High schools tackle Disney, Travolta and Abba in spring musicals

Staff writer

Spring is finally here: flowers are blooming and birds are signing. But birds aren’t the only ones singing — all four local high schools are preparing to present their spring musicals.

Taking us everywhere from the Greek islands to the streets of turn-of-the-century New York, and following in the footsteps of entertainers ranging from Walt Disney to John Travolta, if you’re looking to add some music to your life, these students are getting ready to put on a show.

Lafayette High School: ‘Grease’

Hot on the heels of producing two plays in February -- “Almost, Maine” and “Night Sky” -- the thespians at Lafayette will perform the iconic 50’s musical “Grease” later this month. Director Suzan McCorry says her student's ability to juggle different performances has been very impressive.

“A lot of these kids have been in multiple shows, so one day they need to rehearse a scene for ‘Night Sky,’ and then come back the next day, toss on a leather jacket or a poodle skirt and practice a dance number for ‘Grease,’ ” McCorry said. “That would be hard for most adult actors to do, much less high school kids, and it shows they have a real love and dedication to theater.”

That dedication is nothing new for Maddi Overy, a sophomore playing Sandy Olsson, who has been involved in every production the school has done since she began attending Lafayette — and has been working in community theater since she was 6. Even with that background, Overy says “Grease” is something different.

“Theater is what I eventually want to do for a career, and I’ve always loved period pieces, for the costumes and such, and ‘Grease’ is just such a famous period piece,” Maddi said. “I’m really excited to be able to sing ‘You're the One That I Want.’ It's one of the most famous duets, not just in musicals, but in music, period.”

Opposite Maddi, playing Danny Zuko, is senior Avery Walters, who in another interesting contrast: He had never been in a play or musical prior to auditioning for “Grease.”

“It’s been a wild experience in only the best of ways,” Avery said. “It’s an intense role, not just because you’re following in John Travolta’s footsteps, but because it’s very physical, beyond just singing and dancing, I even had to learn how to do back flips for the show.”

If that wasn’t commitment enough, he recently dyed his naturally-blonde hair jet black, which it will remain throughout the production.

“I walked into class the next day and nobody recognized me,” he said. “It’s made for some great advertising for the show though.”

Want to go?

“Grease” will be performed at Lafayette High School at 7 p.m. March 21 and 22; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. March 23. All tickets are $10, and all seats are reserved with a ticket.

Jamestown High School: ‘Newsies’

Over at Jamestown, students will tackle “Newsies,” which as director J. Harvey Stone will admit, is a hard play to pull off given its big sets, big musical numbers and big cast.

“I don’t like big sets, so I've kept it as minimal as possible while still giving us the necessities,” Stone said. “The kids themselves have been wonderful, they’ve been dedicated, and when you’re dealing with 54 kids on stage that’s no small feat.”

Ryan Holcomb, a sophomore playing Crutchie, has been acting since middle school, including in Jamestown’s “Big Fish” last year, but considers his work on “Newsies” a high point.

“It’s been an experience. I get to work with some really talented actors and I get to do it with a really interesting role in an intense show,” he said “Crutchie is a more physical role than I’m used to. The first time I worked with the crutch I bruised my armpit, but I get around easily now.”

For Kayla Toliver, a senior playing Medda Larkson, this last musical at Jamestown has special meaning for her — it may be her last show in theater for some time.

“I’m going to Liberty University to study music next year, and I’m planning to take a break from the theater, at least for while I’m in college,” Kayla said. “Getting to take the stage with my friends one last time on a great show like ‘Newsies,’ you can’t ask for a better last bow than that.”

Want to go?

“Newsies” will be performed at Jamestown High School 7 p.m. April 11 and 12; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 13. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.

Bruton High School: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

For Bruton’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” — a show famous for its sets, costumes and songs — one of the early challenges was working around the York School of the Arts and its musical “Into the Woods” in February, according to director Alyse Pollock.

“I think we work really well together, and it's nice to be able to call upon their resources. It’s a co-dependent relationship, even if it makes schedules messy sometimes,” Pollock said. “It’s a complex musical, so having that helps, but it will stand out as a Bruton production.”

For many of the students working on the show, the big challenge isn’t working around the School of the Arts, but in working around Walt Disney.

For senior Ava Spencer, despite being involved with several shows at the SOA, “Beauty” is an entirely different beast.

“As a kid, Belle was always my favorite Disney princess, so when I heard Bruton was doing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ I knew I wanted to be involved,” she said. “It’s a big show that means a lot of things to a lot of people, and I’m excited to show people what we’ve done with it.”

Junior Amber Schell, who has been in several other Bruton shows, will play Mrs. Potts and said it was difficult realizing just how much work goes into bringing some of the big moments from “Beauty and the Beast” to life on stage.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking knowing I have to solo the big title song,” Schell said. “Not only do I have to sing the most famous song in the musical, but I have to do that while also dancing and dressed as a teapot.”

The actor playing the Beast, junior Jackson Black, said he gets off easier in that regard but harder in others.

“Beast doesn’t have any musical numbers in the animated Disney film, so I’m lucky to have a blank slate there,” Jackson said. “He does, however, have one in the musical, and it’s a big number that sings higher than I normally do, so that’s going to be a challenge.”

Want to go?

“Beauty and the Beast” will be performed at Bruton High School at 7 p.m. April 18 and 19; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 20. Tickets are $10 at the door.

Warhill High School: ‘Mama Mia!’

For the grand finale to the high school musical season, Warhill will perform “Mama Mia!” in May, a show that, whether it be an Abba song, Broadway musical or movie version, means a lot of things to a lot of people, including director Christina Marshburn.

“I saw ‘Mama Mia!’ for the first time when I was in high school, so its always been a favorite, and I knew as soon as I saw that it was available for amateur production I wanted to do it at Warhill,” Marshburn said. “In terms of productions at Warhill, (it has) a lot of big ensemble numbers, and it’s unlike anything we’ve ever done here.”

Hannah Suthers, a senior with a similar attachment to the play — in her case, the movie — plays Donna, as she puts it, “following in Meryl Streep’s footsteps.”

“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s exciting as well because I get to see what I can do with the role,” Hannah said. “The show itself is just so fun and energetic, and it’s as much fun to perform as it is to watch.”

Senior Joseph Peregrine, who plays Sam, has been in every Warhill production since his sophomore year and says the show and the role are a great one to finish on.

“This is my first musical lead role, and the vocals for Sam are great fun to work with,” Joseph said. “That, and I will admit, it’s comforting knowing that no matter what happens, I’ll be better than Pierce Brosnan.”

Want to go?

“Mama Mia!” will be performed at Warhill High School at 7 p.m. May 2 and 3; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 4. Tickets are $10 in advance on the website and $12 at the door.

Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email sean.korsgaard@vagazette.com, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette