Malibu High gives stellar ’42nd Street’ performance

Malibu High school students perform the number "Dames" at opening night of "42nd Street" with Griffith Frank as Billy Lawlor and Maureen Ganz as Dorothy Brock in front of the chorus line. Michelle Salzman / TMT

Not your average high school production.

By Michelle Salzman/Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu High School kicked off opening night of the spring musical “42nd Street” with a gala premier and Shark Fund Benefit. The Shark Fund, a fundraising organization for Malibu High School, held the first of what is expected to be an annual tradition to celebrate the high school’s spring musical and to raise money for the school.

A clear windy evening found parents and Malibu community members showing their support at the benefit. They gathered at a private estate across from the high school to mingle, sip white wine, snack on hors d’oeuvres and enjoy music performed by the Malibu High School String Quartet.

Handmade quilts by students, part of the Cavigga Family Trust Quilt Project, were on display and up for auction. The project was made possible by a donation from the Cavigga Family Trust with the desire to promote knowledge of American folk art and quilting traditions in Malibu schools.

There were a total of three quilts created through the quilt project. Two were created by middle school students with colorful Picasso-style portraits and the third was created by the high school students. The quilt created by the high school students incorporated squares created by individual students using photo collages transferred onto the fabric.

The quilts were successfully auctioned off as part of the fundraiser during the play’s intermission. All together the auction raised approximately $8,100 with an anonymous donor promising to match $5,000, Shark Fund Chairman Wes Walraven said.

Immediately following the fundraising gala, attendees were escorted to the high school for the evening’s headlining performance.

The energy of opening night was present throughout the performance both on the stage and in the audience. With equal parts drama and comedy, the musical about a musical took off with amazing energy from the cast as well as from the audience, which welcomed the show’s opening with ardent cheers and applause.

Notorious for its elaborate dance choreography, “42nd Street” is an ambitious undertaking. In preparation for the production the young thespians endured months of tap training and even took a trip to New York to see a performance of “42nd Street” on Broadway. Despite the fact that only one student in the whole production had previous tap experience, you’d never know it by the way the cast nailed sophisticated dance numbers and performed favorites like “Dames,” “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”

Choreographed by Betsy Melber, the shows seamless dance numbers were over the top and impressive. Highlights included the 1930s-style dance of “Dames,” featuring moves reminiscent of a synchronized swimming performance, and the high energy “We’re in the Money.”

The production starred Sam Posey as novice dancer Peggy Sawyer, Tyrus Emory as director Julian Marsh, Maureen Ganz as Dorothy Brock, and Griffith Frank as Billy Lawlor, along with a talented supporting cast.

Spectacular sets, colorful costumes and artistic lighting gave the performance a very professional theatrical atmosphere.

Overall, the evening’s performance was stellar. Malibu High School’s “42nd Street” was not your average high school production.

At the opening of the show, director Jodi Plaia asked for the audience to recognize the countless hours put into the production by the Malibu High parents. Plaia’s acknowledgment of parents’ assistance along with the turnout for the gala premier emphasized that the night was about showing support. The event marked the beginning of a commitment to making the community’s involvement an annual event.

Marie Smith, parent and volunteer, commended the evening’s festivities.

“It is a really great tradition to start. Opening night of the spring musical is very special and it is wonderful to have it turned into a special occasion,” Smith said.