Merrily We Roll Along: An Inside Look into the Spring Musical


Stephen Weinberger

As the Spring season rolls in, it is once again time for the second University School theater production of the year: The Spring Musical. This year’s musical, Merrily We Roll Along with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim is based on a book by George Furth, opened on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. This opening performance was followed by an additional two showings on Thursday, April 20, and Friday, April 21. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mrs. Pribble, who has been directing US’s productions for countless years, where she offered an inside look into the process of putting on the Spring Musical.


What did the selection process for this year’s musical look like?

Mrs. Pribble answers that her selection is and always has been to pick a work that works for the actors. By taking a close examination of each person trying out, Mrs. Pribble can select a title that fits the group. Mrs. Pribble describes her process by comparing it to clothes shopping: “With clothes shopping, it’s not about what looks good on somebody else; I want to know it looks good on me. I look at the people who are auditioning and I think what would look good for them, what fits them.” The same is true for a musical; it’s not about choosing the most well-known title, but rather one that suits the actors.


Who are this year’s cast and crew?

This year’s show will have a cast of 18, including Charlie Ansevin, Jack Armstrong, Ian Broihier, Victor deAnda, Clay Fallon, Kaden Jones, Chris Kalra, Hugh Kopittke, Conor McDonnell, Aidan Moll, Finn Monaghan, Easton Sumlin, Arman Teheri, and Mathew Young. These actors will be accompanied by five young women (four from Hawken and one from Laurel). Considering the present and future of theater at US, Mrs. Pribble noted that “we have some of the best actors this school has seen. We have an incredible senior class right now.” However, as Mrs. Pribble states, “one of [her] concerns for next year, is that seniors dominate this year’s show,” and their numbers will be hard to replace. While Mrs. Pribble has complete faith in the underclassmen who have demonstrated their unwavering commitment, passion, and abilities in the musical, they will certainly need to set up in numbers.

The Musical also couldn’t be done without its vital crew either, including Zack Bennett, Krista Cantwell, Howie Knox, Brady Perry, Arman Taheri, Sammy Weidenthal, and many more important crew members.


What does the process entail?

Mrs. Pribble declares that “nobody writes more difficult music than Stephen Sondheim,” the composer of the music in this year’s musical. “The music and lyrics are always difficult and so for teenagers to take it on is a real challenge.” Mrs. Pribble goes on to state that “the set is complex; the music is complex” and that “putting a 15-piece orchestra this year in [the drama room]” has also been a complex task.


Mr. Wikboldt has been vital as he is in charge of piping the music into the auditorium, as the orchestra is not playing in the auditorium, but rather is set up in the drama room. To synchronize the music with the acting, a screen has been set up so that the actors can see and for Mr. Steve to conduct. Mrs. Pribble describes in detail the complexity of the process because of the Musical’s technological elements and divided rehearsals. Many students may recall that for last year’s Musical, the band was onstage, however, this method does not work for this year’s title which requires a more unique approach.


What is the most challenging part of the process?

Mrs. Pribble describes how “getting the music all teched out” was the most challenging part. Due to the limited number of orchestra rehearsals and the fact that everything is going on in “two separate rooms and trying to balance when they can play louder; when they have to play softer” can be very difficult to manage.


This challenge is furthered as “there are a couple of numbers in the show where they sing and talk and sing and talk and sing and talk. To hear the lines in between the singing, it’s very complex stuff, but the kids are doing great with it; they work really hard.”


The pressure for everyone involved has also been challenging, as University School was involved in The Dazzle Awards. On opening night, a panel from Playhouse Square judged the performance. 33 schools entered The Dazzle Awards, which is a very demanding competition. The lead actors have been required to go to an audition workshop, do an audition where they sang a song from the show and another song, and they are also judged within the context of the musical.

Two of the lead boys are up for the best actor, three of the girls are up for best actress, two boys are up for best-supporting actors, as well as all sorts of categories for best musical, best-set design, and more.

What is your favorite part of the process?

“Watching it come together.” Mrs. Pribble describes how rewarding and exciting it is to finally see everything come together after months of work: “You work in pieces; I’m working with the actors, Mr. Steve is working with the singers, Diane is costuming them, Brenda is coming up with the props; it’s a team effort.” Watching all of the elements of the musical, the acting, music, choreography, set, lighting, sound, and tech come together, is a truly satisfying sight.  Mrs. Pribble further states that “During the rehearsal process, I like working with the acting. I don’t like to see musicals where the acting is not as important as the music; they can’t act but they burst into song.” Mrs. Pribble goes on to share that with her, “The acting is every bit as important if not more than the singing.”


What does the audience need to know?

It goes backward. The Musical starts in 1976, ending in 1956. It is about a friendship between Frank, Charley, and Mary, and follows the stories of these characters. In the first two scenes, these friends break up, and in the next scene, it is explained what caused it.


Mrs. Pribble directs that “it has a happy ending because it begins with this dissolving of this wonderful friendship and then you go back in time, and you see what has happened.”

Mrs. Pribble remarks that “we’ve done everything we can” to inform the audience. “We put the dates in the program, we put the dates up on the wall, we even sing about it between every set change.”


What should the audience look forward to?

“To follow this story; to get involved in the story of these people. Musicals are not just bursting into song, it’s a story, it’s a story about people that the audience will hopefully care about.” Mrs. Pribble jokes that this is true for “even Frank who screws everything up.”


Do you have a favorite scene?

During the assembly before opening night, it is customary for the students and faculty to be shown a teaser of the Musical. Mrs. Pribble says that she chose the scene she did because of logistics for one, and secondly because “it’s a scene that I think will appeal to boys, and it shows why Charley and Frank break up.”


Mrs. Pribble’s passion for theater can be seen in her words and devotion to our school’s productions. If you missed this year’s spring musical, make it a point to attend the fall play next year.