High school musicals debut

“The Little Mermaid” is one of the two high school musicals that will take stage in the next few weeks. Members of the cast of Avonworth High School’s production, pictured above, are: front (reclining): David Binley; from left, Row 1, Gabby Walko, Julia Ciarimboli, Emily Tyler, Allison Joyce, Carolyn Abramowich, Tess Theobald;; Row 2: Summer Skillen, Erin Ove, Lucas McDonald, Isabel Thompson, Megan Robbibaro; seated, top, Colin Brady. Northgate High School will present “Freaky Friday” this year. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Broadway visits the North Boroughs next week, with Avonworth students staging “The Little Mermaid” and Northgate students presenting their version of “Freaky Friday.”

Avonworth director Deborah Frauenholz, in her 22nd year as musical director, said that the stage version of “Mermaid” is “…almost identical to the film, with just a few plot changes. Ariel the mermaid trades her voice to Ursula, the Sea Witch, in order to become human and try to win the love of Prince Eric, whom she saved from drowning. However, he has to kiss her by the third sunset or she will become Ursula's minion forever.”

Karen Klicker, now in year 16 as Northgate's musical director said that “Freaky Friday,” based on the Mary Rodgers novel and two hit Disney films, "…tells the story of a mother and daughter who magically swap bodies for 24 chaotic hours. By spending a day in each other's shoes, Katherine and Ellie come to appreciate one another's struggles, learn self-acceptance, and realize the immeasurable love and mutual respect that bond a mother and daughter."

Klicker added that the stage version gives a fresh, modern point of view to the themes of the novel and the films. "The new book by Bridget Carpenter places the action in the social media age, using a high school Instagram scavenger hunt as the dramatic thrust of the story. Propelled by an original pop/rock score by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorker, 'Freaky Friday' delivers a crowd pleasing, family friendly musical with sharp wit and buoyant tunes."

The Avonworth cast includes students from grades 7- 12, and, as with any show, there were multiple challenges to overcome.

Frauenholz said she and several students “…had a school and community-wide recycling campaign to use recycled goods in the set, with non-traditional items repurposed.”

She said that in addition, “The costume crew has worked daily for months, making costumes for the entire show. I believe there are 96 different costumes in all, with the set construction crew working with equal diligence to deal with giant set pieces that do not fit off stage unless they break down or are in pieces. And we also built puppets for the 'Under the Sea' number.”

Northgate has faced the challenge of the cast “doubling” in some roles.

“Doubling -- having the majority of the cast playing more than one role -- has been energizing as well as challenging,” Klicker said. “It has been exciting for everyone to be involved in so many scenes of the show and to hone their acting skills to portray multiple characters and often quickly switch from one role to another. In the Broadway version, a cast of 14 covered all of the parts, but even with a cast of 22, almost every student has more than one role.”

For both productions, dedicated parents, alumni, and community volunteers also have doubled, with many people stepping in to serve in multiple capacities.

The Northgate cast includes students from grades 9- 12, while crew members draw from students in the middle school, as well. For every student on stage there is one in a supporting role, behind the scenes on tech, stage, scenic arts, and construction crews, as well as in the orchestra, with 44 students participating in this year's show.

Both directors explained their reasons for their show selections.

“I chose the show because of its high energy and musical score, as well as an important message and a multi-generational appeal,” Klicker said. “It has lots of 'teachable moments' for the cast and a message of the importance of empathy and compassion. We don't always know what someone else may be going through. It is exciting to be the first school in the Pittsburgh/Southwestern PA region to be performing the show.”

Frauenholz explained, “If we had selected this show earlier -- chosen in order to accommodate the huge number of seniors -- I had intended to involve agencies that deal with clean-up of the oceans. I tried to get the environmental club and science classes involved. We hope to inspire people to respect the sea, use less plastic, and to see Disney musicals as being more than just cute fun.”

Avonworth show dates are April 5, 6, 12, and 13 at 7:30 p.m., with tickets costing $12 for adults and $10 for senior citizens and students. Advance purchase is available between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. by stopping at the middle or high school office. Buyers should ask for a visitor's badge and directions to the ticket sale table. Ticket order forms also may be e-mailed to avonworthtickets@gmail.com.

Northgate performances are April 6, 12, and 13 at 7:30 p.m., with all seats reserved.

The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $5 for students and children. Tickets may be ordered on-line at https://ngate.booktix.com or purchased at the door.

Information for special performances: Senior Citizen/Northgate Employees Preview, April 5 at 6 p.m.; no charge for senior citizens.Sensory & Family Friendly Performance: April 11 at 6 p.m.; activities at 4:15 p.m. Box dinners must be ordered by April 3. All tickets cost $5 for this show only and must be bought at the door.