For many Flintridge Prep students, the spring musical is the performance event of the year. But for all its hype, it doesn’t get caught up in its own prestige, deftly avoiding becoming exclusive or a pressure cooker. Instead, the musical experience offers a welcoming and supportive space for students to grow and explore, whether they have prior theater experience or are taking the stage for the first time.
“The cast and crew are treated as a family from day one,” says Rob Lewis, Flintridge Prep’s executive artistic director and the director of this year’s musical, “Into the Woods.” “The students who have been through it teach those who have never done it before, and the younger students who are in this for the first time or doing theater for the first time, they remind the older ones in some ways what it’s about.”
For Lewis, the approach to directing an experienced performer and a first-timer is more similar than different. “Sure, it’s a place of skill development. It’s a place of work ethic,” he shares. “But really, what do you, as an individual, bring to the cast or crew, and how is that seen onstage? How do you make an imprint on the musical that is visible and tangible?”
That imprint comes from finding a way to personally connect with the material. "The Baker in this production might really focus on his connection with his dad, while another actor might really focus on family, or both, or all these things.”
A willingness to embrace their creativity and to experiment is essential. Ruby Banning ‘23 (in her first musical as a senior) would often approach Lewis asking if she could change an aspect of her performance for comedic effect. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, please do it.’ No matter what, I want the students to have an opportunity to try something out that they believe in, because that’s creativity; that’s imagination at work. And that, to me, is what it’s all about.” Ruby’s incredible wordless puppetry performance as Milky White the cow became a hilarious and touching highlight of the show.
The process of discovery, experimentation, and bonding took time— beginning in October with the first rehearsals and continuing through the final performances in March. After months of preparation and two incredible shows, right before the closing weekend, illness forced the show to close, and everyone involved was left unsure if a closing night would even be possible.
“There were a lot of emotions wrapped up in the idea that we might not get to share what we’ve been striving for together,” remembers Lewis. Between the sets, rights, rentals, cast schedules, union orchestra musicians, and more, Lewis counted more than 75 variables that all had to fit perfectly into place for a rescheduled show to be possible. “But we have to try. We have to try for the students,” he says, tearing up at the memory. “And deep down, I’m thinking, ‘This is like the show.’ Like, we did our Act I and now we’re in Act II and we have no idea if this is going to even be possible.” Somehow, the pieces did all end up fitting together in one very particular window (a half hour in either direction would have been impossible) on the Wednesday after spring break. Almost a month had passed since opening weekend, but the actors and crew didn’t skip a beat. They took the stage with glee, finding new moments with their characters, and giving what Lewis believes was a magical performance. “We were being mindful through that,” shares Halia Benn ‘24, who had never tried out for a musical before being cast as Rapunzel’s prince. “We always took care of ourselves and took care of each other, and Mr. Lewis always does a great job of instructing us on how to do that. I had hope the entire time that something would work out. Even if we didn’t have more shows, I just felt that we’d find a way to be whole in the end.” For Lewis, seeing the cast and crew show the world “we can do more than you think” made the struggle of pulling off the final show worth it. “That was the last thing I said to them. ‘You’re always more than you believe you are.’ And they proved it.”