Encore! Encore! with Tosa East
The proposed federal budget eliminates spending for the arts and humanities while grossly increasing spending on the military. This sort of thing is echoed locally in schools all over the country as the arts and humanities generally get less funding than...a lot of other things. It’s nice to see when decisions are made in favor of the arts. Wauwatosa East High School has established a longstanding commitment to its theater program. This year, the school’s theatre program celebrates 77 years. This past weekend they celebrated with the ribbon-cutting on the newly-renovated Dale K. Hidde Theatre at the opening of their big, splashy new program Encore! Encore!
Conceived by Jennifer Lato, Amanda Marquardt and Kate Sarner, the show celebrates music and dance from 77 years of performances with the Tosa East Players. It’s a huge celebration featuring full sets and costuming for a number of shows and fully choreographed musical numbers. With a huge orchestra pit and a massive group of dancers, everything about this show is much bigger and flashier than one would expect out of a typical high school show. There were teams of about a dozen people for make-up, costuming and many other aspects of production.
The overall script of Encore! Encore! neatly ties together various aspects of a 77-year history onstage. Obviously, no single program can pay tribute to everything, but Lato, Marquardt and Sarner have done a really good job of bringing together a variety of different musical theater moods. Marquardt’s choreography is particularly impressive early on in a witty rendition of the title song from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and a couple of numbers from Sweet Charity. Also included were dreamily memorable bits from Jekyll and Hyde and Tarzan.
Plates and forks and things dance about in a classy-looking “Be Our Guest,” that brings a relatively contemporary show tune across in a classic early 20th century song-and-dance style. There’s a rather concise blending of dancing from West Side Story in which a cast moves through a good portion of the entire story of the musical quite gracefully amidst the orchestral accompaniment from the sizable band. The drama of West Side Story and so many other beloved musicals cascade across the stage in a program that feels big enough to embrace 77 years of history.
Students were involved in every aspect of production. A program like Encore! Encore! vividly brings to the stage an understanding of what arts education can do and why it’s so desperately needed. If the US is going to continue to be able to adapt to an increasingly complex and abstract world, it’s not going to be able to thrive without hands-on experience dealing with smaller worlds that exist in the safety of the stage. Lots of money get thrown at athletics and there IS a lot to be learned there as well, but the sheer depth and diversity of disciplines coming together in a production like this show just how vital the arts are. There are a lot of lessons being learned in Encore! Encore! and so many other school theatre presentations all over the country. As a nation of recovering high schoolers, we all need to learn a lesson from shows like Encore! Encore!
Tosa East Players’ Encore! Encore! continues through Apr. 2 at the Dale K. Hidde Theatre on 7500 Milwaukee Ave. in Wauwatosa. For ticket reservations and more, visit Tosa East Theatre online.