Technicolor teamwork: Moon Area, RMU students collaborate on musical production
Students swayed to a lively piano accompaniment by Pittsburgh Musical Theater music director Brent Alexander, as PMT choreographer Lisa Elliott directed their routine of interweaving lines on the Moon Area High School stage.
The dance during a rehearsal last week showed how students and staff from the high school, Robert Morris University and PMT are collaborating to stage “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” The show will open next week in the high school auditorium.
Because Kenneth Gargaro, Robert Morris professor of communications, is the founder of Pittsburgh Musical Theater, he called on some PMT staff members to help at the high school, less than a mile from RMU.
Moon Area and RMU students, along with an RMU staff member, comprise the cast of the contemporary musical about the Biblical tale of Joseph, son of Jacob.
Jacob's 11 other sons sell Joseph into slavery out of jealousy over their youngest brother's favored status. But Jacob eventually rises from slavery to become adviser to the Egyptian pharaoh. With no spoken dialogue, the songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice move the plot along while representing different popular musical genres.
“It's a great experience for them to work with other directors,” said Moon Area High School director and teacher Laura Mitchell.
“Because the schedule has been condensed into four weeks, (the high school students) really have to work. The expectation is that they come prepared.”
Gargaro said the collaboration, which originated with now-retired Moon Area Superintendent Donna Milanovich and Robert Morris Vice Provost Lawrence Tomei, is enabling those from the neighboring schools to “learn a little bit more about each other.” The school district and university will share the costs and proceeds.
The show also allows the university students to work in Moon Area's “far superior” auditorium with first-rate equipment. The auditorium opened with the new high school three years ago.
Gargaro said if the show is successful, it could be the start of more collaborations.
Lori Cole, Moon Area vocal director, worked with Moon Area Middle School students, who provide a “Joseph” chorus. Cole said differences do exist, but communication has been key.
Working with Gargaro and with PMT staff such as Alexander and Colleen Petrucci “has been a positive experience,” with the high school performers, local theater patrons and the theater program at Robert Morris University all benefitting, Cole said.
Anthony Lombardo, 21, a Robert Morris senior from Moon who plays Joseph's brother Naphtali, had not performed on the new stage, built after his graduation from Moon Area.
The current crop of Moon Area students was “pretty cool to work with. We're all getting along fairly well,” he said.
“It brings back fond memories of high school theater,” said Raymond Sims, 22, a Robert Morris senior from Bethlehem who plays another of Joseph's brothers, Judah. “I feel like I am passing along some of my experience to the (high school) students.”
“We tend to try and act more mature, to make ourselves better and make the show better,” said Ashley Braxton, 17, a Moon Area senior from Moon who plays one of the brothers' wives.
While many involved praised cooperation among the participants, there have been challenges. One was costume design, said Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, RMU associate professor of communications and costume designer.
“When you're designing costumes for public schools, there are modesty issues that are different,” she said. “I think we've solved (them)” while maintaining the sexiness of some of the characters.”
Another is the short rehearsal schedule.
“When I was in high school, it took us four months to do a show,” said Logan Williams, 23, of Kane, McKean County, an RMU graduate assistant, who is one of two RMU cast members playing Joseph. He said the Moon students “are incredibly talented. We should feel a lot of pleasure in getting to work with these kids.”
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.