Alex Perez is a Union City native who is a veteran performer on the Broadway stage and on television. He appeared in the popular Off-Broadway production of "Della Guarda," and spent some time in the cast of the doomed Broadway show, "Cape Man," which was written and produced by Paul Simon.
"It was a good week," Perez laughs of his experiences in "Cape Man," which closed after horrific reviews one week after it opened four years ago. "I had fun doing it."
Perez has also had his share of roles in film and on television, including an extended stay as a dancer on "Club MTV."
However, Perez has also another important role these days, that as the musical theater and drama director at High Tech High School in North Bergen. Perez has been teaching at the school for the last four years and has been able to incorporate drama and theater into the general curriculum at the school.
"We have about 30 students in the class, who meet two days a week and on Saturdays," Perez said. "They receive a grade for their work, so it's not just for fun."
And it's quite obvious that the students take their work very seriously, especially dedicating their time on Saturdays.
"At first, I was a little upset by coming into school on Saturdays," said 17-year-old senior Joceyln Sulca, who resides in North Bergen. "But then I got to realize I was being part of something special, being with friends and having so much fun. It's really worth it."
Each year, the students put on a winter and a spring production to showcase their talents. Their winter production, called "Broadway Rocks," a retrospect of rock musicals spanning the last 40 years of musical theater, will be performed Saturday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The show features hit numbers from such popular musicals as Hair, Evita, Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess, Saturday Night Fever, Rocky Horror Show and Stomp.
Perez thought that a tribute to recent rock musicals would be a good way to pique the interests of the students.
"I think it made it easier for everyone, not just those who are performing, but those who would come to see the show," Perez said. "It relates to the culture of today, the shows of the last few decades. We took large chunks from each show, to give the audience a little taste of each show. It's really like watching eight musicals in one."
In viewing a recent dress rehearsal, the students definitely give their all, putting on a professional quality show, down to the sets and the lighting. And it's done all by the students, with only the direction of Perez.
"The group is extremely committed," Perez said. "It's really great to be a part of it and see how far they've come. They're behind every aspect of the show, the lighting, the operation of the boards, everything. And they give their all in performances."
Yuri Acosta is featured in several numbers. The 17-year-old North Bergen resident said that it helped that she was so familiar with the songs from the popular Broadway shows, such as "I Don't Know How to Love Him," from Jesus Christ Superstar, in which she is featured.
"I think it helped with the characterization of the show and gave us all a better understanding," Acosta said. "I think we were all pretty familiar with the songs, so that helped us get ready. But we still work hard to make sure we're ready. We want to put on a show that everyone wants to see."
The show was cast last May before the students went off for summer vacation. It also gave them the course of the summer to learn the songs.
But it also gave time for some of the technical wizards in the school to work with the soundtracks, in order to lift the music from the soundtracks and take away the vocals. So this way, the High Tech students would be performing to the actual music heard on the Broadway stage.
"To get the music, we needed to do extensive work," Perez said. "We did some studio work and did some extensive research to find different ways to get the music. It was definitely a new age way of getting the music. Once we got the music, then we worked on the different dance steps and movement. It takes a lot of work."
But the work is definitely paying off, because the show is vibrant and alive. The show will possibly be part of High Tech's annual participation in the Paper Mill Playhouse Awards, the statewide competition honoring the best high school theater programs.
Last year, High Tech was nominated for five awards for their production of "Little Shop of Horrors."
But there's more to the production than seeking awards. There's camaraderie between the students that are not found in other activities.
"It really is like a family," said Acosta, who would like to continue with the performing arts in college. "We have a responsibility, but it's like spending great times with your family. That makes it easier. It's been a lot of work, but the show is our reward. We get to see the hard work paying off with a lot of emotion."
Sulca was never involved with acting or performing before this year.
"I saw the show last year and it looked like so much fun," said Sulca, who will sing "Another Suitcase" from Evita. "I was scared being a newbie to the class, but they all treated me like family right away. I've always loved singing and performing. It's been a great experience. And everyone in the class is very talented. I think that helps as well, that we're all talented and it comes together on stage. It's great to be a part of that."
Perez said that he has enjoyed doing this show so much, perhaps more than any of his professional experiences.
"It's the biggest rush," Perez said. "It beats anything else I've ever done. The way you affect people and see it come together. It's just nice to see it all transform and see it materialize. It's been wonderful."
Tickets for "Broadway Rocks" are priced at $7 and show times are Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Jay Todd Blackbox Theater at High Tech High School, 8511 Tonnelle Avenue, in North Bergen. For further information, contact Alex Perez at 201-295-4053.