Penn-Trafford musical producer set the stage for theater careers
John Noble sums up Beverly Rubright's influence on the Penn-Trafford Drama Guild like this: All high schools put on a spring musical; Penn-Trafford aspires to “theater.”
Noble, a Hempfield lawyer, has a supporting argument for his claim. As creator of the “Westmoreland Night of the Stars” show at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg, he said, he's the only person who is “crazy enough” to see 16 high school musicals in the county every year as preparation for the end-of-season showcase. And, he said, Rubright, who is set to retire in May, is the only school-musical sponsor who has been involved in all of Noble's shows since the start in 1997.
The last three performances of “Shrek the Musical,” the final show in Rubright's 20 years as Penn-Trafford's musical producer, are this weekend in the high school auditorium.
Noble credits Rubright for putting on professional-looking shows by assembling a crew of perfectionists, including director Tom Bekavac and choreographer Laura Wurzell.
“Penn-Trafford has been one of the consistently top-level programs for the past 18 years running,” Noble said. “The quality of any program, whether it's a sports team or a musical program, starts at the top, and Bev Rubright and her team, they demand and command ‘theater' out of the kids.
“They push the kids to the highest possible level of entertainment, and consistently, that attention to detail is evident in the presentation that the audience thoroughly enjoys.”
Rubright's legacy includes an impressive roster of former students who have gone into careers in the arts, ranging from stage performers, set- and graphic-arts designers and show managers.
The list stretches back to Warren Freeman, who performed in the school's 1996 production of “Crazy For You” and later appeared in the national tours of “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music” and “Cats.”
More recently, Lindsey Carothers, a 2009 Penn-Trafford graduate, was a member of the ensemble for “Bring It On: The Musical” on Broadway. She now is performing in the ensemble and as the understudy for Glinda the Good Witch in national tour of “Wicked.”
“I'm always thrilled to see former students go into the performing arts,” said Rubright, who also sponsored the high school fall play for 11 years. “I always tell them that I want front-row seats when they get their first show. It is a nice feeling to think that we might have had a hand in helping them choose this direction.”
At Penn-Trafford, students not only respect Rubright, they admire her, said Linda Loughner, who has been the Drama Guild president for the past three years. In Rubright's relationships with the teens, there is a lot of playful banter, she said.
Meanwhile, the students willingly sign up to spend as many as three hours a night preparing, several nights a week for more than two months.
“They're willing to commit, and it's interesting because they don't just commit to themselves, they commit to each other,” Loughner said.
Because of his involvement in Penn-Trafford shows, Zach Stevenson learned about budgeting, fundraising and licensing. Stevenson, a 2003 graduate, now is a marketing and press manager for Broadway Booking Office NYC, which represents several national tours.
Stevenson got his start as a fourth-grader playing a Munchkin in Rubright's 1995 production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“You are treated like an adult, and you are expected to act like one,” said Stevenson, who now counts Rubright as a friend. “It was a really great way to prepare for a career in the theater.”
Brad Broman, who graduated in 2002, now works as the assistant company manager for the national tour of “We Will Rock You,” featuring music by Queen. He called Rubright his favorite teacher, and his time with her dated back to being in her kindergarten class at McCullough Elementary School. Even after graduating from high school, he volunteered to help with some Penn-Trafford productions.
“She sets such a high standard. I wanted to give back everything that she gave us. It's always a blessing to go back to see students who see theater for what it is and not because it's their job.”
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or firstname.lastname@example.org.