Meghan Newell brought a new dimension to Our Lady of the Wayside School when she started as a preschool music teacher and choral director, back in 2015: staging a musical. This weekend, her middle school students bring to life, The Little Mermaid, Jr. at Saint Viator High School. Performances take place at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

It turns out, Newell will be taking her final bow. This summer she and her family are moving to Milwaukee, leaving the Wayside community to cherish her last show. In fact, Principal David Wood calls the addition of an annual musical “a blessing” for the school.

“Mrs. Newell’s vision and influence creates such an immense level of camaraderie among the middle school students in the cast,” Wood says. “It brings me great joy to see the excitement this experience brings to the cast and how much confidence they gain through their participation.”

When asked what drives her, Newell doesn’t hesitate: “The kids.”

“It is so exciting to see them grow in confidence from auditions to opening night,” Newell says. “It’s equally fulfilling to see the students grow as artists through our theatre program and continue onto their high school stages.”

Newell knows the impact of performing on stage, first hand. She grew up in Buffalo, NY and attended The Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Though she had played violin growing up and performed in her school and local orchestras, it wasn’t until her senior year of high school that she found her voice.

“I was in the musical and I was hooked,” Newell says. “My plan to major in violin quickly shifted to majoring in voice.”

Director Megan Newell talks to the cast.

She hasn’t looked back and now as a music teacher at Wayside and at St. Thomas of Villanova in Palatine she has shared the joy of singing and performing on stage with hundreds of students. Newell also leads the middle school theatre camp each summer at Saint Viator. She will return from Milwaukee to direct this summer’s camp.

In the last nine years of directing musicals at Wayside, this is the only time her cast will take the stage at Saint Viator. In part, she is expecting a good number of her alumni performers — and their parents — to attend, and it gives her the chance to see some of her former theater and choral students in action.

“The varsity tech crew at Saint Viator run the sound, lights and stage for us,” Newell says, “and many of the Saint Viator crew are Wayside theatre alums.”

Through her nine years at the school, Newell has directed her students in some of the most popular musicals, including Sound of Music (2017), Fiddler on the Roof (2018), Beauty and the Beast (2019), Fables and Fairy Tales (2021), Matilda (2022) and Music Man last year. In 2022, the theatre program expanded to include fall plays.

“Theatre gives them the opportunity to see themselves and the world differently,” Newell says, “which, I feel, is a valuable life skill.”





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