Jane Matson performed in Camelot and My Fair Lady on the stage of Newtown High School as a student in the early 1980s before enjoying a career as a professional singer in national tours and stage productions.
Matson has given up a life on stage to play a role that’s tailor made for her. Matson is the choral director at , from which she graduated in 1983. She teaches choral music, directs the school’s freshmen choir, concert choir, chamber choir and after school a cappella group called The Singers. She also directs the school’s two musical theater productions each school year.
“I really didn’t want to teach in the classroom,” Matson said. But someone convinced her to try it in another community “and I immediately loved it,” said Matson, who went back to school to get teaching certification. She jumped at the chance to return to her alma mater when the choral director position opened in Newtown two years ago, and she’s already made her mark.
The school’s spring musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, received five nominations and two awards at the . Three students won for their role as the Narrator in the Joseph production. Matson and student Brian White won for Outstanding Musical Direction.
Matson deflected attention from herself, even downplaying her professional credits, which include playing the Narrator in Joseph, Maria in West Side Story, and the mistress and Eva Peron in Evita, preferring instead to talk about her students.
“There are amazingly talented kids in this district, crazy talented. Usually there are only two or three (stand-outs) at a time. In this district you get 10 who are really good,” Matson said. “This is why we do the black box (performances) because it gives more students an opportunity to have leads,” she said.
This year’s black box theater production is the family-friendly “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” in which student performers will interact with the audience. The fall production was Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
“That score makes professionals cry but it’s so worth-while and so challenging. There’s something to be learned from every show. It’s my job to expose my students to a balance of materials,” Matson said.
Especially since some students aspire to the professional performing career Matson had. “They need to be well-rounded performers. They’re going to be expected to do that in college right from the beginning,” she said.
“I like the way she works. She makes sure it’s a communal effort. Everyone matters. It’s become a home since she came,” Alexandra Aug, 18, said of the school’s choral program. “I’m learning a lot from Mrs. Matson,” said Aug, who is the student director of “Charlie Brown,” and an aspiring actress.
“She does a great job including everyone,” said Luke Shearin, 17, who plays Charlie Brown.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” will be performed at Newtown High School’s Black Box Theater on April 26, 27 and 28, 7 p.m., and April 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased at the door.