Jonathan Verge and his students at Lebanon High School (LHS) are bringing something new to the Upper Valley. High schools usually stage works from Broadway. Yeast Nation is moving in the other direction. Verge's students are in the enviable position of helping to develop a version of this play that its writers hope to take to Broadway. The new musical is from Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, the Tony Award-winning creators of the renowned Urinetown.
The LHS production will be only the 5th major staging of what the writers still consider a work-in-progress. Verge is in communication with both Hollmann and Kotis even as he and his students are elbow-deep in rehearsal. Verge hopes that one of the writers may be available to meet with the students and attend the opening.
Earlier days—student actors during a read-through, Verge standing in center
Like Urinetown, Yeast Nation is an unconventional show. It takes place at the bottom of a primordial sea, and all of the characters are named some version of Jan (pronounced Yahn): Jan the Elder, Jan the Wise, Jan the Wretched. From sitting in on an early read-through, I can assure that even in a primordial sea, there promises to be intrigue, love, and power grabs.
The play is a bold choice. Verge explains it. "It has been my goal as Drama Director at LHS to choose pieces that engage and are exciting both for students to be a part of, but also things that the student body and the community will want to see. I try to pick work the Upper Valley hasn't seen over and over again. I choose shows that fit the students I am working with, rather than trying to force a show onto the group." Also, for Verge this play is familiar territory; he worked with Hollman and Kotis as the associate producer of an earlier production of Yeast Nation in Chicago.
It is Verge's first year as Drama Director, but he is not entirely new to the Upper Valley. He worked in theater for over 10 years in New York City and Chicago before returning home to the Upper Valley to open The Gatherwool Theater Company, a project now shelved. He starred as Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden--“a dream role”--last year at the Lebanon Opera House, and managed the extracurricular program at LHS where he directed and produced Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2016 and the LHS Spring Play Festival in 2017. His head is heavy with other instruction-based hats; he is also LHS's choral director and teacher of Music Technology as well as Musical Theatre, Acting, and Stagecraft classes.
Yeast Nation opens on December 15 at 7 p.m., followed by performances on December 16 at 7 p.m and on December 17 at 2 p.m at the Lebanon Opera House. It is open to the public, and free for senior citizens, SAU88 students and staff, and $5 for general admission. Tickets will be on sale at the door one hour before the performance.
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