'Alice in Wonderland JR.' visits Hampton Middle School

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

Hampton Middle School students are preparing for a high-energy adventure when they tell the story of Alice's journey into Wonderland in the school's production of Disney's “Alice in Wonderland JR.”

“Alice in Wonderland JR.” tells a one-act adaptation of the story of Alice who follows a white rabbit into a fantastical and nonsensical world where she interacts with a number of characters in her efforts to return home.

Close to 100 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students are involved in bringing the musical to life when the curtain rises for opening night, tonight, Thursday, Nov. 15.

Eighth-grader Gabriella Conley said the nonsensical antics of the characters and how they interact with Alice is one of the most enjoyable parts of the musical.

“It's very weird so it doesn't always make sense, but it's fun to watch,” said Conley, who plays the Dodo Bird, captain of the Queen's Navy and one of the many wild characters. “It's entertaining so it will be really fun to watch.”

Greg Shumaker, the musical director, said this year's production allows for the students to express their creative side because of its fantastical plot, scenes and characters.

“They all get into it and have fun with it,” Shumaker said of the students. “It's a fun play to do: the colors, the backdrop, there's even a fog machine and strobe light.”

Joining Shumaker in the director's chair is Jen Lavella as assistant director and choreographer. Lavella has earned the high school accolades in the Pittsburgh CLO Gene Kelly Awards for musical choreography and is bringing her skill set to the middle school's production with several large dance numbers.

Sam Horgan, an eighth-grader who plays the King of Hearts, said the cast has had to work harder at the dance routines because of the more challenging choreography and tap steps. However, he adds, overall the students are working to raise the bar on their stage productions.

“There's been a lot of effort put into it,” Horgan said of the musical. “I think our musicals have only gotten better, more elaborate, more story-driven. This one is set out to be the best one in a long time.”

In order to accommodate Alice's frequent height changes throughout the musical, Alice is played by three different students: Alyssa Rein, Kate Mills and Mia Saltrelli.

Mills, an eighth-grader, said each Alice goes through her own challenges. The small Alice has to learn to stick up for herself, the medium-sized Alice must discover who she is, and the tallest Alice focuses on trying to get back to her normal size.

But while Alice is played by three different students, they each help tell Alice's story.

“She gets lost in Wonderland, and while she's trying to find the white rabbit, in fact she is trying to find who she is,” Mills said.

Alyssa Rein, an eighth-grader who plays the smallest of the three Alices, said she feels lucky to have such a large role in the musical and especially one that includes a dance number, a skill she has been studying since she was 3 years old.

“(The community) should come to the show because it's very different, a lot of fun and the dancing is really good, and the singing and acting—it's all good,” Rein said.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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