—are select audience members who become active participants in the production, such as administrators, teachers and community leaders.

“They make the best participants,” said Phillips.

Creativity is a hallmark of theatre and two years ago, due to Covid restrictions, Phillips was forced to dig deep to come up with a way to still bring Shakespeare to a community when staging a dinner theatre was out of the question.

“The students and I really wanted to do the play and music for our families,” said Phillips. “We rehearsed and videotaped “Twelfth Night” and the music and then produced a ‘Madrigal (No) Dinner’ movie, which is available on YouTube.”

Former students often return years after graduation to enjoy the madrigal from the other side of the stage. Parents and friends who longer have children in school still attend the productions or volunteer their time to help out behind the scenes.

The “Two Gentlemen of Verona” madrigal involves approximately 100 student actors and crew members. The pair of performances include vocal soloists and ensembles, guitar ensemble, Renaissance recorder consort, English country dancers, and a full five-course catered meal.

Tickets are on sale—and sell out quickly—for the Feb. 18, 7 p.m., and Feb. 19, 2 p.m. performances and are $18, which includes the play, music, dancing and meal. For information or tickets, email Phillips at tphillips@cwls.us.

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