Roller boogie hits Hudson

County high school to perform zany ‘Xanadu’ musical

After 13 years of theater, Hudson County high school students will again hit the stage, but this time they’ll be wearing roller skates.
The award-winning High Tech High School Musical Theater Department will present its fall musical, “Xanadu – the ’80s Roller Boogie Musical,” this month at the HTHS Black Box Theater at 2000 85th St., North Bergen. The musical is based on the recent Broadway hit musical “Xanadu,” which was a humorous adaptation of a 1980 flop of a film starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly. While the original film received poor reviews, many of the songs by Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra became top 40 hits.
High Tech is one of the county’s public high schools, and is located in North Bergen. It draws students from all over the county.

“It’s hilarious. It brings out sides of me I thought I’d never see.” – Emmanuel Rodriguez
The HTHS Musical Department, currently preparing for its 25th production, has garnered awards over the years for its excellence in theater, including a Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award and a Cappie Award. The school is the first high school in New Jersey to be performing “Xanadu.”
“We’ve accomplished a lot of great things in a short amount of time,” said Alex Perez, who has served as the director of the program since its inception over 10 years ago, “even though we’re a small school.”
“Over the years our alumni have gone on to nice careers in the arts,” added Perez.
Perez also is an aspiring producer, director, and actor. He has a role in the upcoming Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” which is currently shooting.
“It’s a little crazy,” said Perez, “I’m juggling this and that at the same time.”
Perez initially conceived of the idea to put on a production of ‘Xanadu’ after taking his students to the Broadway play three years ago. Indeed, some of the students who attended three years ago are now seniors starring in the play.

‘A great way to start the year’

The play revolves around a young man, Sonny, who has dreams to open a roller disco. Along the way he encounters several “muses,” inspired by Greek mythology, who both help and thwart his plans.
“The show makes fun of the film,” said Perez. “It’s light and it’s fun. It’s a great way to start off the year.”
Although the film has its light side, Perez insists that it provides the audience with valuable lessons.
He said he hopes his students apply those lessons and the skills they learned in theater to bigger things when they move on from school.
“Hopefully the tools that they learn here, they can take with them,” said Perez.

Hard work pays off

According to Perez, students took courses on their free time in New York to learn how to roller skate. The cast also rehearses several times a week, including a full day every Saturday. The students also performed as a flash mob in the middle of Times Square to promote the show.
“It’s a lot of hours,” said Perez. “They’re really resilient. They definitely work hard.”
“There’s so much community and teamwork involved,” continued Perez. “They’re the most prepared group I’ve ever had.”
For some students, the effort pays off in the end.
“I love ‘Xanadu,’ ” said Carol Szei, a senior, pianist, and vocalist playing the role of Calliope, a muse. “It’s the kind of show that takes you away from your life.”
“I think people will be surprised to watch a mockup of the film flop,” continued Szei. “[The movie] is so horrible, but on Broadway I feel like it’s the best thing I ever saw.”
Students such as Szei and fellow senior Andy Santana know that they want to dedicate their careers to the arts.
“It allows me to be myself,” said Santana, a ballet student who plays Terpsichore, another muse. “[I plan to] stay on stage for the rest of my life until I can’t do it anymore.”
Others, such as Emmanuel Rodriguez, are finding a home in art for the first time. Rodriguez is preparing for his first show, in which he has learned the lead role, Sonny.
“I look forward to acting in front of an audience on stage,” said Rodriguez. “It’s hilarious. It brings out sides of me I thought I’d never see.”
Performances take place Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 18 at 3 and 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 19 at 1 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. at High Tech High School’s Black Box Theatre, 2000 -85th St., North Bergen. Tickets, at $15, will be available for purchase at the school.
View a behind-the-scenes commercial HERE:
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at

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