Dinner theater will honor late stage director's favorite music

Cary Ashby • Mar 10, 2019 at 10:00 AM

GREENWICH — The annual South Central dinner theater will be an homage to the late Lisa Stoneham, a theater buff who was loved and respected by her co-workers and students.

Stoneham, 62, of Huron, died Jan. 5 at Stein Hospice after losing her courageous 20-year battle with metastatic breast cancer. She was in remission for about 15 years before the cancer returned about three years ago. Following her retirement after 25 years with South Central Middle School, Stoneham substituted at the middle and high schools.

Jackson was asked what Stoneham brought to the dinner theater experiences. The pair worked together for 17 years.

“Number one, she brought her energy and expertise to our rehearsals. All the students had her in middle school in English class and then they were up at the high school. They just love seeing her and reconnecting with her. She was also our narrator, so she brought her own personality to the performances as well,” Jackson said.

“She probably had more musical theater expertise than I do and I’ve been in this racket for a long time,” she added with a laugh.

Students will perform March 22 and 23. For ticket information, call the high school at 419-752-3354.

Staff members have recalled Stoneham’s dedication as the stage director for many South Central productions, her knowledge of theater and how she pushed students to excel. Middle school intervention specialist Krista Seidel, who worked in Stoneham’s classroom for 15 years, said Stoneham had a “deep passion specifically for junior high and high school students,” an “open heart for their situations” and took time to listen and provide any help and support she could.

This is Jackson’s first year overseeing the dinner theater without Stoneham, her friend for 20 years. Jackson said she decided she wanted to find “a good way to bring her presence back into this production.”

“And what better way than to do some of her favorites,” her longtime friend and collaborator added. “It was difficult at first because there were many that she loved. … I tried to go back in my memory and to our chats together and (remember when) she would say, ‘That was the best’ or ‘I really, really love that.’”

Jackson was asked about the experience of selecting the music for the dinner theater, a Broadway revue-style show with singing and dancing.

“It’s been introspective and at the same time, it’s been a real joy going back over our many years together and picking out some of the songs that she really loved in past dinner theaters,” she said.

Senior Chiara Powell is looking forward to playing congos during the song “Rio de Janeiro.”

“I’m a percussionist, so it should be fine,” said the daughter of Adam Powell and Jackie Taylor.

One of Stoneham’s favorite songs was “Sweet Home Chicago” from “The Blues Brothers.”

“Her two favorite shows that she ever did here — or anywhere else — were ‘Godspell’ and ‘Grease,’ so we have songs from both of those shows,” Jackson said. “She and I both loved those shows, so it was our pleasure to do a couple from each of those shows.”

Chiara Powell has been attending South Central for two years. Previously at Willard, she also was in musicals. She said those experiences learned to be more confident and not care what others think.

Her favorite part of musicals or dinner theater is interacting with everyone.

“We are such a diverse group of kids and we come together and put our differences aside and create a perfect show,” she said.

Senior Cristiano Murphy, when the South Central student body paid tribute to Stoneham by releasing pink balloons, said his former teacher told him it was worth it to be involved with theater. The son of Gene and Iris Mason, of North Fairfield, also said Stoneham also taught him he “had more talents than” he realized.

“Every single student (who) came in touch with her — and every person (who) came in touch with her — she made their lives better, whether we wanted (it) to or not,” said Murphy, who noted Stoneham was a loving woman who had “such a big heart.”

Jackson was asked what the students think about paying tribute to Stoneham.

“I think they’re all delighted; they’re just happy to include her in our production this year. They all loved her and respected her and they all miss her a great deal,” she said.

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