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Belle Vernon students ready for the big show

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Shannon McCulloch and Austin Morton rehearse choreography for the Challenge Dance for Belle Vernon Area's production of 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.'
The suitors getting ready to fight in the Challenge Dance in Belle Vernon Area's production of 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' are (from left) Gregory Shivey, Bradley Branik, Austin Morton, Dylan Perez and Joshua Mima.
Kacie Kubitza plays Millie Bradon and Brian Brazon plays Adam Pontipee in Belle VeRnon Area's production of 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.'

Having already produced and directed 15 musicals at Belle Vernon Area High School, one would surmise by this time that musical director Michael Rozell has run out of gushing compliments. In 15 years he — and his audiences — have seen it all.

Well, not yet.

As Belle Vernon's multi-talented performers take to the stage for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” Rozell reached into his bag of superlatives once again to applaud his 85-member cast. Not willing to pinpoint any particular highlight to Belle Vernon's version of the musical written by Lawrence Kasha and David S. Landay, with music by Gene De Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Rozell matter-of-factly beamed, “This show is all dance. We've worked countless hours on the choreography and we have stretched the brides, brothers and suitors to their limits. But they have met the challenges.”

Leading the way are a trio of three-peaters, seniors Brian Brazon and Kacie Kubitza and junior Gina Iacoboni, who each return for their third leading role in as many years.

Brazon (Adam), Kubitza (Milly) and Iacoboni (Dorcas) previously had top-billing roles in “Annie Get your Gun” and “Footloose” and promise another dazzling and inspiring performance.

In “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” backwoodsman Adam Pontipee arrives in an unnamed “newly settled” town in, according to the script, “a heavily wooded area in the Cascade mountain range in Oregon…” searching for a bride. Despite knowing each other for merely hours, he and Milly agree to marry. In short order, she learns that Adam is one of seven brothers living under the same roof. Milly teaches the rowdy brothers manners, which they test at the fall harvest, where they meet six women, including Dorcas. Initially, the brothers have a difficult time altering their “mountain man” ways, but eventually understand that the only way each will get a woman of his own is to adapt to Milly's teachings.

Six weddings later …

Not venturing a comparison with previous musicals, but Rozell emphatically said, “The choreography in this show will be the best that we have ever put on our stage. Simply put, high school students should not be doing the choreography that we've given them, but they are, and they are doing it well!”

Following auditions in mid-December, rehearsals began Jan. 2 and only Mother Nature has impeded the musical's progress, but only temporarily.

Despite weather-related interruptions, progress has been remarkable, especially considering the number of cast members, said Rozell, who wears the hats of producer, director and music director. “These students put in extra hours to perfect the choreography and brought their ‘A' game to each rehearsal. This is where you find the hard-working leaders of a school. Additionally, I'm fortunate to have a very large production staff, including an artistic director, technical director, assistant technical director, choreographer, orchestra conductor, blocking/acting coach, vocal coach, plus tons of volunteers. Everyone deserves so much credit for this production.”

Audiences will not have to wait long for the musical highlights, as Brazon/Adam sings “Bless Your Beautiful Hide” at the beginning of the show. Other Act I numbers include “Wonderful, Wonderful Day” (Milly and ensemble); “I Married Seven Brothers” (Milly and ensemble); and “Love Never Goes Away” (Adam, Gideon, Milly).

Rozell described Brazon as “an amazingly talented young man, talents which have taken him to the All-East Choir in Hartford, Conn., last year. Each year, as a principal character, he has amazed audiences with his booming bass voice.”

Kubitza, Rozell added, “is a triple-threat performer, acting, singing and dancing like a pro. She treats every single rehearsal as though it were opening night. Her professionalism is inspiring.”

In Act II “We Gotta Make It Through the Winter” (brothers); and “Glad That You Were Born (Milly) are only two of the highlights. However, Rozell was quick to mention the three very large dance numbers in the performance: Challenge Dance (Act I), Spring Dance (Act II) and Wedding Dance (Act II).

Rozell selected “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” due to the talent he has “been blessed with this year and they could meet all challenges regarding the choreography. It was the right year for this show, and I'm excited for audiences to see that our high school students can and will meet those challenges. Our tradition of excellence at BVAHS will certainly continue this year.”

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.