By Rick Buttacavoli
It’s one thing to perform in an opera for a packed house and really nail the performance. It’s another to write a full-length opera that entertains and teaches a lesson. To do both while still attending public school is really something else!
The students at P.S. 102, 211 72nd St., accomplished this incredible feat when members of the school’s Bay View Kids Opera Company presented The Big Test, a 1950s-themed rockin’ opera that was written by teacher Theone Weitz-Frank’s Playwriting Club.
“The students enjoy producing an original work featuring ideas that are important to each and every one of them,” Weitz-Frank said after the opening show on Thursday, May 24. An encore performance took place the following day to another capacity crowd.
The opera itself centered around students competing to become the star of a school play. Camilla Bettig portrayed Destiny, the popular leader of a group called The Bulldogs and the natural choice for the play’s lead role. Her comedic, over-the-top performance as a self-absorbed diva had the audience laughing throughout. Catie Kiernan played Taylor, the shy, straight-A student who longs to be in the spotlight. Her group of friends is referred to as The Superstars.
Taylor works hard to win the role she covets in the play, but soon falls victim to the pressures of rehearsing and her schoolwork suffers. Unprepared for an important test, she does the unthinkable and cheats off her classmate’s paper, getting them both in trouble. The good girl gone bad pleads with her teacher Mr. Jefferson, played by Trevor Lee, to show mercy, citing her busy rehearsal schedule, but the teacher sends her home with an “F” to be signed by her parents.
With her downward spiral underway, Taylor forges the signature of her parents, portrayed by Martin Richards and Kiera Doherty, then gets caught in a lie and loses her prized lead role.
The moral of the story, of course, is that cheaters never prosper and that fame often does not come without a price.
The depth of the story the students created, as well as their singing and dancing skills, left many in the audience in awe. The direction of teachers Weitz-Frank, Penny Mealing and Daiana Bertolini gave each child a chance to shine on the stage.
Principal Theresa Dovi was certainly impressed with the results.
“I constantly reflect on the words of Maya Angelou, who said, ‘People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel,’” Dovi said. “At P.S. 102, we strive to make every child feel special and the opera is one of the many ways we try to accomplish this goal.”
Mealing, who put together the music for the show, which included a chorus-led rendition of “Fifty Nifty United States” by Ray Charles and an original song by student Martin Richards, said the opera is a highlight of every school year.
“I really look forward to the opera each year,” she said. “I am always amazed by the level of creativity of the students.”
Bertolini choreographed the show and directed each student from her seat in the front row, offering encouragement and a warm smile with every musical number. It was her first time choreographing the annual opera, which has been a mainstay at the school for 12 years.
Bertolini works each year on the school’s talent show and said there is a difference between the two performances.
“It’s definitely more of a challenge because so much is going on. There are so many levels to the performance,” she said. “It takes a village, literally, to make it happen.”
Now that she has gotten to experience the opera first-hand, she admits she’s hooked and hopes to help out again next year, when Weitz-Frank’s Playwrighting Club will think up another classic.
“The opera is the perfect way to showcase the talent that P.S. 102 has to offer,” Bertolini said. “Together the teachers and students create magic!”