Westfield High's Children's Theatre presents a trio of holiday delights: "The Grinch," "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and an original Chanukah story, "Meet the Macabees."
SHOWS ARE Tuesday-Wednesday, Dec. 21-22, at 10 a.m. in the school theater. Tickets are $3 at the door and $2 for groups of 20 or more.
"We at Westfield Theatre always look forward to the holidays as a chance to celebrate our children's theater outreach," said director Scott Pafumi. Besides "The Grinch," he said, "We're excited to be adding two new pieces."
In "A Charlie Brown Christmas," sophomore Courtney Knickerbocker plays tomboy Peppermint Patty. "It's really fun," said Knickerbocker. "I get to have Marcie, played by Kelsey Gaber, follow me around. Children will like this play because it's funny and they'll recognize the characters from newspapers and TV."
Freshman Leah Troscianecki plays Frieda who, like herself, has naturally curly hair. "She's fun to play because she's a snob and I'm not," said Troscianecki. She said the children in the audience can relate to the show because "the characters are all in first, second and third grades, [like them]."
Portraying Lucy is junior Katie Grimsland. "She's very bossy and likes to have things her way — just like me," she said. "She motivates Charlie Brown to be involved with Christmas. I love it and can [identify with] the role because she's feisty and has lots of emotion." Grimsland enjoys being in a children's play because "getting laughs and a response from the audience is more rewarding when it's kids."
Noted Westfield thespian Branson Reese plays the dog, Snoopy, and his younger brother, freshman Ben Reese, plays Snoopy's owner, Charlie Brown. "He's really depressed about Christmas because he doesn't see what everybody likes about it," explained Ben. "He's trying to find the true meaning of Christmas and, eventually, he does."
Ben's excited to play this part because it's his first major role. And it's fun, he said, because "I'm not usually that depressed and sad, so I'm playing a part different from myself." He said the toughest thing was memorizing all the lines, but he's enjoying "hanging out with everybody" in the production. Said Reese: "I like the whole aspect of rehearsing and being in the play."
NATE PETERSON, a freshman, portrays Franklin, Peppermint Patty's and Marcie's friend. "He's a conformist and does what everybody else does," said Peterson. He likes his role because "people laugh and I can do ghetto things with the character. Like when everybody's dancing normally to the piano, I can freak dance or break dance."
He has only one line. "But I'll use a nice voice for it," said Peterson proudly. "And I think kids will think the play's really cool — we've got some good actors."
Freshman Sarah McNicholas plays Lucy's friend Suzanna. "She's always smiling," said McNicholas. "But she's also just a smidge stubborn." She said she has freedom in her character's portrayal so she can "mold her to what I want her to be and can develop her more."
Delighted to be acting in an ensemble, McNicholas said it'll give her a chance to learn her craft even more. She, too, only has one line; but, she said, "I'll make the most of it." She believes children "will be really happy and excited to see the characters [they know so well] and will learn more about their personalities from seeing them acted on stage."
Freshman Russell Day plays Woodstock, who's Snoopy's bird friend and follows him around. "I don't have any scripted movements, so I just do what I want," he said. "It's enjoyable." He said the toughest part is "remembering I'm a bird, the whole time." The best part, said Day, is "getting to follow around Branson Reese — he's a funny guy."
Playing Linus is junior Will Quinn. "He's a sweet, innocent, little kid who carries a blanket," he said. "It's fun to be a little kid, and it's a really good cast."
Directing "A Charlie Brown Christmas is senior Erin Polski. It was her idea to do that play. "I thought it would give variety to the show," she said. As director, she organizes the performance, directs actors during rehearsal and develops the blocking, props and costumes. Assistant director is student Cheryl Cordingley.
The best part, said Polski, is "to actually be the brains of everything and to see your vision come to life."
In "The Grinch," junior Brian Randall plays the lead. "I'm the anti-Christmas character who hates Christmas and can't stand the Whos in Whoville because they love Christmas," he explained. "But at the end, I realize the true meaning of Christmas is about sharing, giving and loving." Randall loves playing the Grinch because "he's got a cool character-voice and is a classic character to play."
Sophomore Rebecca Green plays Achoo Who. "Whenever someone mentions the Whos, I act up in the background," she said. "For example, when the Grinch talks about how they sing, we start doing that."
She said children will enjoy this play because "it'll be like seeing the story come to life. And kids are better than adults at suspending their disbelief, so they'll feel really involved."
SOME 29 students are in the cast, and senior Michelle Murgia is directing, with help from assistant director Tara Mitchell. Murgia is responsible for rehearsals, costuming and directing the actors. "It's a good group of kids, so they're all really motivated and have creativity on their own," she said. "And it's a great story — perfectly written. Kids know and love it, and it'll be colorful with lots of visuals and lots going on."
And lending his special touch will be junior Barry Armbruster as the designated singer in "The Grinch." And he brings experience to the role since he's done it before.
"I sing, 'You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch,' in a deep voice," he said. "I've done it for the past two years and it's growing into a tradition for me. I look forward to doing it every winter and strutting around the stage, bellowing it at the top of my lungs."
"Meet the Macabees" was written by students Natalie McLarty, Ashley Cantrell and Briion Donahue. Cantrell is directing, aided by McLarty. Westfield theater director Scott Pafumi created the title and concept, and students wrote the script.
"It's about Chanukah and how it became a holiday, from the viewpoint of a mom telling her kids about it at the dinner table," explained sophomore Chelsea Stenger. "And it flashes back to tell the story of the oil that burned for eight days and nights, and the battle between the Greeks and Hebrews."
Stenger plays the youngest Macabee daughter, Joelle. "She's very naive and tries to relate everything to Christmas," said Stenger. "Her mom's half-Jewish and her dad's Christian and they celebrate Christmas." She said "kids will be able to understand [the play] because it's told in a simple way."
Jonathan Goldsmith plays Joshua, still in elementary school and the eldest of the three Macabee children (there's a younger brother Jacob). "He thinks he's smarter than his younger siblings, even though he doesn't," said Goldsmith. "It's fun to act mean to my little siblings because, in real life, I'm the youngest. And the show will help kids have an appreciation of [Jewish] culture."
Freshman Sarah Cowdery plays Baby Jew. "I'm the littlest Jew and am like David [who battled Goliath]," she said. "I volunteer to go back and get the oil after the battle." Calling it "a really adorable show," she said it's a nice way to teach people about the Chanukah story."