If you stopped by a recent rehearsal of the Monomoy High spring musical “All Shook Up,” you might have wondered who the young man was giving students directions. That young man was none other than Broadway performer Robi Hager, who has been lending his insight and experiences to MRHS shows for the past four years.
Hager, a talented thespian and vocalist, is a former student of Monomoy music teacher Rose Richard, who had Hager and his siblings in her choral classes at the American School Foundation in Mexico City.
“She asked me about four years ago if I would be interested in working with her kids, and I said, 'Yes! Let's do it,'” Hager said.
For the past four seasons he's ventured to Cape Cod to sit in on rehearsals, during which he draws upon his own experiences in offering advice to high school actors. Hager got his own start shortly after his graduation from high school in 2006 when he joined the cast of “Spring Awakening.”
Although Hager had been attending college for opera, when the show came along, he followed the music. Since then he's appeared in a number of regional and national shows, most recently the national tour of “Fun Home.” He was also part of the cast for “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” with Nick Jonas.
“One of the times he was up here he was talking about different Broadway celebrities,” said Richard. “He said, 'Can I tell you who's the nicest guy ever? Daniel Radcliffe.'”
Hager said he's been met with skepticism from students about his theatrical adventures, but a quick Google search of his name would quickly dispel any doubts since there are multiple cast photos showing Hager right next to the famed star.
While Broadway has Hager's heart, when he's working with the Monomoy musical his focus is on the kids.
“The first thing I do is work on music with them,” Hager said. “Then I work on vocal placement. If anything is holding them back I try to pinpoint it. Is it an emotional thing? I let them tell me what's going on, and if that releases something we use that in the music.”
Hager also helps them with diction and posture, and teaches them exercises to strengthen and stretch their vocal cords.
“And I really focus on them not rushing lines,” he said. “Acknowledge the punctuation in the script. It's there for a reason.”
Something Hager won't do? Judge.
“I'm here to help. I'm not here to judge,” he said. “That allows them to be free to mess up and learn from a mistake, not just be afraid of messing up. I never come in with the idea that I know better than you, because maybe I don't. I want them to fall in love with the show and with what they're doing and allow themselves to take risks without any judgments.”
Hager said what he appreciates about “All Shook Up,” which features the music of Elvis Presley, is the message behind the musical.
“It has a sense of the '50s and that style of life,” Hager said. “The cool thing about the Elvis music is that each song has a story. It's about owning who you are and not apologizing for who you are.”
The students, Hager said, are eager to learn.
“There's a curiosity there,” he said. “I never think that I'm teaching them. I'm only thinking that we're working together. I always feel like you've got to treat everybody like adults. They're my peers. That helps to relate to them a little better.”
Hager often shares what worked for him, and what didn't, in the hopes that his suggestions will help high school thespians have the best experience onstage. Though Hager's time with the Monomoy cast is limited due to theatrical commitments, he's hoping to get back for a performance. Meanwhile, he offered a key piece of advice for students.
“I would say that we are in need of trust in the world,” he said. “We're in a weird time in our history where people are hiding and not trusting each other. Say hello to everybody. Say hello to people you don't say hello to. We need that.”
Richard said Hager's assistance, as always, has been immensely helpful.
“Since we've first started having him come, kids are like, 'When's Robi coming?' It's about what he brings to the table in terms of an outside person, a young person, and his experiences. His creds are pretty wild. It's cool for them to have that experience to work with a professional. These guys get to graduate and go, 'I got to work with a Broadway actor,'” Richard said. “I don't think there's anybody else on Cape Cod doing that.”