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Local residents take stage at RMU theater

Rachael Houser, center, and her father, Mark, at left, rehearse a scene for 'The Fantasticks' with other cast members at Robert Morris University's Massey Theater earlier this week. Photo by Kristina Serafini

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By Joanne Barron
Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 10:44 a.m.

Molly Stater called it "all so serendipitous" when it came to the way her family and the Houser family got involved in the first summer stock plays at the newly renovated Colonial Theater at Robert Morris University in 20 years.Molly, of Sewickley, an opera singer and professional actress whose last stage performance was about eight years ago, has given voice lessons to the Houser children. At one point, they canceled those lessons on short notice and told her they were going to an audition for "The Music Man," Molly's favorite musical. She decided she wanted to audition, too, and take her children with her. She e-mailed the director, Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, and told her, "I'm plump. I'm 50. I'm perfect for the role of Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn," and she ended up getting the role. The musical is featured under the title of "Broadway Through the Gardens," a summer series that kicked off this week with "The Fantasticks.Also scheduled to perform in "The Music Man" will be five of Stater's seven children — Hannah, 15, who will be a Quaker Valley High School sophomore in the fall; Elizabeth, 13, an eighth-grader; Joseph, 11, a fifth-grader; Adam, 8, a third-grader; and Abigail, 5, a home-schooled kindergartner. All have dancing backgrounds, most play musical instruments and the older children also have performed in several musicals. Their father, Brent Stater, is a professional singer.The Stater children all will be singing and dancing town children, and Adam will play a lead role, Winthrop, although this will be his first acting role, he said. Mark Houser, who is editor of RMU alumni magazine and online publications and adjunct journalism professor, started it all. He works with professor Ken Gargaro, coordinator of the theater at RMU who is directing "The Music Man" and "The Fantasticks." Houser and his daughter, Rachael, 17, a Quaker Valley senior who has performed in many musicals over the years, will perform together in "The Fantasticks," a show they saw together for the first time on Broadway two years ago. "It was magical. Now, we're in ‘The Fantasticks' together," said Mark, who took a week of vacation to be in the show. "When Ken told me he was going to do community theater, I thought it would be great to be in a play with my family," said Mark, who last performed on stage in college. Rachael said she especially is eager to be in "The Fantasticks" because she and her father saw it together in New York but also because it was a favorite of her late grandmother, Elaine Houser.Although Mark said he had visions of playing the father in "The Fantasticks" and Rachael playing his daughter, it didn't quite work out that way, he said. Although Rachael earned- the lead as the daughter, Louisa, Mark will portray Henry, a senile old man, and will wear a bald wig."I keep getting cast as a buffoon," Mark said with a laugh. "I was in ‘The Nerd' in college and played the nerd. I don't know where these casting people are coming from."In addition to Mark and Rachael, other Houser family members also will perform in "The Music Man" — Mark's wife, Diane, a veteran volunteer for Quaker Valley musicals; Theo, 11, a sixth-grader; and Tessa, 15, a sophomore. All will perform as River City town folk. Rachael also will do technical work for the show. All four Houser children, including Cricket, 12, an eighth-grader who will not be in the RMU shows because she is attending art camp, have been in Quaker Valley plays and have musical backgrounds. Molly said the chance to participate in community theater has restored her joy of performing. "One of the reasons I quit performing was because of the harsh environment. Now, I can do it for fun. I have Mark Houser to thank," she said.

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