Baldwin HS presents 'Honeymoon in Vegas'
What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay there, especially for the students at Baldwin High School, who will present, “Honeymoon in Vegas,” as their spring musical ensemble April 11-14.
Under direction of seasoned theater veteran Jason Coll, the group of nearly 70 high schoolers will perform the musical adaptation of the 1992 movie, which only premiered on Broadway in January of 2015.
Charting unfamiliar territory is something Coll is used to; this is the third time Baldwin High School has been the first school in the Pittsburgh area to debut a musical.
“I'm selfish,” Coll, a 1989 Baldwin High School graduate laughed. “I want to work on the newer shows that haven't been seen. It's fun, and you kind of get a reputation around Pittsburgh. For the kids, it's an opportunity to create characters they've never seen.”
Not like Coll needs help with his credibility – the Carnegie Mellon University bachelor of fine arts graduate worked as the associate artistic director of the Pittsburgh CLO, started his own agency (Frog Prince Creative, Inc.) and worked as a musical theater writer prior to starting as the musical director for Baldwin High School in 2015.
The screenwriter's love of theater extends to his students. Baldwin High School musicals and student-actors consistently are nominated for Gene Kelly Awards, which highlight musical theater excellence among Allegheny County high schools.
“Honeymoon in Vegas,” tells the story of Jack Singer and his girlfriend Betsy Nolan, who have been exclusive for five years. When Jack tries to purchase an engagement ring, he is transported back to just before his mother's death — when she placed a curse upon him, telling him, “no woman would ever love him as much as she does,” spiraling him into a panic attack. Betsy, becoming frustrated and angry, gives Jack an ultimatum of marriage or bust. The two take off to Vegas in hopes of eloping.
Junior Morgan Traud, who plays Betsy, has been in over 15 musicals. The actress has had formal training through the Pittsburgh CLO, and believes her character often reflects her own personality.
“Betsy has a large range of emotions — very much like me,” Traud said. “But I envy her ability to make spur-of-the-moment decisions. I could never just pick up and go to Hawaii.”
Traud hopes to pursue musical theater in college — “hopefully Carnegie Mellon University, University of Michigan or NYU” — because while shy, she can't picture doing anything else.
“I love to sing,” Traud said. “Theater allows people to express themselves. It's a chance to step out of yourself and be someone else.”
Robbie Miller, who plays Jack Singer, appreciates those moments where he can step out of himself — so much so that the high school senior was a Gene Kelly Award Winner when he was only a freshman for his role in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Starting his passion for acting in sixth grade, Miller didn't always have aspirations of being on stage.
“I had friends in theater,” Miller said. “But I never thought I'd want to do this as a career.”
And while Miller would love to “be more like Jack — not afraid to take risks,” he does find more similarities than differences in his character.
“I'm quirky like Jack,” Miller said. “Nerdy. Reserved. I keep myself organized and structured.”
Miller currently is in advanced placement classes, extracurricular activities and manages to make rehearsals, too. His secret? His attire.
“I dress to feel good every day,” Miller said. “If I look put together, I feel like I can take on anything.”
Miller anticipates opening night for his leading role in just a few days.
“Opening night is very nerve wracking,” Miller said. “We are all so excited that we are nervous.”
Coll said that even though working with such a large group has its challenges, the rewards are far greater.
“I have a great time with the kids,” Coll said. “With every show you know the talent you have, and you just pray the person shows up. We really formed a family.”
Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.