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'The Voice' of a new generation

| Saturday, April 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Maggie Sukel takes a break during rehearsals for Charleroi's production of 'Little Shop of Horrors,' in which she provided the voice of Audrey II.
Maggie Sukel takes a break during rehearsals for Charleroi's production of 'Little Shop of Horrors,' in which she provided the voice of Audrey II.

Originally, it was Ron Taylor; Michael-Leon Wooley was next and perhaps the most acclaimed; among others, then Levi Stubbs — of the late 1950s-early 1960s “doo-wop” group The Four Tops. Now, add Charleroi Area High School junior Maggie Sukel to the list, who is upsetting the apple cart and blazing a trail of her own.

Taylor, Wooley and Stubbs' names, names recognized via the Broadway play and movie role, that of “The Voice,” they shared, are most likely not typical household names in the Charleroi area. But Sukel's voice, if not her name, may from now on be recognizable throughout town.

After being a member of the ensembles in Charleroi Area High School musical productions of “Cinderella,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Back to the '80s” the last three years, Sukel literally talked her way into the role of Audrey II in last month's musical production of “Little Shop of Horrors” and grew into her role in the process.

She may also be heading toward an audition for the TV show “The Voice.”

Reversing the adage “children should be seen but not heard” as Audrey II, Sukel was just the opposite. Not seen on stage, it was rather her voice that the audience heard throughout the presentation.

“This part is normally performed by a male actor with a very deep voice, but we don't have enough boys and Maggie was willing to read for the part,” noted Melissa Vitali, who, after serving as choreographer and choreographer/assistant director, directed her first musical at Charleroi this year. “Maggie did such a good job that she got the part and worked hard to learn the songs and lines for this role, even though she was never seen.”

Vitali, who teaches kindergarten, added that Sukel performed her lines from offstage and another actor actually manipulated the puppet onstage.

With “Little Shop of Horrors,” a takeoff of sci-fi films of the 1950s, Vitali explained that the puppet is an alien that has basically come to take over Earth. Seymour, the male lead who finds Audrey II, realizes that to make it grow he needs to feed it blood. During the first act the plant moves from a hand puppet to one that another actor has to actually manipulate onstage while the voice is heard from off stage. Both actors work together for the movement and voice to be in sync. During the second act the plant takes over the stage and is so large that it can eat members of the cast. Audrey II was manipulated by junior Meghan Bruce.

Explaining how she became the “Voice,” Sukel giggled that she “had no intention of getting that role. When we had callbacks I said, ‘It sounds like it would be fun to have that role,' and Miss Vitali asked me to read for it. I found out the next day that I got the part, and I am more than pleased to have played the ‘Voice.' On Broadway and in the movie, the role is played by a male with a deep voice, and it turned out to be a fun part to play. I'm glad I got the part, and I had fun with the role. It was an excellent experience the entire way, and the play was fun to do.”

Vitali had no second thoughts about handing the role to Sukel.

“Maggie is a student I can count on to always be at rehearsal and when she isn't running her own lines she is helping other people practice their lines or choreography,” Vitali noted. “One of Maggie's strengths is her work ethic, and she doesn't hesitate to work independently or ask for help. She worked with our vocal director a lot this year because the songs are written for a male voice, and they had to find a way to make it work for a female. Nor is she afraid to become another character. Some students may be self-conscious about playing a certain role, but not Maggie. She has fun with whatever part she is playing.”

In true character form, Sukel, playing a grandmother in Charleroi's opening ensemble number, wore a gray wig and walked gingerly with the aid of a cane.

As Vitali was rummaging through the costume closet trying to find items for some of the younger cast members, she was concerned that she would not find what she needed. Sukel was there to ease the tension, putting together “the most outrageous costume you could think of and she came up behind me and asked what I thought,” Vitali laughed. “When I turned around, I started to laugh so hard that I had tears in my eyes. But that is Maggie!”

Laughing, Vitali noted that Sukel, who sings in either soprano or alto ranges, has a little bit of a mother hen in her. Remembering what she faced as a middle school member of the ensemble, Sukel takes middle school cast members under her wing, hoping to make the musical experience fun for the younger cast members

“Maggie really took on the role of a leader this year,” Vitali added. “She wanted the show to be a success and encouraged the other students to work their hardest. Even as a member of the general ensemble Maggie is one who learns her lines, and by the end of the show can usually give you the lines and blocking for almost everyone in the cast. If someone is absent and we need a volunteer to walk through the part so that the other actors can rehearse, she is one of the first to volunteer.”

Sukel acknowledged that she eagerly looks forward to the musicals every year.

“I love musicals and I love singing,” she said. “It's a great time, and I enjoy being with and working with the entire cast. My goal is for everyone to have a great performance.”

With her senior year still in front of her, Sukel, a high honors student with a 3.6 grade average, is taking courses in anatomy and biology with designs on a career in the medical field. For three years she has been a member of the Cougarettes color guard squad, but is contemplating playing the Sousaphone in the marching band next year, “just to try something different my senior year,” she said.

Maintaining an active schedule, Sukel is a member of the Show Choir and Spanish and Bible clubs. Her summers are just as busy, when her activities include delivering meals to patients as a volunteer at Mon Valley Hospital and volunteering with Meals on Wheels.

Les Harvath is a freelance writer.

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