UNION, NJ — From Friday, Nov. 12, through Sunday, Nov. 14, the students of the Union High School Performing Arts Company worked their hearts out to present Music Theatre International’s “All Together Now!” — a global event celebrating local theater. Licensed by MTI, this exclusive musical revue was created as a fundraising opportunity for schools and theaters around the world to perform songs from some of the most iconic musicals and to begin to recover from the strain performing arts programs have experienced due to the pandemic.
UHSPAC, one of the strongest arts training programs for high school students in the state, has students training with professionals in the fields of acting, dance, vocal and instrumental music, visual arts, technical theater and more. The company currently has the record for most Rising Star Awards wins ever won by a single show for its 2015 production of “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies.”
As the last show drew to a close on Sunday, Nov. 14, the performance of nonstop singing and dancing was met with a standing ovation from the audience.
“This is the final performance of our fall musical production, ‘All Together Now!’ It’s a musical revue,” director, producer and costume designer Melissa Abbate said on Sunday, Nov. 14. “This was a very emotional show. These kids have worked so hard. This was the first time we’ve been able to perform in a theater since 2019. It’s been two years out of our theater, so coming back into this space has just been incredibly emotional. These kids have worked incredibly hard, working for months just to do this three times, and they’ve made the most of their opportunities to give this to everyone, and they’ve gotten an incredibly great response from the audiences. This last show has been very emotional and very exciting.
“It was a lot of coordinating, and just making sure you have the right team in place to coordinate all of the different things that go into it — from the technical element, the scenery, lights, the costumes, choreography, the music — there’s just a lot of people involved, from the parents, students and staff; it’s just coordinating that team effort,” she continued.
According to Abbate, there were 24 cast members, 10 running crew members, 30 more who helped with the crew before the run of the show and 10 ushers, totaling more than 70 who were involved in this production.
Abbate spoke highly of the performances by the cast.
“Some of the solos get me very, very emotional and we just have some incredible solo singers, but I saw different points in the show, especially during the ensemble number, (where) I noticed different people and I’ve noticed everyone at least once. I don’t think I can pick a favorite,” Abbate said when asked. “I think it went really well. It was definitely a scary project to take on during COVID, because there was always that possibility that we could have another wave and get shut down again. The last time we had a show in this space, it was shut down right before opening. So it was a lot of anticipation not knowing what was going to happen and not knowing how many people were going to come out. It was a scary and exciting process.”
First-time choreographer Ashley Carr worked with the cast on routines and dance numbers. The choreography of the show took cast members two months to master, but master it they did.
“It was fabulous; the kids did great,” Carr said on Sunday, Nov. 14. “They performed beautifully. I cried the whole time. I’m so proud of everyone, I love everyone so much, and I’m glad the crowd loved it as well. The whole show was amazing. … I’m so proud of them, I’m speechless. …
“It was a fun process. We have a lot of talented kids, and it was just a fun experience for everyone,” she continued. “We all grew and there was so much growth, because I know the choreography was not easy, especially since there’s singing. I just love challenging kids, and I love seeing kids accomplish their dreams, their goals and just rise to the occasion. They have a bright future, and anything is possible for these kids.”
Ron Rago, the supervisor of Visual and Performing Arts for the township of Union Public Schools, called the production a well-oiled machine and said he was proud of everyone, from cast to crew, supporting crew and supporting staff.
“I like to see their development,” Rago said of the students on Sunday, Nov. 14. “In the beginning, they’re a bit pensive and not too sure of what they’re doing, but then you see this performance here, where they own it. It’s like you walk off the stage knowing that you did a great job and you feel good about yourself.”
Cast member Christopher Forest said after the last performance of “All Together Now!” that they were really glad to be able to spend time performing as a family together on stage.
“It was very energetic. We all spent a lot of quality time together,” said Forest on Sunday, Nov. 14. “We got to do amazing numbers together, and it was a blast. We all did an immaculate job, and we all put 100 percent into these past three nights. We all have talent, we all are able to sing, dance, act and perform, and that’s what the UHSPAC is all about.”
Cast member Hailie Garcia mentioned the hard work it took to see this through.
“It was so tiring and was so much work but was really worth it in the end, because we’re all family. I think we did fantastic. Honestly, throughout all the work and the practice, it’s been such a journey, and I think we did very well,” Garcia said on Sunday, Nov. 14.
Cast member and soloist Kimberly Moreira spoke about pushing herself throughout the show.
“I really enjoyed it, and I had a lot of fun,” Moreira said on Sunday, Nov. 14. “I also was part of the ensemble and I sang with the chorus and that was really fun. I think I did the best that I could, under the circumstances. I really pushed myself to do the absolute best that I could, and I kept my energy up. I made sure those around me kept their energy up, and I made sure I was determined and dedicated to finish the last show off strong.”
“I did the best that I could and I tried my best,” cast member and soloist Gregory Senesca said on Sunday, Nov. 14. “For me, my next thing is hopefully the spring show, and then I would hope to continue doing some type of performance-based career in the future.”
Cast member Sierra Zackery was also happy with how the performances went.
“I think we all did an amazing job,” Zackery said on Sunday, Nov. 14. “Everyone worked really hard, and it all paid off on the stage. Hopefully, the spring musical is what’s next for me, and, in December, we have our winter concert, and I hope that we can be on stage even more now.”
Cast member Christopher Adu-Yeboah mentioned his growth due to this experience.
“I tried my hardest and I tried working through it. It’s been an amazing time with this cast,” said Adu-Yeboah on Sunday, Nov. 14. “The warmth that they gave me and how I grew throughout the experience was amazing.”
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman