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Alle-Kiski schools present personalized takes on classic musicals

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 2:05 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
(left to right) Jared DeGore, Eva Smittle, and TJ Swigart rehearse a scene from Burrell High School's production of 'Grease' on Monday, March 17, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
(left to right) Jared DeGore, TJ Swigart, Emily Sharick, Rachel Metnick and Eva Smittle rehearse a scene from Burrell High School's production of 'Grease' on Monday, March 17, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
(left to right) Eva Smittle and Emily Sharick rehearse a scene from Burrell High School's production of 'Grease' on Monday, March 17, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Erick Shiring, portraying 'The White Rabbit', and Madison Kunst, portraying 'Alice', rehearse a scene with cast members in preparation for Kittanning High School's production of 'Alice in Wonderland' on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Cast members (left to right) Alexa Scaife, Ava Bosco, Aspen Hartman, and Roxanne Crissman rehearse a scene in preparation for Kittanning High School's production of 'Alice in Wonderland' on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Erick Shiring, portraying 'The White Rabbit', rehearses a scene with (clockwise from top) Toby Johns, Kendall Peters, Abby Trithart, Roxanne Crissman, Derrick Reefer, and Alexa Scaife in preparation for Kittanning High School's production of 'Alice in Wonderland' on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Riverview's Kylie Mericle rehearses a song from 'Fiddler On The Roof' on Wednesday, February 19, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Riverview High School's Joshua Killian and Molly Kennedy rehearse a scene from 'Fiddler On The Roof' on Wednesday, February 19, 2014.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Kittanning High School students Erick Shiring and Madison Kunst attempt to enter the rabbit hole during dress rehearsal for Kittanning High School’s musical 'Alice In Wonderland' that opens Thursday, April 3, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
(from left) Jenna Joseph, Abbie Williams and Naimah Coleman from Riverview High School rehearse a song from 'Fiddler On The Roof' on Wednesday, February 19, 2014.

High school musicals are in full bloom across the Alle-Kiski Valley. Favorite characters from Rydell High are featured, as Burrell showcases the classic musical “Grease.” Travel back in time to pre-revolutionary Russia and discover the tale of a traditional Jewish father who reaches deep in his heart and redefines tradition for his family. Riverview High School presents a musical adaptation of “Fiddler On The Roof.” Tumble down the rabbit hole with Alice and explore the psychedelic and magical world as Kittanning High School comes to the stage with “Alice In Wonderland.”

Joyce Hanz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Grease is the word

Martin Connolly has directed musicals at Burrell High School for eight years. “The kids really wanted to perform “Grease” this year, and I know everyone loves “Grease,” he says.

The 40 cast members have been channeling their inner '50s vibe to re-create the beloved musical. “It's lots of work. I love seeing the kids get better and better, and they grow up, learn. All of the students create everything, from running and designing the set, to lights and sound, they really throw themselves into the role,” Connolly says.

Thomas Swigart, a senior, plays lead Danny Zuko, a “greaser” and love interest of new student Sandy at Rydell High School.

“This is my sixth musical,” Swigart says. “I play Danny, the head of the Greaser gang. He is immature, makes fun of others and wants nothing more than to hook up with chicks. In the musical, he is reintroduced to his summer love interest, Sandy Dumbrowski, and is embarrased of what his friends will think.”

John Travolta made the role of Danny famous. What does Swigart think, following in such footsteps?

“He undoubtedly did a great job in the movie, but the musical script is different from the movie. My favorite part of musical is opening night. That moment when everything comes together, there is no better feeling.”

Re-creating the costumes falls on wardrobe designer Nancy Albinini, who has volunteered for the past eight years. “This year, we have lots of fun circle skirts and bobby socks, and the “tough” kids are wearing tight sweaters, pencil skirts and blue jeans. Kids actually have a lot of clothes in their closets that still reflect that era.”

Eva Smittle, a senior, portrays Rizzo of the Pink Ladies. “Rizzo is very vulnerable, but puts on a tough-girl facade. The toughest scenes for me are the make-out scenes and the fight scenes. I can tell you that our production of “Grease” has a twist on the classic, and it's pretty awesome and hilarious.”

The new student at Rydell High Sandy Dumbrowski, is played by senior Emily Sharick. “She can't find a place to fit in, and she is innocent and awkward, and Rydell High is a shock to her.”

Sharick enjoys singing, and this is her eighth musical at Burrell. “This show is full of great songs, fun songs.”

Go ask Alice

Craig Klukan, who has directed for two years at Kittanning, chose “Alice In Wonderland” because “it's a show that the kids wanted to do, and it's more of a traditional-style show.”

Kittanning's production is the Prince Street Players version, a traveling company that caters to a smaller cast. “The show is shorter, but it has the typical scenes and characters like Cheshire Cat and The Mad Hatter,” he says.

The cast has 20 students and no budget.

“I stepped into the director role because, unfortunately, there were cuts to our arts program,” Klukan says. “We scrape our costumes together by making them, relying on donations from community theater and the generosity of St. Vincent DePaul's (thrift shop) in Kittanning.”

“What we lack in budget, we make up for in quality. My background is in set design, and I'm new to directing. I teach social studies,” he says.

“We are like a family. We have crazy weeks where the practices are six hours. It's marathon, for sure, but you get a lot accomplished.”

Ava Bosco, a sophomore, plays Duck, who is happy and excited. “I have to dance, sing and look funny all at the same time.” Bosco is a veteran of the stage, having grown up singing and performing at Pittsburgh venues.

She says this version of “Alice” is “not the classic movie. It's a blend of Disney, Tim Burton's version and our own twist.”

Sophomore Madison Kunst, who plays Alice, is in her 20th theatrical experience. “I absolutely love everything about this character. The tough part is the amount of dialogue and onstage acting. The musical season is my favorite, and the feeling of accomplishment at the end is so rewarding.”

Rachel Ebig, a junior, will play the Red Queen. “She is prissy and stuck up, which is a blast to act.” She is not afraid to chop your head off if you cross her. It is difficult to find a way to portray her — she is such a sociopath.”

“I really love how close our musical family is this year. The audience will love the show and can expect it to be creepy, exciting and downright hilarious.”

Senior Erick Shiring hops into the role of White Rabbit. “He is so anxious,” Shiring says. “His main purpose is to guide Alice throughout Wonderland. He is a frantic underling of the Red Queen. This show has just enough of both worlds: It's cartoon and artistic.”

Tradition rules

John Paul Bertucci tackles the beloved “Fiddler on the Roof” as director for the 15th year for Riverview High School in Oakmont. “Tradition is the theme threaded throughout ‘Fiddler,' and also the theme that love can change everything,” Bertucci says.

He says he believes being in a musical can help mold a person. “Participating in the arts gives the student a sense of confidence and experience in public speaking.”

A cast of 40 will take the stage re-creating the setting: the Russian rural village of Anatevka.

“This is a new version,” Bertucci says. “It's fall and winter in Russia, with less emphasis on bulky sets and more emphasis on the beauty of Russia with creative lighting and a touch of Broadway.”

Josh Killian, a junior, plays lead character Tevye, the milkman father and the heart of the village. “It is an honor to play this role,” says Killian, who has performed in the annual musical since he was in seventh grade.

“Tevye is larger than life, has a genuine love toward others, but, sometimes, he is stubborn and very religious and strict. I really like how this musical lets us take the Jewish tradition and customs to a whole new level.”

Sophomore Andy Galata finds the balance of academics with the rigorous demands of rehearsals a struggle. “Time management, that is the challenge, academics always come first, so when we are at rehearsa,l we are studying and doing homework when not on stage.”

Galata plays Mordcha the innkeeper. “Mordcha is social and, because of his profession, he provides alcohol and everywhere he goes; good times are sure to follow.”

This is Galata's fifth musical season. “My favorite part: the raw emotion in ‘Fiddler.' From the pure joy of the song ‘To Life' or ‘Miracle of Miracles,' the loving affection between the characters, and the heart-wrenching grief and sorrow of the final number, ‘Anatevka.' It's not easy to get the acting just right, but after all of the hard work, performing is a blast.”

Niomi Phillips, a senior, will close out her seven-year musical run with her last high-school performance playing Fruma Sarah, Lazar Wolf's dead wife.

“She does not want her husband to have happiness without her, or remarry. This role requires that I let my embarrassment go. I have to play a crazy dead lady,” Phillips says. “The musical experience really encourages you to come out of your shell and grow and develop.”

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