July 26, 2008

Students Give Royal Performance

By Sabrina Ziegler, The Porterville Recorder, Calif.

Jul. 26--Actors, musicians, and staff from Tulare County schools presented the first showing of their summer musical theater production.

Porterville Unified School District and Tulare County Office of Education presented Rogers and Hammersteins "Once Upon a Matress," at the Frank "Buck" Shaffer auditorium, 7 p.m. Friday.

This is the program's third annual production. The production will play again at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

A 21-member cast, 16-member orchestra and stage crew unveiled the product of nearly three months of intensive rehearsal: a musical comedy that takes place in Medieval times, and is based loosely on an old tale called, "The Princess and the Pea."

Queen Aggravain -- a stubborn mother who casts spells and constantly barks orders -- puts high standards on the princess her son is allowed to marry.

But Prince Dauntless is eager to marry and becomes instantly attracted to Princess Winnifred when she makes her first entrance to their castle drenched in water after swimming the moat.

"Can I marry her, she swam the moat?" Dauntless repeatedly asks.

And his mother, of course, won't allow it. That is, unless the young princess manages to pass the queen's bizarre test: a test of sensitivity.

Place a pea beneath 20 mattresses, with a nightingale close by, cast a spell on the princess and advise her to come to bed the night after a long day. That was the set up. If she slept, she failed. But, if she refused to sleep -- because she could feel the discomfort of the pea -- then she was a real princess.

Sydney Laux, a 2008 graduate of Monache High School, was cast as Princess Winnifred. She played a step sister in last year's production of Rogers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella." A drama student since her freshman year, Laux is no stranger to the stage. She was all smiles five minutes before the curtain opened for the show to begin.

"I'm a little nervous. I'm really excited. I'm usually not nervous, but this time I am nervous because we have a lot more choreography than we did last year. I'm just really excited. I hope we all do well," she said.

The production features two acts and 18 songs. A 16-member pit orchestra plays each number while the young actors sing and dance above.

"It's a musical comedy. There's lot's of dialogue, beautiful songs, very upbeat, and lots of dancing," Director Joel Buringrud said.

This year, he hired a choreographer for the first time. "She gave an added touch to this year's musical. We made it a lot more fun and I was able to sit back," he said.

"Every year it's gotten better, more and more of the most talented students around. This year, I've been most impressed with -- not only are the students talented, but very intelligent. They've been so good at adding their own creativity. It's been like a roller coaster and I've been able to sit back and enjoy the ride."

He said the cast and crew is a highly motivated group of students this year. And not only that, but diverse: ranging from ages 4 to 18. Most of the cast members are between 14 and 18.

The cast practiced about three hours, five days a week, throughout the majority of the summer, and five hours over the last couple of weeks, Buringrud said. They started rehearsing in May.

Participation in the production counts as a summer school course and earns students five units in stagecraft technology, through the Tulare County Office of Education.

Kourtney Andrighetto, the set and costume designer, said she enjoyed the show. "I think it's really nice to see all the students in the high schools working together. It's nice to see they all have the common interest in theater. I think it's a good experience. It's good to see them getting involved in the community," she said.

Buringrud said he feels proud of the kids and is honored to take part in directing the production each year.

"The great thing about musical theater is it's a conglomeration of visual arts. So much is involved. It's a thrilling experience for the kids because they get to see their final product. They get more than just an A from the teacher. They get a standing ovation," he said.


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