GREENFIELD — Hundreds of commoners got the chance to dine with nobility when the Greenfield-Central High School choir performed its traditional madrigal dinner at Trinity Park Church last weekend, Dec. 9-11.
King Ethan and Queen Jacqueline led the cast of nobles, portrayed by seniors and juniors of the choir.
Freshmen and sophomores portrayed handmaids and servants, serving food and drinks to guests dining by candlelight in the church’s Gibbs Hall, which was transformed into a royal dining hall for the weekend.
All three performances were sold out, with 160 people attending each show on Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
The two-hour show featured brass fanfares by members of Greenfield-Central bands and dinner music performed by members of the school’s orchestra, but choir members performed the songs acapella, allowing their musical storytelling to take center stage.
“The storytelling is what makes it a high-caliber dinner theater experience,” said choir director Paul Grizzard, who said over 150 students were involved in the production this year.
The students playing royalty looked the part of madrigal dinner guests, decked out in colorful robes and dresses with glimmering gold accents, with the kings, queens and younger nobility wearing crowns upon their heads. The servants were dressed in simpler attire with matching tunics.
As the younger choir members milled about the hall refilling drinks and serving guests, the madrigal performers sat in four rows on wooden benches on the main stage, with royal banners hanging on the wall behind them.
Singing throughout the dinner, the cast told the tale of a young prince who was supposed to become a jouster but became a jester by mistake. The story that unfolds is one of love and acceptance and following one’s heart.
With a sharp clap of his hands, King Ethan called for the dinner to begin, inviting the audience to stand for a traditional wassail toast to kick off the holiday festivities.
He then summoned two servants to parade a boar’s head through the center of the room on a platter, and to later present a flaming bowl of pudding, all while the choir sang “Boar’s Head Carol” and “The Flaming Pudding Carol” and other songs celebrating a traditional madrigal feast.
Sophomore Alex Plisinski, 16, who also takes part in Greenfield-Centrals’ theater program, said performing in the madrigal was a fun way to work on his voice while giving the community a unique way to celebrate the holidays.
He’s also a big fan of the food that is served — pan-fried chicken with mashed potatoes, green beans and corn catered by the Kopper Kettle restaurant in Morristown.
This was the 44th year for the high school’s madrigal show, according to Jennifer Steele, administrative assistant for the high school’s performing arts department.
The “fun Renaissance-style romp” typically sells out for each show every year, she said.
The near-half-century tradition has always been a special time for Greenfield-Central families, said Grizzard, since many students are second and third generation choir members.
“This year, we have students wearing costumes that their parents wore when they were in the program,” he said.
While the audience is typically full of proud parents, grandparents and friends, even those without students in the show attend each year.
“Many community members tell me that they come every year even though they have never had any children in the choir program, and that they really enjoy the unique nature of the event,” Grizzard said.
Seventeen-year-old Ethan Bittinger, who played King Ethan this past weekend, said it was a blast playing nobility for a night, while showcasing the songs the choir has worked so hard on throughout the school year.
The madrigal dinner allows choir members to focus on more than just singing, he said, by incorporating acting into each performance.
“I enjoy being able to be someone else and show off an artistic side,” said Bittinger, dressed in a red velvet robe and gold crown.
Senior Mariah McIntire, 18, played the role of his daughter, the princess who rebels against an arranged marriage to marry a local fishmonger, her true love.
“Performing in the madrigal dinner is always a fun experience,” she said.
Sophomore Megan Bundy, 16, was enjoying taking part in her second high school madrigal performance.
“I like the renaissance-y feel to it,” she said, just before Friday night’s performance. “I like the classic music and how the story’s non-religious but it plays to the origins of Christmas.”
After the main story ends at each madrigal dinner, the choir presents a mini-concert that is different every year, with some traditional songs like “Joy to the World,” ending each show by singing “Silent Night” by candlelight.