Pine-Richland students up to challenge of musical performance

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

When the curtain rises on Pine-Richland High School's production of “Big: the musical” this weekend, the cast will have overcome more challenges than just presenting a difficult show.

During one of the last weeks of rehearsals, one lead character got sick, one lead character was diagnosed with a vocal cord hemorrhage and another lead broke his leg in physical education class.

“The old adage ‘the show must go on' rings true every year,” said Carole Rost, the musical production manager. “It will all work out.

“It's amazing what they (the students) can do.”

The close to 50 cast members, more than half of whom are new to the high school stage, have come together to bring to life the musical version of the 1988 film starring Tom Hanks.

The story follows Josh, a 13-year-old who wishes to be “big” and wakes up the next morning as an adult, and the “big” problems he faces in the adult world.

“It comes to a point that he's not ready to be an adult and being ‘big' is not the wish he wanted,” said Rush Hodgin, a freshman, who plays the adult version of Josh.

In addition to the strong high school talent, the musical also brings to the stage two middle school students, Jake Pedersen and Mark Mongilio, who play young Josh and his best friend Billy, respectively.

“Pine-Richland has a good variety of talent in their district,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen joined the high school cast for the first time in “Les Miserables” two years ago and has been working hard to meet the standards set by the high school musical staff. In addition to practicing his lines and songs, he also is working to mimic the mannerisms of Hodgin's adult version of his character.

“They came in and absolutely wowed me,” Hodgin said of his cast mates. “Little Josh, I compare him to the kid who played him on Broadway, and Mark Mongilio, who plays Billy, combines Billy from the musical and Billy from the movie and makes it his own.”

In addition to the complex, two-story set, and challenging vocal compositions, audiences also will be entertained by the students' take on the film's iconic floor piano scene in which Josh and MacMillan, the owner of the toy store, play “Heart and Soul.”

Robb Montgomery, the technical designer, created a large computerized piano with keys that light up in sync with the music. Hodgin and Andrew Brevik, who plays MacMillan, then spent four weeks working on the choreography for the scene.

“We need it down to 0.01 seconds so it looks like it's completely in sync,” Hodgin said.

Alexis Loiselle, a junior who plays Susan, Josh's adult love interest, said one of her favorite parts of the show is the final scene that features a more intimate ending than some of the classic musicals the high school has staged.

“It's really subtle and I like how different it is,” Loiselle said. “It's not a big ensemble number at the end … it's not a typical musical theater ending. It's less of a wow-factor, but it makes it feel the show's more real.”

Students have rehearsed since January on the two-act show to meet the vocal challenges as well as push themselves to build the group's energy on stage. Rost said the directorial team, which includes Pine-Richland alumni Tim Marquette and Christen Braun, has the same goal for “every ensemble member to look like a lead” on stage.

“That's what makes a show go from good to great.”

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

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