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High School Musicals: The traditional, the classical and the new

| Sunday, March 25, 2012

Robert Capanna has no problem with classic musicals.

He thinks they're great.

"But it's really nice to be able to do something new and different for a change," says the director of Kiski Area High School's musical, "The Drowsy Chaperone," running Wednesday through Saturday in the school auditorium.

A teacher, Capanna says he has been hearing great things about it for the past few years. "Several friends who had seen it on Broadway absolutely loved it. When the rights recently became available, I jumped at the chance to be one of the first schools in our area to present this show," he says. "It's a play-within-a-play sort of thing. In fact, the official tagline of the show is 'A musical within a comedy!' "

The show began as a wedding gift to writer Bob Martin and his fiancee, Janet Van de Graaf, who were fans of old musicals. Characters in the show bear their names.

It was written as a loving spoof of the 1920s-style shows that were popular on Broadway and, later, with Martin's help, the show was expanded and developed, eventually reaching Broadway in 2006.

"I love that this show has the great jazz-era feel of an older musical, while still being modern and contemporary in its style and humor," Capanna says.

Capanna says he lost count of the number of costumes when it reached 200-plus.

The show centers around a character known only as "Man in Chair" (portrayed by senior Phil Byford) who plays an old vinyl record of his favorite musical, the fictional "The Drowsy Chaperone," and the characters and events come to life around him in his apartment. "The Man's commentary and humor throughout the show are what make this musical so unique and especially hilarious," Capanna says.

"It is an old-fashioned comedy with a modern twist," Byford says. "It has humor, dance numbers and music similar to the "Ziegfeld Follies." It is lots of fun, and we hope the public is ready to see something new," he adds.

Capanna appreciates that, unlike an older, more-familiar show, audiences won't have preconceived ideas about what the characters should be like. "This gives the actors more freedom to develop the character in their own style," he says.

Senior Jesse Scanga describes his character of "Aldolpho the Latin seducer" as "saucy and cliche and very funny."

"Every day we find something new and hilarious to laugh at, so it never gets old," he says.


Director Martin Connolly seems as eager as his cast and crew about presenting "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," Thursday through Saturday.

""I think it will be one of the funniest shows that we have done in my (seven years) time at Burrell," he says. "I like the fact that it is a fairly biting satire of big business. The characters are all fun, and there are a lot of opportunities for each of them to have their moment in the show."

His cast is having a great time with this show, Connolly says, "and I think it's because it is just so funny." "They have as many funny ideas as I do, and at every rehearsal we are all gaining confidence about what we have," he says.

He is pleased the students are involved with most aspects of the production. "Our sets are all built by students; our boards are all run by students, backstage is all students. I think it really gives them a strong sense of ownership of what they are doing," he says.

"We have been rehearsing for about two months so we can really pull it all together come opening night," says junior Maddie Costa, who plays Rosemary Pilkington, the secretary who is set on winning the heart of the rascal Finch, who is driven by his desire to succeed.

Everyone is working very hard to develop unique characters, says senior Nick Guckert, who has the role of Finch. "There are constant laughs throughout," he says.

The cast becomes a tightly knit family, says senior Connor Hockbein, who plays company president J.B. Biggley. "I have found some of the best people I will ever meet through drama club."


The goal at Kittanning this year, director Emily Crossley says, is to present a smaller, yet fun and energetic show.

"100 Years of Broadway," running Friday and Saturday, nicely meets that goal, she says. It offers an overview of 100 years of Broadway musical history, re-visiting well-known composers, producers and performers, Crossley says.

"It is so entertaining and action-packed, even for a smaller show. I think the audience will love the nonstop dancing and singing."

This is an ensemble presentation that might remind some people of television's "Glee," Crossley says. "The cast is ready to get the job done."

"It's going to be exciting to see," promises freshman Brittany Trithart, who likes the singing and dancing. "There are so many great scenes. When you see this show, you will love it."

"No matter which musicals you already love, you will find others to love, too, in this show," junior Allison Kline adds.

The entire cast is on stage most of the time, Crossley says. "They have to be a team, and seem to enjoy doing it together," she says.

Because Kittanning has staged this Broadway revue in the past, Crossley says she wanted to make sure it had a fresh feel. "It is still the same music, but we wanted to design our stage and costumes differently and demonstrate that it is possible to do the same show, but with a completely different approach," she says.

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