Eliot Musical: Willy Wonka Jr.

What Goes Into Directing a Musical at Jared Eliot


willy wonka jr.

Jared Eliot Middle School holds a musical every year for students to participate in. They have had a wide variety of musicals in the past. This year they are putting on Willy Wonka Jr. from April 21st to the 22nd. Both shows start at 7 pm and end at 9 pm. All shows are being held at the Morgan School in the auditorium. Students have been practicing since January when the cast was announced. Like a typical musical, Eliot has two casts, one for the first night and the other for the second night. This year they have 75 kids performing in the musical. Tickets are $10 each and are purchasable online at ShowTix4U.

Willy Wonka Rehearsal

Eliot’s Music Teacher Gina Nedderman has put on musicals every year at Eliot. She has been running musicals at Pierson and Eliot for 15 years with Into the Woods, being her first musical to be performed at Pierson. Prior to working in Clinton, Mrs. Nedderman ran musicals at a different school where she has put on Little Shop of Horrors and Babes in Toyland providing her with experience to bring to Clinton Schools. When she initially came to Pierson, the school wasn’t running musicals yet. One of her students who was involved in theater asked why Pierson didn’t run any musicals which initially gave her the idea to start musicals for Pierson. At Pierson, they weren’t given a budget and didn’t even have a stage to perform on. After their first show more and more students wanted to be involved in the next show, meaning their cast sizing was doubling each year. They ran out of space at Eliot, so they had to rehearse at the town hall for Annie. Their third year was Willy Wonka Jr., the same musical they are performing this year, by then their cast tripled in size which meant the town hall wasn’t big enough either. They eventually had to go to Morgan to rehearse since their program grew vastly.


Gina and Denise Duphily collaborated the next year on the production Annie after Mrs. Duphily stepped up to be in charge of choreography. Mrs. Duphily had learned children’s theater in college which is where she got her skills to teach choreography. Mrs. Nedderman was blown away with the choreography that Mrs. Duphily put together. She couldn’t say no! Mrs. Duphily runs all the choreography for the musicals. Working together every year has brought these two ladies together. When costume designers and stage directors have come and gone, they have stayed together through it all.

This year Eliot is running Ronald Dahl’s Willy Wonka Jr, which follows the candy manufacturer Willy Wonka as he runs a contest by hiding five golden tickets in his candy bars. Whoever wins the tickets gets a tour of the Wonka factory and a lifetime supply of candy. The musical follows Charlie Bucket, one of the five winners who stands out from the rest of the winners. The winners must follow Wonka’s rules or there will be consequences.


After the Eliot Chorus’s Winter Concert, they opened auditions for the musical to all students. Mrs. Nedderman said any students in chorus are given two or three sessions to work on the music, and after that, the first round of auditions are open. After that, in mid-January callbacks happen for those interested in lead roles. A panel of teachers is on both the first round of auditions and the callbacks to consider who makes it. They all have to follow a rubric for grading the kids on how loud their voices are and how much they are in character. Mrs. Nedderman shared that when it comes time to decide what show to put on for the next year, she looks at who she has as the current cast. She considers the students she’s currently working with to pick the next show. She looks for role models for the younger kids to follow. Depending on who she has, it may alternate from a girls show like Annie, who is a lead role, to Willy Wonka who follows a lead male role. Every year they get students who have never been on stage or have even sung before. It surprises both of them since it’s such a new experience for these students. 

Rehearsal at Morgan

When asked what the most challenging part of directing a musical was, both Mrs. Nedderman and Mrs. Duphily said every year for each musical there is a different challenge. One year they put on Peter Pan, in which they had to make the kids fly which was difficult. This year especially with Wonka, they have a very large cast meaning they have a large set with multiple props for different scenes. All of that adds up and makes the directing aspect of it difficult. Luckily they receive a lot of help from different parents and teachers. This year they have four parents whose children are in the musical, who are helping with sets, props, and running sales. Parents also help out behind the stage with hair and makeup. One year they had a parent who was a hairdresser who was a huge help backstage. Two teachers at Eliot help with costumes. Some of the crew from the Morgan musical help out with makeup. All the stage and tech crew who worked on the Morgan musicals then help with the Eliot Musical. Mr. Smith, from Morgan, runs all the lights and music along with Mr. McKinney. They also share many set pieces each year with Mr. Lampe who runs the musicals at Morgan. 

Mrs. Duphily has been through many shows at Eliot and Pierson, and she shared “You get so many goosebumps from these kids gaining confidence and finding a home.” For some kids at Eliot the musical is the only activity they are involved with, and it is a place where they feel they belong; on stage. Mrs. Nedderman shared that the kids are most importantly learning about responsibility which involves where they have to be on stage, where their props are, or what part of the stage they are on for different scenes. Throughout this all the kids form friendships with each other that may not have happened without it.