Lots of surprises in store for ‘The Big Day’

 

KEARNY –

Dec. 2 will be “The Big Day” for a lot of anxious Kearny High School 12th-graders.

That’s when they’ll be showcasing a performance of “The Big Day,” the annual senior play presented by the KHS Music Department.

And it’s a big deal for these seniors because a portion of the proceeds will help offset the cost of the Class of 2017 prom and Project Graduation so every audience member counts.

Part of the big news about the production is that it can be seen Friday, Dec. 2, and Saturday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. each night, in the KHS auditorium.

Admission is $6 for students and senior citizens and $8 for the general public. Tickets may be purchased at the door.

Milly Gonzalez, who teaches chorus and introduction to musical theater, is directing the show, which – like last fall’s production – features no musical numbers.

Last year, Gonzalez – who has choreographed the past several KHS spring musicals – was recruited to direct a play, a non-musical, and she picked the madcap comedy “Promedy” for her directorial debut.

Now – after having directed and choreographed “Hairspray” for the 2016 spring musical – she has returned to mine the terrain of humor with prolific playwright Pat Cook’s “The Big Day.”

She said she picked this work, not very well known to student theater audiences, as a way “to challenge” the student-actors of whom 85% are first-timers.

“The fact that ‘The Big Day’ is a series of comedy sketches with no definitive storyline makes it super challenging, especially for beginning actors,” Gonzalez explained.

“Often, young actors study their roles by watching others perform it. This results in imitation of other productions rather than the actors bringing their own unique flare to the character.

“Being that recordings of ‘The Big Day’ cannot be found, this forces my students to develop their characters strictly by analyzing the script rather than mimicking other performers’ renditions of the script. The challenge then is for my students to capture the true essence of their characters with no frame of reference while piecing each sketch together seamlessly.

“In a nutshell, this play is challenging because there is no cohesive storyline, comedy sketches were not the typical genre performed at Kearny High School in recent years, the actors have no frame of reference when developing their characters and the actors are portraying multiple characters throughout the play.”

The play also afforded an opportunity for students operating behind the scene to expand their horizons since this show calls for 12 movable flats or set pieces to design and construct.

“It’s the first time the senior play has required so much change of scenery, along with lighting and sound effects,” she noted.

Despite the segmented approach by the playwright, Gonzalez advised viewers to watch for a “central narrative thread that connects each scene” – a theme “which they may not get until the end of the play.”

A 26-member cast and a stage crew of 15 are aided by lighting director John Bednardczyk, sound expert Edward Gargiulo and business manager Kathleen Astrella.

Unwilling to give too much away, the director said the device used by Cook to drive the plot turns on a fellow who is transported from his home and thrown into a TV game show as a contestant facing different scenarios.

“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube situation going on and the actor is unaware of what’s happening to him,” she said.

Cesar Fernandez, 17, who plays that role – his character’s name is Larry Kank – summed it up this way: “I’m trapped in a game show and I can’t get out of it.”

A student/athlete who has performed before crowds, representing KHS on the gridiron and in wrestling matches, Cesar showed off his vocal talents last spring when he was featured in the lead role of Link Larkin in “Hairspray.”

Still, he said, he prefers the straight acting job. “For me, it’s more fun. With my character, I can be more animated.”

Will he pursue show biz after graduation? “It’s a thought,” he acknowledged.

Although he’s appearing on the KHS stage for the first time, Jeffrey Carrasco, 18, doesn’t need to think about whether he’ll continue in the craft beyond his senior year.

Jeffrey said that ever since his dad took him to the movies as a kid and noticed “the reactions from the audience” to the actors on screen, “I always wanted to act. When I was younger, I took acting classes in New York.”

So, after graduation, he plans to work with his dad in various business enterprises “and then, after I earn enough money, I plan to pursue acting in California.”

Also considering a career in the entertainment business is Giovanna De Souza, 17. “Since I was little, between kindergarten and ninth grade, I’ve been doing shows,” she said, on stages at a local private school. Now she is reconnecting with a calling “that’s always been my passion. Being someone different is to experience a whole new world – I love it.”

Luis Limao, 17, was cast in “Hairspray” last year “but I quit because I was intimidated by dancing,” he said. This time around, Luis – a future business major – has been sticking it out. To quickly change characters, “I wear a lot of layers,” he said. “It’s been easy to get the characters and memorizing the lines has been pretty effortless.”

Another “Hairspray” alum – she was in the chorus – found it tough going “at first” to get her lines down for her three roles, said Makaylan Silva, 17, but she credits her family with making that task easier and with “helping me pick out my costumes.”

Had Allen Coco-Tejeda, 17, not suffered a “torn ACL,” he probably would have been going out for passes on the football team instead of trying out for the senior play. “I wanted to try something new,” he said. “I’ve been coming to see the shows every year.” He plans to study computer science after graduation.

For veteran performer Daniel Alexander, 17, “The Big Day” marks his ninth production – his fourth at KHS, three prior at West Hudson Arts & Theater Co. and the rest as a seventh- and eighth-grader. He plans to study acting after graduation. “Everyone’s on top of their stuff,” was his assessment of how things are going in this show.

Also in the cast are Aibak Awwad, Jason Boyle, Marie Angelou Cabral, Sibel Cengiz, Kevin Cornelio, Tattiana Cruz, David “DJ” DaSilva, Xavier Heim, Christopher Hill, Joshua LeVan, Ata Ozogul, Matthews Prestes, Karen Segura, Jael Solis, Jariel Solis, Andrew Souza, Joseph Stawicki, Samantha Tulipani and Taylor Wright.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.