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Chartiers Valley set to perform 'Legally Blonde'

| Saturday, March 3, 2018, 1:15 a.m.

Do me a favor? Have yourself a super day ... at Chartiers Valley High School's musical production of “Legally Blonde — The Musical.”

Based on the Amanda Brown novel and the 2001 movie, “Legally Blonde — The Musical” tells the story of sorority girl Elle Woods, who enrolls at Harvard Law School in hopes of winning back her ex-boyfriend. Defying the high odds stacked against her, Woods discovers that she has the ability to help others as an attorney, and successfully defends a fitness celebrity in a murder trial. The show continues through March 10.

Dustin Giffin is CVTheatre's technical director and Mike Mackey is the musical director.

Marking her 10th year with Chartiers Valley musicals, Kim Giffin serves as the director, producer and choreographer. The Point Park University graduate has performed her entire life, both professionally and during her time as a student herself in the Chartiers Valley School District. She said she chooses each musical based on the students who audition, and their strengths.

“I always base my show choice off of what types of students I have,” Giffin said. “I hold auditions, see how many boys versus girls I have, whether it's a strong dramatic or comedic group and whether there are a lot of students with dance backgrounds or not. This way, I can pick a show choice that is best tailored to the talent of the student body participating.”

Samuel Kagle, who plays Emmett Forrest and scored a Gene Kelly Award nomination last year for Best Supporting Actor in the school's production of “Sweeney Todd,” said that even though there are some challenges in learning to balance stage theatrics with a quiet character, his role is well-suited.

“When onstage, I have to be dramatic and show emotion, but Emmett is a reserved and pretty awkward character. To play the role properly, I have to strike a balance between by dramatic acting side and the more reserved side I have when I'm not on stage,” Kagle said. “The good news is that I'm very much like Emmett already, so I don't really have to come up with his character from scratch.”

With a cast of 45 and crew of around 15, nearly half of Giffin's theater group graduated last year. She encourages those who love the arts to push through the toughest part – the audition.

“I always discuss with the student how the audition is always the hardest part, but the fear of it is actually worse than the event itself,” Giffin said. “Almost always, students say to me afterwards, ‘I was nervous, but it wasn't as bad as I thought.' We try to encourage them as much as possible to follow through with the audition so they don't miss out on the entire opportunity.”

Giffin's education, professional experience and time with the district has encouraged many students, especially senior Jenna Wood, who will be portraying Elle Woods. This production marks the seventh musical for Wood in the Chartiers Valley, including her roles in middle school musicals. Passionate about the arts, Wood said the musicals have helped her learn to be more confident in her abilities.

“My biggest challenges have been just trusting myself and my performance,” Wood said. “I've had to work really hard to be confident in myself and my abilities in musical theater and in just life itself. I think being in shows with the CVTheatre cast has helped me become more self-confident and proud of the work we do.”

Giving credit to her fellow cast and theater members, Wood said the difficulty of balancing auditions and academics has taught her how to better manage her time and become more responsible with the free time that she does have. She hopes to study acting after graduating from Chartiers Valley.

“I feel secure and confident when I'm on stage and I think that has helped me in overcoming my fear of public speaking to smaller audiences. When I begin to feel nervous I just reflect on how much I've prepared and if I've done by best, then I have nothing to be nervous about,” Wood said.

Studying her cast and forecasting for the next year's production is something Giffin starts almost immediately following the end of each musical. She researches show choices and brainstorms options based on who is returning for the next musical. She holds auditions and callbacks in October, and immediately starts planning, going “full-force through the show in March.”

It might sound hectic, but it is a method that Giffin said is possible with the support of a community in which she has belonged to for a very long time.

“I found myself back here trying to give back to students the same opportunities I had performing on the CV stage,” Giffin said. “We are fortunate to have a community that is supportive of the arts, so to be able to continue to contribute to CVTheatre as a professional is extremely gratifying.”

Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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