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For Western Pa. high school musicals, big crowds and big expectations | TribLIVE.com
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For Western Pa. high school musicals, big crowds and big expectations

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Students at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 rehearse with musical director Jane Tinker. For “Sister Act”, Jay Chapman as Monsignor O’Hara, Crystal Anderson as Deloris Van Cartier, and Zoe Dungy as Sister Mary Patrick will hit the stage March 29-31 and April 4-7.
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At Belle Vernon Area High School, the cast of “Big Fish” pose for a photo ahead of the musical on March 14-17.
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Pointing at Brandon Tielsch (standing), who plays Karl the giant in “Big Fish” set for the Belle Vernon Area stage, are musical cast members Corrine Manderino, Avery Ochs, Gianna Lorenzo, Dimitri Apodiakos, Sarah Juba and David Grace.

Transporting the audience with the storyline of a high school musical isn’t enough for student casts these days. It’s also got to send them to Broadway — or at least the Benedum.

Like students at Belle Vernon Area High School, most of these young performers want each year’s show to be bigger and better than before, said Michael Rozell, now leading an 80-member student cast in his 21st year as producer and director. The cast and crew present “Big Fish” March 14-17.

“They know that the audiences here expect a good performance so they work hard to give them that,” he said.

After pop culture phenomenons like “Glee” and “American Idol” there seemed to be a new-found popularity in performing, said Barbara Holmes, in her 43rd year at Winchester Thurston, where 31 students in the cast of “Avenue Q” will take the stage from April 25-27.

Expectations are also higher because of that popularity and larger audiences that travel around Western Pennsylvania to take in the popular productions.

“Student actors are capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for,” Holmes said.

There are other factors, like the Gene Kelly Awards, begun in 1991 to recognize and encourage Pittsburgh area musical theater and arts education.

Whether a comedy or drama, the students give their time and talent, so they deserve much more than a glorified chorus concert, said Tom Crone, who is directing 50 students in his 31st musical at Woodland Hills High School, with “Mamma Mia!” set for April 26-27 and May 2-4.

“I think they deserve to have the finished product behind them, and we put as much time as we do into the sets and costumes and lighting as we do the acting,” he said. “They’re surprised that these kids are in high school. When they come here they forget that they’re in high school and not down at the Benedum.”

But the performers are still students at the heart of these productions, no matter how lavish.

“It’s a countless number of hours to put on a high school production,” said Bob Tozier, producer of North Allegheny High School’s musical. “Watching the love these kids gain of live theater, it’s worth it.”

Through the sets and other parts of production, students’ efforts are on display, said Jamie Gore, producer and orchestra director of “The Little Mermaid” at Southmoreland High School, which will run March 28-31 with a 65-student cast.

“Anywhere we can incorporate their ideas and showcase their hard work and talent, we try to do that,” she said.

This is the second year for a musical production in the district after a more than 40-year hiatus. Gore and the rest of Southmoreland’s crew have faced challenges like auditorium seats without numbers, making ticket sales difficult to organize. Students in the tech ed program have now been tasked with making them.

“We’re just trying to give our students every opportunity to be showcased, and let the community see what their support means to the kids,” Gore said.

Choosing different musical styles helps highlight those strengths, said Tozier. After a Disney musical, classic Rodgers and Hammerstein production and more modern take with “Legally Blonde”, the 60-student cast ar North Allegheny will travel back to a college campus in the jazz age with “Good News,” which debuted in 1927.

“To me, it gives them four completely different styles and things to learn, and at the end of the day, isn’t that why we’re all here, to give them educational opportunities?” he said.

Part of rehearsals leading up to the March 13-17 production, included learning about slang, music and jokes from that era when the show about a college quarterback and his tutor was originally written.

“My approach is two-fold,” he said. “I approach the show as written, but the other part of that is we can always tweak what we do and make things better.”

In her 27th year directing the all-school musical at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, Mindy Rossi-Stabler said musical audiences can be more sophisticated now, with training opportunities plentiful for younger performers.

“I think people have come to expect a lot more because, frankly, students are exposed to a lot more at a young age,” she said.

The Downtown Pittsburgh school cast of about 50 students will stage “Sister Act” on March 29-31 and April 4-7.

“The kids are having fun with it because it’s a bit irreverent but it’s got a lot of heart,” Rossi-Stabler said.

The comedy, based on the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, is a departure from drama after last year’s production of “Les Miserables.”

“I used to do so many dramas in a row that one of the teachers asked me, ‘Do you ever do a play where someone doesn’t get killed?’” she said.

Below are high school musicals upcoming throughout our region. In the coming weeks, look for stories and photos from a variety of shows in the Tribune-Review and videos at triblive.com.

If the list doesn’t include your school, contact us at [email protected] and we’ll add it. Break a leg!

Armstrong Jr./Sr. High School: “High School Musical,” March 15-16

Avonworth: “Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” April 5-6, 12-13

Baldwin: “Mame,” April 10-13

Belle Vernon Area: “Big Fish,” March 14-17

Bethel Park: “Annie Get Your Gun,” March 13-16

Bishop Canevin: “Pippin,” April 25-27

Brentwood: “Mary Poppins,” April 11-13

Burrell: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” April 4-6

Chartiers Valley: “Sister Act,” March 6-9

Cheswick Christian Academy: “Dorothy in Wonderland,” May 18

Deer Lakes: “Mamma Mia!,” April 12-14

Derry Area: “The Little Mermaid,” March 8-10

Elizabeth Forward: “Mamma Mia,” April 11-14

Fox Chapel: “Les Miserables,” March 14-16

Freeport: “Legally Blonde The Musical,” March 14-17

Gateway: “Once on This Island,” April 26-28, May 3-4

Geibel Catholic: “Mamma Mia,” March 29-31

Greensburg Central Catholic: “Children of Eden,” April 26-27

Greensburg Salem Middle School: Spring musical, March 21-24

Hampton: “Chicago, High School Edition,” April 5-6, 12-13

Hempfield Area: “Legally Blonde,” April 3-6

Highlands: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Based on the Victor Hugo Novel and the Disney Film,” March 29-31

Jeannette: “Annie,” April 5-7

Keystone Oaks: “Beauty and the Beast,” March 28-30

Kiski: “The Sound of Music,” March 27-30

Leechburg: “Anything Goes!,” March 15-17

Ligonier Valley: “Into the Woods,” April 4-6

Monessen: “Grease,” March 28-31

Montour: “Footloose,” April 5-7, 12-13

Moon: “Mamma Mia,” March 14-17

Mt. Pleasant Area: “Annie,” April 4-6

Northgate: “Jungle Book,” April 6, 12-13

North Allegheny: “Good News,” March 15-17

North Hills: “Tuck Everlasting,” March 21-23, 28-30

Norwin: “Mary Poppins,” March 21-24

Penn Hills: “Addams Family,” April 26-27, May 3-5

Penn-Trafford: “The Addams Family,” April 5-7, 12-14

Penn Middle School: “Peter Pan Jr.,” May 9-11

Trafford Middle School: “Beauty and the Beast Jr.,” March 29-31

Pine-Richland: “Guys and Dolls,” March 15-16

Pittsburgh Allderdice: “Leader of the Pack,” April 4-7

Pittsburgh Brashear: “Little Shop Of Horrors,” March 28-30

Pittsburgh CAPA: “Sister Act,” March 28-30, April 4-6

Pittsburgh Central Catholic: “Chicago (High School Edition),” April 11-13

Plum: “The Wizard of Oz,” April 11-13

Redeemer Lutheran: “Mary Poppins,” April 5-6

Riverview: “Shrek the Musical,” March 28-31

Serra Catholic: “The Wizard of Oz,” April 4-6

Southmoreland: “The Little Mermaid,”March 28-31

Springdale: “Mamma Mia,” March 29-31

St. Joseph: “In the Heights,” April 4-7

Stage Right Arts in Education Home-School/Cyberschool: “Annie,” May 3-4

Thomas Jefferson: “Mamma Mia,” March 14-16

Valley: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” April 11-14

Waynesburg Central: “Mamma Mia,” April 4-7

West Allegheny: “The Addams Family,” March 22-24, 29-30

Westinghouse Arts Academy: “Footloose,” April 12-14

Winchester Thurston: “Avenue Q,” April 25-28

Woodland Hills: “Mamma Mia!,” April 26-27, May 2-4

Yough: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” March 29-31

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