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Young actors bring 'Alice in Wonderland' to Greensburg stage

| Thursday, March 13, 2008

At age 16, Mandie Russak of North Huntingdon and Sean Brannon of Loyalhanna Township are veterans of Stage Right School for the Performing Arts in Greensburg.

The two students will have a chance to shine this weekend in key roles with Stage Right Family and Youth Theatre's production of "Disney's Alice in Wonderland Junior."

The show is based on the 1951 Disney film "Alice in Wonderland" and the novels "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll.

Russak is cast as the Queen of Hearts, a portrayal she says is her first evil role and one that allows her to be "big and bossy. I like everyone to follow my rules. It's all about me in my world."

The role is a stretch for the young actress.

"It's very out of character for me. I get to be very loud. Offstage, I'm one of the nicest people you'll ever meet," she says.

Russak's last role for Stage Right was her recent portrayal of Judy Garland for "Hollywood Night at the Palace," a benefit performance for Westmoreland Cultural Trust, where she sang "The Atchison, Topeka and the Sante Fe." She says she hopes to major in musical theater in college.

Brannon plays the role of the Mad Hatter, a character that he explains is "a happy-go-lucky guy, who, like his name says, is a little crazy."

For Brannon, one of the highlights of his performance is when he sings the popular "The Unbirthday Song." Other recognizable tunes in the show include "I'm Late" and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah."

He says he recalls reading the Lewis Carroll version of "Alice in Wonderland" with his father as a child. "He wanted me to read the book before I saw the (animated) movie," Brannon says, adding, "It's really cool to look back at the book now."

Brannon has had roles in several past Stage Right student and Outreach shows. His most memorable was William Barfee, "the lead geek" in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." He also played Frank Butler in "Annie Get Your Gun" for Saltsburg High School, where he is a junior.

Brannon also recently earned an honorable mention for his participation in Pittsburgh Public Theatre's Shakespeare monologue and scene contest, along with two other Stage Right students, Matt Corridoni (finalist) and Katie MacDonald (honorable mention).

In "Disney's Alice in Wonderland Junior," Alice (Emily Cutrell of Greensburg as regular-sized Alice, and Mari Haffner of Latrobe as small Alice) meets up with the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter on her journey to find the White Rabbit (Phil Gavin of Penn Township).

Along the way she meets some other unlikely characters, all played by Stage Right students: Cody Petit of New Kensington as the March Hare; Katy Blythe of Irwin, Allison Petrillo of Mt. Pleasant and Carolyn Cole of Jeannette as the Cheshire Cats; Lindsey Ferguson of Latrobe as the Caterpillar; Rachel Viens of Penn Township and Clare Harkins of Latrobe as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

Other Stage Right students participating in "Alice in Wonderland Junior" include Morgan Rolek of Hempfield, stage manager, and Nick Donley, also of Hempfield, as sound designer.

Stage Right's artistic director Anthony Marino is director; Renata Marino, choreographer; Kevin O'Leary of Hempfield, musical director; and Rachel Parent of Pittsburgh is the costume designer with the help of Pittsburgh Playhouse.

Additional Information:

'Disney's Alice in Wonderland Junior'

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (pre-show lunch at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)

Admission: $15; $10 for ages 12 and younger; lunch is $5 per person, free for children ages 2 and younger

Where: Greensburg Garden & Civic Center, 951 Old Salem Road, Greensburg

Details: 724-832-7464 or online

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