Director Valerie Bijur Carlson, Music Director Jonathan Morris, and the High School Theater Department put forth three inspired performances of MCF: What a Life!—an original musical by Todd Fletcher about the incredible life of TASIS Founder M. Crist Fleming—in the Palmer Cultural Center over the weekend of March 31–April 2, 2017.
Elementary School Head Theresa Cullen Hill dazzled in the starring role of the older Mrs. Fleming; Xiana Russell ’18 was outstanding as a young MCF; Ivan Semashev ’18 was terrific as Geoffrey, the young playwright who interviews MCF throughout the musical; and an outstanding student ensemble breathed new life into the many colorful characters who help weave the remarkable tale that was M. Crist Fleming’s life.
MCF: What a Life! premiered in Montagnola, Switzerland, in 2000 in celebration of Mrs. Fleming’s 90th birthday and was also performed in England and New York in 2002 and again in Montagnola in 2004, 2011, and 2016 (special 60th-anniversary performance). The book, music, and lyrics were written by Todd Fletcher.
On the heels of the 60th-anniversary performance last August—which was produced by Lynn Fleming Aeschliman, adapted and directed by Jonathan Morris, and orchestrated by Assistant Director Samantha Forrest—the School decided to have the High School Theater Department put its own spin on the show for this year’s High School Spring Musical.
In the week running up to the show, TASIS Director of Studies David Jepson provided some perspective on why it’s important for the School to continue highlighting the extraordinary life of its Founder:
|The remarkable story of Mrs. Fleming's life and career—the highlights of which will be entertainingly on display this weekend in the production of the musical MCF: What a Life!—demonstrates just how far one can go with drive, grit, and zest, or in other words, motivation, perseverance, and enthusiasm. It's a lesson and an inspiration for us all. Mrs. Fleming followed her dreams, bounced back from difficulties, and maintained her joie de vivre—and so can we. The path of our lives between the dawn and the dark is no path at all, at least not one that we can see. We create our own path by the choices we make, the friendships we build, and the values we hold dear. Although none of us will ever found a school like TASIS, like Mrs. Fleming we can all stand up for what is right, we can all dedicate ourselves to truth, goodness, and beauty, and through our passion for excellence, we can all, in the words of Steve Jobs, aim to "make a dent in the universe." And when we make the right decision at the right time, the universe will open up and make everything possible.|
Director Valerie B. Carlson on “Owning MCF”
The musical MCF: What a Life! is a memory play. The main setting is in the year 2000, as a composer-playwright is commissioned by Lynn Fleming Aeschliman to write a stage musical about the extraordinary life of her mother and TASIS Founder M. Crist Fleming. He arrives at TASIS on graduation morning, and the lively interview he has with Mrs. Fleming provides the frame through which we see the events and beliefs that shaped the journey of her life and the creation of her model of education. Those pictures and memories come to life before us in scenes from a scrapbook, taking us from her first realization as a young girl that she wants the world to be her classroom to her determination to share that dream-come-true for thousands of other students from across the globe.
Every time this musical has been produced, it entertains, informs, and elevates audiences with the story of a “woman styled bold”* who strove to both learn and teach the values of wisdom and humanity while embracing life with gusto. And every time, it’s been a little different in terms of the artistic team’s vision of the show. For us, it is about the students, about an ensemble joyfully sharing our common story, and about how we can track a life backwards and forwards to gain insight into not just one person, but the best that humanity can be. It’s also been jolly fun for us—and we hope it will be for you as well!
*an attribute given to another (but earlier) American female pioneer in the field of education, Cornelia Connelly
Francis Accilien, Miguel Fernandez, Ethan Fredericksen, Nathalie Groet, Laura Kockara, Roksalana Kozak, Maria Veronica Ramos, Xiana Russell, Lucia Ugolotti, and Sergio Vinas
|The Year 2000, TASIS Lugano, Casa Fleming garden / “Recipe for a School”|
|The TASIS graduating class of 2000
|Mary Crist Fleming, age 89
||Ms. Theresa Cullen Hill|
|Geoffrey, a musical theater composer/lyricist/playwright
|Donatella, Mrs. Fleming’s Italian-Swiss maid||Ms. Michelle Arslanian|
|1922, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, USA / “ This Little Spot”|
|Mary Crist, age 12
|1924, a hillside in Geneva, Switzerland / “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be”
|Mary Crist, age 14||Xiana|
|Mary’s boarding school frien||Nathalie, Laura, Lana, Lucia, & Veronica|
|1930, a café in Perugia, Italy / “ This Time”
|Mary Crist, age 19
|Mary’s college friends||Nathalie & Laura|
|Constantin, a Swiss college boy
|Constantin’s college friends
||Francis & Sergio|
||Miguel, Alexey Dudov, & Dmitrii Skulkov|
|1936, an ocean liner and a road trip through Europe / “What Ever Could Go Wrong?”
|Mary Crist, age 25
|American college girls
||Miguel & Francis|
|Cheesy French guy
|1955, a hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland / “Pictures Come True”
|Mary Crist (Cris) Fleming, age 44
|Ronnie, an American child on Swiss Holiday
||Pedro Cardoso Dias (MS)|
|1955, an ocean liner to the USA / “No Standing Still”
|Mary Crist (Cris) Fleming, age 44||Nathalie|
|Gordon, an American artist||Sergio|
|1955, a beach in Maine, USA
|Cris Fleming, age 44
|Mr. H. Miller Crist, MCF’s father||Francis
1956, Villa Verbanella, Locarno, Switzerland / “Here ere Must Be a School”
|Cris Fleming, age 45
|The Voice of Mrs. Fleming
|Reporters & Onlookers||The Ensemble|
|1957, various Swiss banks / “Wir Sind Molto Desolés”
|Mrs. Cris Fleming, age 47
|MCF’S Business Advisor||Miguel|
|Swiss bankers: French-Swiss, Italian-Swiss, German-Swiss
||Ethan, Sergio, & Francis|
|1969, Fleming College board room, Lugano / “Not in My House”
|Mrs. M. Crist Fleming, age 58
|Alexa, MCF’s lawyer
|Fleming College board members
||Miguel, Ethan, Ivan, Sergio, Xiana, & Nathalie|
|Fleming College students
||Laura & Francis|
|“The Crisettes” (a fantasy sequence)
|1976, a meeting room, Surrey, England / “ The Consultation”
|Mrs. M. Crist Fleming, age 66
|Private school consultants
||Francis, Miguel, Ethan, & Sergio|
|2000, graduation morning, TASIS Lugano / “Pomp and Circumstance” / “Alma Mater” / “It’s Up to You”
|TASIS May 2000 Valedictorian||Laura|
|The TASIS graduating class of 2000
||Ms. Valerie Bijur Carlson|
||Mr. Jonathan Morris|
||Mr. Matthew Frazier-Smith|
||Jessica Landa & Fernanda Miquela Jauregui Reigadas|
|House Manager/Monitor Technician
||Moritz J. Mohr|
||Alexey Dudov, Dmitrii Skulkov, Mr. Thomas Joyce, & Ms. Carlson|
|Scene Shop Manager
||Mr. Thomas Joyce|
|Scene Shop Carpenters
||Alexey Dudov, John Tabor Gage, & Dmitrii Skulkov|
||Nicolas Jacquemin & Ms. Carlson|
|Additional Scenic Painting & Props Shop
||The 2016-17 Drama 1 Classes|
|Additional Running Crew
||Pedro Cardoso Dias & Ivan Linnikov|
||Ms. Carlson & Ms. Lima Guggiari|
||Ms. Luisella Govoni & Ms. Paola Prentice|
||Ms. Lima Guggiari, Julia Mochalnikova, & Ms. Michelle Arslanian|
|Hair & Make-up Design & Crew
||Lorraine Garrett, Anna Hibay, Yekateryna Kolesnyk, & Yasemin Erguder|
|Mrs. Fleming’s Hair
||Ms. Edith Fattorini|
|Lighting Design & Board Ops
||Zak Rahman* & Sara Strawn|
|Additional Design & Master Electrician
||John Tabor Gage*|
|Sound & Projections Design/Operators
||Andrea Parmegiani & Umberto Lima|
||Andrea Parmegiani, Umberto Lima, Mr. Mark Chevalier, Mr. Jacopo Riva, & Ms. Carlson|
||Divine Collins (Middle School) & Aida Loggiodice|
||Mr. Riva & Ms. Carlson|
||Ms. Kim Nelson, Frida Larsson, & Paloma Lazzarino|
|Videographers||Mr. Chevalier & Mr. Brendan Shea|
|*Senior members of IB Theatre|
Francis Accilien ’19, USA (Ensemble), acted at TASIS in the summer 2016 60th anniversary production of MCF: What a Life!, the fall 2016 production of The Servant of Two Masters (Silvio), and the spring 2016 production of Kiss Me, Kate (Paul and the parts Paul played). He is looking forward to giving the audience a good performance.
Michelle Arslanian, USA/Switzerland (Donatella), has been working at TASIS for more than 20 years. While attending high school herself in the ’80s in Radnor, PA, Ms. Arslanian had roles in Grease, The Sound of Music, Carousel, and more. She grew up idolizing Julie Andrews, singing in choirs, and playing in a band here in Ticino for several years. She’s looking forward to being on stage again, and, most especially, to participating in MCF: What a Life!
Ms. Valerie Bijur Carlson, USA (Director), has been involved in theater for more than two decades. Originally from New York, she ran the theater programs at Emma Willard and Connelly School of the Holy Child before coming to TASIS in 2012. She also works as a professional theater stage manager in the USA. Her shout-outs are for David and Ben, who fuel her in multiple ways, and all the TASIS faculty members who understand what theater takes—and gives.
Pedro Dias ’22, Brazil (Ronnie), is extremely excited to take part in this amazing musical. He would like to thank Ms. Carlson, Mr. Morris, Mr. Frazier, and his family and friends for all the support they have given him. Pedro got into acting and singing only last year with his first musical, Seussical Jr. He thanks you for attending this performance.
Mr. Matthew Frazier-Smith, USA (Choreographer), has choreographed, performed, and taught for many dance and theater companies in the United States and Europe, including Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Nashville Repertory eater, Core Project Chicago, and Disney Theatrical Group. He would like to thank the students, many of whom are dancing for the first time, for their willingness to try something new and take risks throughout the rehearsal process.
Ethan Fredericksen ’18, USA (Ensemble), is excited for his second performance of MCF: What A Life!, having played numerous roles in the summer 2016 60th anniversary presentation of the musical. With one professional production under his belt, as well as two TASIS productions, Ethan hopes to study the theatrical arts after his time at TASIS. He looks forward to every play and musical of the next few years.
Nathalie Groet ’18, Netherlands/Italy (Ensemble), is excited to be taking part in her first musical! She thinks it will be an amazing experience and a good challenge to perform in front of people. She wants to thank all the people watching and supporting the musical, but especially Ms. Carlson, who managed to make all of this happen.
Ms. Theresa Cullen Hill, USA (Mrs. Fleming), is our Elementary School Head. Music and theater have been important parts of her childhood and adult life. She is thrilled to be part of this production.
Laura Kockara ’20, Turkey (Ensemble), is excited for the musical. She had heard about MCF: What a Life! and is thankful for the roles that she is performing. She is always going to remember singing, dancing, and acting in this musical.
Lana Kozak ’19, Ukraine (Ensemble), is happy to be a part of this play. She hopes to become a psychologist in the future. Her acting credits include Marthe in Faust: Part 1. She wants to thank all of the amazing people she has met in theater.
Jessica Landa ’18, USA (Stage Manager), is excited to watch MCF: What a Life! on stage! This is her first time as stage manager but not her first time backstage (having been Props Mistress for The Servant of Two Masters in the fall). She cannot wait to see all of the cast and crew’s hard work pay off. She is also excited for Spring Break so that she can finally relax!
Umberto Lima ’17, Italy (Sound & Video Design), is excited to produce video and sound effects for this year’s musical, taking it a step further from just doing sound cues. It is his second year as Sound Designer for the TASIS musical, and he is pleased to be collaborating on an artistic component of the production.
Andrea Parmegiani ’17, Italy (Sound & Video Design), is enthusiastic to be taking part in his second High School spring musical. This is also his second year working as Sound Designer, and he is looking forward to making the play as cool and innovative as possible. He dedicates a big thank you to Ms. Carlson for her boundless patience and for teaching him how to perform the job of sound manager.
Zak Rahman ’17, Canada/Saudi Arabia (Lighting Designer), is not onstage for this performance (surprise!); he wanted to learn more about theater by trying his hand as a techie and now realizes how essential techies are to a production. He acted in the summer 2016 60th anniversary performance of MCF: What a Life!; in the TASIS productions of The Servant of Two Masters, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Merchant of Venice; and in the Ashbury College production of Oliver! Zak thanks his lighting collaborators John Gage and Sara Strawn, his family, his friends, Ms. Carlson, and EMB.
Xiana Russell ’18, USA (Ensemble), is very excited to perform in her first ever TASIS theater production. She is expecting to be a part of more shows next year. She wants to thank her family and friends for supporting her and pushing her out of her comfort zone to perform.
Maria Veronica Ramos Romero ’19, Venezuela/Saudi Arabia (Ensemble), is excited to be in her first TASIS play and would like to thank her friends for encouraging her. She loves music and plays her guitar all the time. She can’t wait for future plays in her time in TASIS!
Fernanda Miquela Jauregui Reigadas ’19, Spain/Mexico (Stage Manager), doesn’t know what to expect from her future. She hasn’t decided on her preferred degree, but she liked the idea of joining the musical theater team at TASIS.
Lauren Riba ’19, South Africa (Ensemble), is in her second year at TASIS. Her passions include singing, acting, and playing guitar. She is excited to be performing in another theater production at TASIS and has thoroughly enjoyed contributing to this special event.
Ivan Semashev ’18, Russia (Geoffrey), is delighted to be playing Geoffrey in this revival of the musical MCF: What a Life! He has taken part in most TASIS theater productions during his time at TASIS and hopes to continue doing so until graduation. He’d like to send his thanks to his family and friends for their support of his performing arts journey over the years.
The Making of a Musical