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Liberty Presents 'The Nifty Fifties'

Double-cast play staged this weekend.

Bursting with energy and featuring a cast and crew of nearly 70 students, Liberty Middle School presents "The Nifty Fifties."

A musical comedy tribute to the 1950s, it will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 29-30 and May 1, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 2, at 2:30 p.m. All shows are in the school theater, and $5 tickets are available at Liberty.

UNDER DRAMA director Jody Scott, the action takes place mainly in Louise's luncheonette where the high-school juniors gather. Every year, they have a dance called Hippety Hop but, since the school gym is under renovation, they decide to hold it at Louise's.

Snobby, teen-queen Muffin doesn't want it there, but Louise gets a real rock star, her cousin Ziggy Springer, to agree to perform. But since he'd do it for free, his manager and secretary plot to keep it from happening.

The secretary calls student-organizer Gracie and says Ziggy has laryngitis and can't sing, so Gracie gets Louise's soda jerk, Donald, to pretend to be Ziggy and perform in his place. Meanwhile, there's also a subplot about a biker boy named Sinbad and his two Beatnik followers, Riff and Misty.

The leads are double cast, and eighth-graders Laura Berkley and Heidi Ermlick, both 13, play Gracie Stanley. "She's down-to-earth and generally upbeat," said Laura. "She has a crush on George Bullock, in her geometry class. He also has feelings for Gracie, but isn't sure how to show them."

"Gracie's a sweet girl," said Heidi. "She's annoyed by Muffin, but is nice about it and stays away from her." Both Laura and Heidi said they love playing this character because she's a lot like them and the way they relate to their friends.

Laura likes getting to sing "Teen-Ager in Love" because she sings it on the radio, as a different person, on the night when she's not playing Gracie. Heidi likes that song, too, because "it's where Gracie realizes the feelings she and George have are mutual, and I like expressing it through this song."

PLAYING MUFFIN MANSFIELD are eighth-graders Erika Krause and Megan Mohyla, both 13. "Muffin believes herself to be a superior being," said Erika. "She's a rich snob and pretty." Added Megan: "She's nice around her friends and George, but not around Gracie. She also likes George, and she and Gracie are competing for him."

"I love playing the evil person because I get to be mean, and it's so different from who I actually am," said Erica. "I like playing her because I get to over-enunciate things to make them more noticeable to the audience," said Megan.

Erica's favorite number is the dance, "Teen Queen," where "Muffin and her posse — dressed in Capri pants and shirts — brag about how lovely, graceful, cultured and charming they are."

Michelle Kim, 14, plays beatnik Misty. "Everybody's scared of Misty, Sinbad and Riff," she said. "They don't like us because we're different from them. We don't follow the rules; we're outsiders. Misty's laid back and tough, but not inside." Usually Michelle plays "snobby girls," so she said this role is a welcome change. She describes the show as similar to "Grease" in plot and music.

Playing Sinbad is Nate Betancourt, 13. He's a dropout, about 20, and a Beatnik. He and his buddies stay home and play jazz records. Wearing a black, leather jacket, Sinbad rides a Harley Davidson; now he's looking for the guy who stole and wrecked it.

"He's tough, explosive and hot-headed," said Nate. "He goes by the line, 'Without villains, there would be no heroes.' I like playing the role because I enjoy how people fear me [on stage]." He said the show will "give people a good idea of the '50s with its bad biker-dudes, dances, poodle skirts and Coca Colas."

Dressed in black beret, black turtleneck and black pants, Neema Atri, 12, plays Beatnik Riff. "He follows other people and doesn't make his own choices," said Neema. "He wants to be like his idol, Sinbad, but secretly he's a little afraid of him."

Since Neema usually plays comedic characters, he likes getting to try something new. His favorite part of the show is when a secret about Sinbad is revealed because "it's so exciting and tense and wraps up the show."

EIGHTH-GRADER Nick Jackson plays popular student Mike, former basketball-team captain. He's caring, friendly and nice to the girls. "I like playing him because he's like me," explained Nick. "It's like I'm not acting because it's like my real life; I play basketball, too."

Nick says Mike stands up for George when he's in trouble and teaches him about the school because George is a transfer student. Nick's favorite part is "when Sinbad starts to confront the person who stole his motorcycle, because he gets really angry."

Portraying George is Andrew Kaberline, 14. "He's the heart-throb captain of the basketball team," said Andrew. "He's wooden and dense — not always aware of his surroundings. He's goodhearted and the voice of moral rightness. He stands up against Sinbad and tries to be the hero."

In the love triangle, said Andrew, "He leans toward Gracie — the angel on his shoulder, as opposed to Muffin — the devil on his other shoulder. It's more challenging than parts where I get to be more energetic and egotistical because I have to refrain from comedic outburts. I'm Al Gore, and I want to be Howard Dean."

Mike Bottorff, 13, plays Bob, the motorcycle thief. "He's jittery and has twitchy fingers," said Mike. "He's really scared of Sinbad because he's big and can knock him around. It's fun; I like doing all the jittery stuff. And it's easy for me because I'm hyper in real life. My favorite part is where I meet up with Sinbad. He starts to fight me, and I'm dodging and screaming."

Matt Dudek, an eighth-grader, plays Donald the soda jerk. "People think he's a nerd, but he makes the best milkshakes and salads and is Louise's righthand man," said Matt. He likes Donald because "he's just wild. He does special handshakes, high fives and funny greetings when he sees friends." Matt's big scene is when he gets to sing, but "the lights go out, and I sing in the dark, nervous and off-key."

The students have rehearsed since January, and drama director Jody Scott says they're all doing wonderfully with their character development and presentations. "I've been very pleased with the talent, and they're great at taking direction from me," she said. "I'm really going to miss this group of eighth-graders when they move on to high school."

She said the audience should love the show because it's high-energy and transports them back to innocent, carefree times. "The kids are funny in a positive, upbeat, endearing way, and I love their enthusiasm," said Scott. "And as the choreographer, I even added extra dances because it gives more kids a chance to shine on stage. It'll be a fun performance."