With senior Sarah Villyard and junior Paige Williams sharing the lead, Centreville High's high-energy production of "Fame — The Musical" bounds onto the stage, April 29-30 at 7:30 p.m., and May 1 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance (call 703-802-5591) or $10 at the door.
It's set in the early 1980s in New York's renowned High School for Performing Arts. "The characters are the elite musicians, dancers and actors there, and the story's about what they go through at this school," said senior Eric St. Peter, who plays Joe Vegas.
He said the play is filled with things that'll "blow the audience away. The dancing, singing and acting are all phenomenal. And the choreographer — JMU Dance Team coordinator Jen Koonce — did a wonderful job. The difficulty and challenge of the show is what makes it so great; there are so many amazing things going on."
ST. PETER'S character is a good-guy, Latino comedian. An acting student, Vegas is always joking and, said St. Peter, "He likes the ladies. It's a fun part since he has such a big sense of humor."
Villyard describes her leading role, Carmen, as one that lets her expand and show her range of acting abilities. "I love being able to be fun, flirtatious, dramatic and deep — and connecting into emotions everybody has," she said. "Carmen's a high-spirited, self-confident diva who is so sure of a dream of success that it consumes her entire being."
But she also has other facets to her personality and is a good-hearted person. Villyard says the toughest part of playing her is the intense singing, dancing and acting, at the same time, in the showstopper number, "There She Goes/Fame." Luckily, though, her four years in Show Choir trained her to breathe correctly through it all.
And she appreciates Carmen's spirit. "When I perform her songs, I love her energy," said Villyard. "She throws herself into everything she does." She also praised Centreville's choral teacher, Lynn Babcock, who's "Fame's" vocal director.
"The directors have put together such an amazing show that the audience can't help but be excited by the dancers and the music," said Villyard. "And we have such a great cast, you can't help but feel what they feel."
About 100 students are in the cast and crew, plus a live pit band. "Rehearsals are going really well," said Williams. "We have a good, full sound when we sing, and the choreography is so much fun because the dances are from the '80s. And the high-school audience will relate to it because the characters are our age and are dealing with things we deal with."
SENIORS KAELYN ARNOLD and Meghan McDonough, both 17, share the role of Iris. "She's a haughty, ice princess who's the best dancer in the school and makes sure everyone knows it," said Arnold. "She acts snobbish and tough, but she's not inside; it's just a face she puts on."
"That's because, even though she's a phenomenal dancer, she's really insecure about herself," said McDonough. "She's actually poor and is scared that no one's going to like her," said Arnold. "She's always focused on dance and herself, so she doesn't know how to interact with other people," added McDonough.
Arnold likes playing Iris because she gets to say things she wouldn't, normally and she gets to dance — which is a big part of her real life. "I've danced since I was 4 and have been with the Russell School of Ballet since fifth grade," she said. "I dance 20 hours a week."
McDonough's also an experienced dancer who does ballet. "I've been dancing for 13 years," she said. "And this past summer, I trained with the Joffrey Ballet of New York."
Senior Kay Boatner plays Miss Bell, the dance teacher. "She's an ice queen, in her 30s, and really strict and tough on her students," said Boatner. "She doesn't show that she cares for them, but she really does and is protective of them."
Boatner likes being part of a large cast. "Most of the characters are students, and insecure, so it's nice to be the confident one," she said of her role. "And it's fun to be mean." Her favorite number is "Bring on Tomorrow," the show's finale: "Everyone's on stage, and it ties into our own graduation."
Playing Carmen's friend and sidekick Mabel is senior Stephanie Benner, 18. "She's always there for Carmen, but is also trying to find her own voice," she said. "She's charismatic and upbeat and doesn't let anything get her down. She finds a way to succeed."
BENNER SAYS playing her is "a blast." She even gets to sing a solo, "Mabel's Prayer," which is something she's wanted to do since she was a freshman, so she's excited to finally get her chance. As for Mabel, said Benner, "She's a dancer and a little overweight, so she prays to God to help her stop eating so much."
Sophomore Jamal Crowelle plays Tyrone Jackson. "He's a street-gangster type who goes to the school, but finds out that he has a lot of heart," explained Crowelle. "He just puts up a shield so people won't see any weakness. I sing, dance, rap and act."
He said Jackson's a fun character to play because of his "sure-of-himself, confident attitude." And Crowelle likes to perform the song-and-dance number, "Dancin' on the Sidewalk," because it's "a jazzy, hip-hop song that you can get up and dance to."
He also enjoys doing "Tyrone's Rap," about how he shows off who he is. "He cares about Iris and doesn't hide his weakness on purpose, like she does," said Crowelle. "He thinks that, because he's black, he won't make it in ballet."
Crowelle said it's fun to rap on stage and, because his character puts so much attitude into it, he's happy to have this part. Besides, he added, "We have a terrific cast, with lots of upperclassmen, and I have the privilege to work with all of these people."
Playing Serena is Liz Killiam, 18. "She's shy at first, loves a boy named Nick and gains confidence as she learns how to have more self-esteem," said Killiam. "I relate to her because she has common, teen-ager issues like boys and dealing with her feelings." Killiam is also thrilled to sing two solos, plus one with Nick called "Let's Play a Love Scene."
Lauren Robinson, 17, plays "Lambchops," who plays the drums and whose last name is Lamb. "She's spunky and a full-on, rocker chick," said Robinson. "She's young at heart and ready to have fun, and I get to put a whole bunch of energy on stage.
Drama Director Mark Rogers took some students to see "Fame" on Broadway during spring break: "Afterward, they said, 'You know, this is good, but we can do it better.' Now, that's the attitude I like — Broadway comes to Centreville."