Centre Stage celebrates sights and sounds of Broadway


Centre Stage, the inclusive drama program at South Side High School, recently celebrated the wonder of musical theater with a Broadway-inspired original production.

This year’s performance, “Centre Stage on Broadway,” featured a cast of nearly 50 students from South Side High School, the Centre Stage Squared program at South Side Middle School, and the Centre Stage Junior program at William S. Covert Elementary School. The show featured a medley of Broadway tunes from such timeless classics as “Annie” and “Newsies” to more contemporary Tony Award-winning shows like “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” and “Waitress.”

Founded in 2008 by South Side High School alumni Catherine Mackey and Brian Nesdill, the Centre Stage program provides a platform for students of all abilities to showcase their creative talents, while making new friends and having fun.

Ellen White, co-founder of the Backyard Players and Friends, helps coordinate the program and performance. “It’s an inclusive club that combines general education and special education students,” White said. “It’s pretty easy to do, if you just do it.” 

The Backyard Players are a nonprofit that provides inclusive arts-based community programming for participants 14 and up, designed to help those with disabilities develop physically, socially, emotionally, and creatively.

“It is one of the most miraculous things we do here,” said Jen Monsour, a teacher at South Side Middle School and one of the Centre Stage advisors. “The performances are tailored every year to meet the needs of our kids. It’s an opportunity for all people to share their talents and feel valued and appreciated.” 

The program’s advisors also include Ryan Delaney, a teacher for the visually impaired in the district, and Meaghan Healey, a physical education teacher and the middle school choreographer, who will be retiring in June.

Assistant Director Natalie Fulgieri, a special education teacher at South Side, brings an extensive background in the performing arts.. “It’s a great way to incorporate both things,” she said, explaining how the program combines her passion for education with her experience on stage.

“It’s a lot of re-running scenes to try and figure out what looks good and what works,” Fulgieri added. “It’s so cool to get to see the CORE and Pathways students not in a setting we would normally see them.”

She noted that the program helps special education students by reinforcing social skills and enables students to interact and develop friendships. “I’m most excited about seeing them just having fun,” she said.

Matt Gaven, superintendent of the Rockville Centre School District, praised students and faculty for participating in this rich school tradition.

“It’s a tradition that shows just how special the Rockville Centre school district really is,” Gaven said. “It really brings everybody together. That is the magic of this event.” He also played a bit part as Corny Collins in Hairspray, the host of a popular teen dance show in Baltimore.

When the Centre Stage program was conceived more than 16 years ago, it was based around a play written by Nesdill as a class assignment about the Titanic. Soon, what began as a one-night-only performance with an audience of only 15 people, grew bigger and bigger each year, eventually necessitating a second performance to accommodate the massive crowds. This year, nearly 2,000 people attended the two-nights of performances on Thursday, May 30, and Friday, May 31.

John Kilduff opened the show both nights by welcoming the audience and performing the National Anthem. Kate Coronado, beaming with excitement during dress rehearsals, prepared for her big solo number, playing both Katherine Plumber in “Newsies” and Eliza Schuyler in “Hamilton.” Nicole Carlin and Madeleine Gaillard, sophomores at South Side High School, rehearsed their lines and dance routines for three months to prepare for the performance. 

“We’ve been practicing every Tuesday and Thursday since March,” Gaillard said. Both she and Carlin decided to get involved in the Centre Stage program last year and enjoyed it so much that they decided to participate again. “I think we just really enjoyed doing it,” Gaillard added. “It’s a lot of fun for all of us.” 

Michael Maher, who played the role of Fiyero in “Wicked” and Wilbur Turnblad in “Hairspray,” has been participating in the Centre Stage program for the last 14 years. “I feel proud,” he said, reflecting on more than a decade of experience with the program.