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Murray Journal

Murray High’s thespians to open season with ‘9 to 5: The Musical’

Oct 12, 2023 01:01PM ● By Julie Slama

Murray High’s “9 to 5” cast rehearses choreography for “Shine like the Sun,” the finale in the first act. (Photo courtesy of Murray High theatre department)

Long days of summer have ended, but the performing arts season has begun, with opportunities to catch a musical or play on Murray High’s stage.

Murray High thespians are kicking off their theatre season with competing in the 47th annual Shakespeare high school competition, followed by the musical “9 to 5.” In the spring, they’ll perform “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Macbeth” and a Broadway revue.

This year, new theatre teacher Alexie Shaffer will direct the shows after 17-year veteran Will Saxton moved.

For several weeks, the student-actors have been rehearsing for the Shakespeare contest that will be held Oct. 5-7 in Cedar City. Twenty-two thespians will take part in the “Merchant of Venice” ensemble scene with several students performing in individual or small groups.

“‘Merchant of Venice’ is a comedy and I have a lot of actors who are just strong with comedic timing so I wanted to pick something that lends to that,” Shaffer said, adding that “We picked a theme that we could twist to make it more modern and it’s a scene where I could put lots of kids in.”

The thespians also are preparing for “9 to 5: The Musical,” which will be at 7 p.m., Nov. 10-11 and again, Nov. 13-14 on Murray High’s stage, 5440 S. State St. Tickets to the family-friendly show can be purchased in advance on the school website for $8 and they will be available $10 at the door.

“9 to 5: The Musical,” with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and the book by Patricia Resnick, was inspired by the 1980 hit movie. Set in a male-dominated office in the late 1970s, the story showcases three female coworkers who unite in a plan to get even with their sexist, self-centered, two-faced boss.

“It’s been really fun to teach the kids a little bit about the time period and to try on some vintage costumes that are from the ’70s and early ’80s that I and a student brought in. The kids have looked at all sorts of pictures of the awesome haircuts and hairstyles of the late ’70s and the makeup they wore so they’re very excited to try all of that. We’ve studied about Dolly Parton, her music and what her life was like, and the few changes made from the movie script to make it work for musical,” she said.

Following her predecessor, Shaffer didn’t select the musical alone. Having directed Riverview Junior High’s theatre students last year and attending Murray High’s shows last year, she worked with the students to narrow down the possibilities to find a musical that was a good fit. 

“I noticed we had a strong female force, just a lot of talented female vocalists. I wanted to pick a show that gave them a chance. There are so many musicals that highlight males because in the past, most shows were written by men. Now, with some more modern shows, it’s balancing out characters and genders and vocal ranges a little bit more. So ‘9 to 5’ was a fun pick with three female leads and it’s giving our female vocalists a chance to showcase what they can do,” she said, adding that Saxton helped with the casting last spring.

Shaffer also was excited as it’s a show that isn’t performed a lot in high schools.

“At first, some of the students didn’t know what ‘9 to 5’ was, but I told the kids I said your parents and grandparents are going to know what this show is. Then they watched it and were excited to try something that they hadn’t seen before. That’s good for kids, trying something new,” Shaffer said. 

About 60 actors and dancers will be on stage accompanied by a pit orchestra and have the help of 10 stage tech students. Joining Shaffer with the direction of the show will be musical director Alan Scott, orchestra pit conductor Jordan Beckstrand and choreographer Savannah Angle. The student stage manager is J. Sommers and the tech manager is James Richhart.

On Feb. 1-5, 2024, Murray High will present, “The Drowsy Chaperone” a musical with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar. 

“It’s a really fun show that is set in the Roaring Twenties. Students will be directing, music directing, choreographing, costuming, set designing, running tech. I will teach them, but step into the role of producer. It just adds another layer to their education about other positions in the theatre industry,” she said, adding that the positions will be announced in October after an application process.

Students will compete with a yet-to-be-announced one-act and several scenes and monologues at the region competition. State is in April 2024. There also will be a showcase of those pieces held at the school before the competition.

In April, Shaffer plans to continue the tradition of students performing a Shakespeare play. They will put on “Macbeth.”

“I thought it was a good fit because I know all the 11th-graders read it so it ties into what they’re learning in school and they’re familiar with, but it’s one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. Since our two musicals are more comedic this year, this dramatic piece gives the kids a chance to try a different genre and there’s just such compelling characters. ‘Macbeth’ is such an interesting character, because he’s surprised by his own power. But then when he has it, he can’t let it go. Lady Macbeth is such a tormented character and so strong in the beginning and the witches are amazing,” she said.

The season will end May 9-10, 2024 with a Broadway revue that is being created with the drama council.

Murray High’s 35-member improv team also will perform several shows as well. Those dates will be set on the school website calendar.

“I graduated from Murray in 1999 so this is kind of coming home for me. I was in all of the musicals. I was in ‘South Pacific’ my sophomore year in the ensemble and then my junior year, we did ‘Brigadoon’ and I played Fiona. We did ‘Westside Story’ my senior year, and I played Maria,” Shaffer said. “I did choir with Mr. Scott and I was the editor of the school literary magazine my senior year.” 

She went on to get her Bachelor’s in English and theater teaching from Weber State University while performing locally, including at Hale Centre Theatre. In addition to Riverview, she has taught at Paradigm High in South Jordan and Highland High in Salt Lake City.

Saxton, who directed at Murray High for 17 years after teaching at Morgan School District for three years, now works for Broadway Now, managing and teaching teachers in developing an after-school musical theater program to elementary students in the San Bernardino (California) Unified School District. He also is directing an advanced musical theater program.

During his teaching career, Saxton was named teacher of the year at both Emory and Murray high schools, outstanding concurrent enrollment instructor, received Murray School District’s Pinnacle Award and Utah High School Activities Association’s outstanding theater educator.

While he was proud of everything during his teaching career and the support he received from Murray School District colleagues and administration, Saxton was pleased with two students who wrote full plays that were “produced as part of our regular season. I’m very proud of that.”

Saxton said Murray High’s 2023 spring production, “Into the Woods,” his favorite musical, was special.

“I just loved the way we did it in the round, how successful and how bold our production was,” he said. 

At the close of the show, the students gave him a send-off.

“I didn’t make a big announcement. I didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to myself. It’s never been about me. It’s always been about the students, but they couldn’t have made me feel more loved and more appreciated,” he said. “I always tried to teach my students every show comes to an end. Then, we reset, clean up, pick up and move forward with the next adventure. This was the end of my show at Murray High. In every story, endings can be good and it’s OK for them to end. This couldn’t have ended any better than it did and now, the students are moving forward with their new teacher to more theatrical adventures.”  λ