MV Glee: Formula for fun

The cast of MV Glee (from left): Justine Cassel, Shelby Regan, Eve Wilson, Andrea Guyther, Ashleen Caferelli, Alley Ellis, Sydney Johnson, Caroline Moffet, Tessa Whitaker, Kayla Goldman and (on the floor) Benjamin Nadelstein. Also enrolled in MV Glee but not in the photo are Katherine Reid and Mia Allen-Wright.
Photo by Lynn Christoffers

The cast of MV Glee (from left): Justine Cassel, Shelby Regan, Eve Wilson, Andrea Guyther, Ashleen Caferelli, Alley Ellis, Sydney Johnson, Caroline Moffet, Tessa Whitaker, Kayla Goldman and (on the floor) Benjamin Nadelstein. Also enrolled in MV Glee but not in the photo are Katherine Reid and Mia Allen-Wright.

In one whiplash moment, commotion turns to concentration. A shouted command, and a dozen laughing, talking youngsters and teens abruptly form a regimented chorus line and comply with Sandy Stone as she gives dance instructions.

It is the final rehearsal of MV Glee, making its debut on Sunday, Feb. 13, a one time only performance of “Glee,” a musical collaboration with The IMPers, Donna Swift’s teen improvisation troupe. The IMPers long-form improvisation is a structure that allows for timely breaks during which MV Glee will perform their songs and dances. Although the two groups rehearse in separate sessions, the show is designed so it fits together in a fast-paced, cohesive production.

MV Glee, inspired by the mega-popular musical television show set in a high school, is a new song and dance program for 11- to 18-year-olds created by the husband and wife team of musician Mike Benjamin and choreographer Sandy Stone. Acting on the suggestion of a parent, Lisa Belcastro, they formed a six-week musical program, meeting and rehearsing weekly at The Space in Edgartown and culminating with this Sunday.

“There are so few chances for these kids to shine,” Ms. Stone says. “In sports, there are a lot of opportunities for kids, but there are only one or two dates for kids who want to perform.”

The MV Glee troupe practically bubbles with enthusiasm, striking poses, vocalizing and — all but one are girls — getting all the glitz possible from the blue and black, shimmy-and-shake sequined costumes they are wearing.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School senior Ashleen Cafarelli, a Minnesinger, is one of those with a powerhouse voice and presence, along with eighth grader Katharine Reed.

Mr. Benjamin, admitting it has been challenging to put everything together in such a short time, says, “They’re here because they’ve decided to be here.” He smiles and adds, “I don’t know how I’d teach them something they didn’t want to learn.”

Accompanying the group on his guitar, he leads the group in a jump-and-shout version of “Bullet Proof,” first singing each part of the three-part harmonies. He conducts with body language and meaningful looks, and in what seem like only seconds, the kids have absorbed the lesson and are belting out the chorus.

Ms. Stone and Mr. Benjamin are perfectly suited to the task. Mr. Benjamin is an established recording musician whose band has played for the full roster of Island celebrities including a private party for President Clinton. Sandy Stone, a professional dancer and choreographer, directs the dance program at the YMCA, and teaches Zumba (Latin-inspired fitness dancing) at The Space.

Equally suited to her task is The IMPers founder, Donna Swift, director of “Troubled Shores,” and a theater arts graduate from Emerson College. Ms. Swift led The IMPers to successful performances at the Chicago, Boston, and Providence improv festivals.

She is confident and relaxed as she leads the seasoned IMPers through their rehearsal several days later. “We’ve been studying improv a long time,” she says, and adds, “But the moment you get too comfortable, your improv is not as much fun or entertaining.”

No worries about that because as they identify their characters (during the show the audience will be asked to specify who from the television show “Glee” they’ll be playing), The IMPers shift to high alert, totally focusing on the process.

Regional high school senior Ashley Girard says, “When everyone’s getting their characters, it’s really helpful to pay attention to what everyone else is doing.”

“All the scenes should connect to a common resolution,” freshman Carter D’Angelo explains. “All the characters have a self-plot, but then we have to have a resolution.”

And Ms. Swift reminds them: “Don’t play the character — play the objective. The character is just a costume.”

As they run through their initial character monologues, the two-character pieces, expanded scenes and the finale — pausing between scenes to listen to the recorded songs by MV Glee — the plot forms, tension builds, and a conclusion is achieved. Impressive.

Listening to Ms. Stone, Mr. Benjamin, and Ms. Swift work with the students, it’s clear that the goals go beyond the performance. “I don’t want to give them something they won’t look good doing,” Ms. Stone says. “It’s such a tender age, so you want them to do something that builds self-esteem.”

And regional high school senior Mariah MacKenzie says, “This art form [improv] equips you to deal with anything — presentations in class, college interviews. When you have to connect with someone you don’t know, it’s easier because you’re doing it onstage all the time.”

It’s all there to see and enjoy at the Katharine Cornell Theater on Sunday.

“Glee,” 7 pm, Sunday, Feb. 13, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $10, $8 for students. 508-642-1170.