Honouring Juanita Coco: 30 years on, school musical pays tribute

Words by William Ryan (Year 11), St Helena Secondary College

Students rehearsing for Chicago: High School Edition

Every year, the shining lights, the band, the busyness and excitement, the stress and drama all form part of the annual tradition of the musical at St Helena Secondary College. But the person who feels this roller coaster of emotions the most is Director Laura Zinghini, who this year is directing a classic musical in Chicago:  High School Edition.

This is the third time that the musical Chicago: High School Edition has been performed at St Helena SC.  However this year, Chicago has a lot more meaning for the St Helena community than most musicals. When the musical was first performed in 1993, a star, Juanita Coco, who was famous for being a member of the hit TV show Young Talent Time, was tragically killed in a car crash a few weeks before the premiere. Juanita was passionate about performing arts and was known for helping the younger cast members with their lines.  

In her honour, St Helena Secondary College has set up the Juanita Coco award which is presented by Juanita’s parents on the closing night of the performance.  It is given to a Year 12 who best shows the qualities of Juanita. Laura said this year’s musical was to pay homage to the 30th Anniversary to a show that meant so much to Juanita Coco.

Another major influence in doing Chicago: High School Edition was the ability to showcase St Helena’s talented dancers and singers. Laura also stated there is a lot of “coming up talent” from the junior years into Year 10 and Year 11, and this would be a great way to showcase that. In a change-up for the musical, there is a cast of 10 leads for 5 cast leads, with 5 leads doing 4 shows and the other 5 doing four shows, with the leads, when not performing, being in the ensemble.

Laura said one of the greatest things about working on a production like Chicago: High School Edition is the student bond and how close they come together. “After each rehearsal, there are the cheers from the [students]” which Laura said shows the amount of encouragement that the cast get from each other. Laura said another thing which she enjoyed about the musical is the tight knit experience amongst the students and staff. They get close like a theatre family, which allows the cast “to be themselves”, which was important in the performance and allows the cast to bounce off the energy from one another.

In building that environment for the cast, Laura said she has been able to get great support from her colleagues, from the Performing Arts department and the Principal team, which all help with different functions. In particular, Laura would like to acknowledge the hard work of Miss Stephanie Gardener, who is the choreographer, who has taught the cast a lot of the dances. One thing that Laura would like is, “for the students to be themselves” and know it is okay to make a mistake. One thing which Laura likes to say to finish off at the end of a day’s rehearsals is “To not be bitter, but we get better,” and that helps to create the environment to succeed. If you are interested in finding out more about the St Helena SC Performing Arts team, please follow ‘St Helena Performing Arts’ and ‘St Helena Secondary College’ on Facebook and Instagram.