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'Back to Broadway' Cabaret at Westfield

Showcasing songs and scenes from some of the top plays, Westfield High will present a "Back to Broadway" Cabaret, Friday-Saturday, April 1-2, at 8 p.m. in the school theater.

Tickets are $5 and will be available for advance purchase, beginning March 28, at 703-488-6432. And director Lori Knickerbocker advises people to get 'em fast because it's always a popular show.

"It's probably our seventh or eighth cabaret, and people who've seen them here before always come back because they're such good entertainment," she said. "We do two or three a year as fund-raisers for the theater boosters. And all the seating is on stage, so it's limited and on a first-come, first-served basis."

STUDENT PERFORMERS are mostly in advanced-theater classes, and some parents and teachers will also participate. For example, Westfield theater director Scott Pafumi will team with Centreville resident Jim Mitchell and Westfield Chamber Singers Barry Armbruster and Kevin Manship to sing songs from "Forever Plaid."

Said Knickerbocker: "This is their debut and, in the fall, we'll do the whole show of 'Forever Plaid' and all 20 songs." The cabaret will also feature a four-part-harmony group singing classic tunes from the 1950s, such as "Three Coins in the Fountain" and "16 Tons."

Junior Laura Fraase is the show's vocal director. "She's been in choir all her life and wants to be a music teacher, so this is good training for her," said Knickerbocker. "And it's a great experience for the students because they get to do different kinds of songs and scenes from material they've chosen, themselves."

She said it's also a wonderful opportunity "for kids who've maybe not been leads [in plays] to shine. And it lets our singers show their stuff." Besides that, she added, "It's always valuable for students to work with adults, as well, because they learn from them and also learn to respect each other's talents. It's a great form of ensembleship."

Seniors Megan Meadows and Tara Mitchell, both 18, are the cabaret's student producers, and classmate Michelle Murgia is emceeing with them. About 30 people will perform during the two-hour show, and college student Micah White will accompany them on piano.

"It's about 20 scenes and songs from Broadway plays such as 'Wicked,' 'Thoroughly Modern Millie,' 'Hairspray' and 'Rocky Horror Picture Show,'" said Mitchell. People volunteered to be in the production and rehearsals began last week. And after spring break, said Mitchell, "We'll rehearse every day after school until the night of the first show."

Some of the songs include "Where is the Life that I Led?" from "Kiss Me Kate," sung by Barry Armbruster; "As Long As You're Mine" from "Wicked," sung by Carolyn Agan and Kevin Manship; "Ten Minutes Ago" from "Cinderella," sung by Missy Paolangeli; and "Jimmy" from "Thoroughly Modern Millie," sung by Megan Meadows.

"We've been working with Mrs. Knickerbocker and [assistant theater director] Mrs. [Zoe] Dillard to get the scenes together and the people to perform," said Mitchell. "We make sure everyone's on schedule to perform, and Megan, Michelle and I are choreographing some of the dances."

MITCHELL SAYS the audience will really enjoy the cabaret. "It's a fun show to do, with a lot of upbeat stuff," she said. "And the Theater Department is seeing "Wicked" in New York, the week after we perform this, so it should be interesting."

Her favorite number in the cabaret is "Time Warp" from "Rocky Horror." Junior Branson Reese will direct students Kyle Findley, Devon Owens, Abby Sykes, Heather McGrath and Carolyn Agan. Said Mitchell: "It's a really fun song because of the lyrics and rhythm, and I like big-group numbers and dancing."

As producers, said Meadows, we helped get all the groups together and helped them find an idea for a song. And we make sure they get their practice times with the accompanist. We pull the show together and make it click."

She said the toughest thing is "making sure everything's organized and everyone is comfortable with the show and with what they're performing." The best part, she said, is "having a say and helping people out, if they need it."

Meadows, too, likes "Time Warp" the best. "It's gonna be awesome," she said. "We've never done anything from such an obscure musical, so I'm excited to see how it turns out." She's also pleased that the cabaret has themes — more than one number from the same musical — so the numbers connect.

She's also a fan of "Forget About the Boy" from "Thoroughly Modern Millie" because "it's a girly song and there's a lot of girls singing and tap dancing in it — and I just love that show."

On the acting front, senior Ashley Cantrell, 17, is directing a scene that she worked on for her theater class from playwright Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs." The setting is Brighton Beach in 1930s New York.

"It's about a mom and dad, their two sons, the mom's sister and her two daughters," said Cantrell. "Kyle Findley plays son Eugene, who wrote his memoirs. He's really into sports, especially baseball, and he wants to be on the Yankees."

Meanwhile, his cousin Nora, 16, wants to be an actress and tells the family she's auditioning for a Broadway show. She wants to drop out of school, but her mother wants her to graduate.

"It's funny and dramatic at the same time," said Cantrell. "I picked this scene because it's the first one of the show and the audience won't have missed anything. And it's more dramatic than other parts of the show."

Findley says Eugene, 15, is maturing, but is still "an outgoing kid who wants to have fun and be himself. He was raised in a household of women, so he grows up to be respectful and mannerly."

He's fun to play, said Findley, because "he's the type of person you like to be. He says what's on his mind and wants to experience the world firsthand. He's a very energizing character, and I like that."

Cantrell's also performing in the cabaret, lip-synching with her friend, junior Natalie McLarty, to "The Elephant Love Medley" from "Moulin Rouge." Said Cantrell: "It's really fun — we've always liked singing this song together. I'll be playing the Ewan McGregor part — dressed up in a suit and tie with top hat and mustache — and she'll play the Nicole Kidman part, in an elegant gown."

SHE, TOO, predicts the cabaret will be a hit. "We've always had really good turnouts," said Cantrell. "We do such a variety of things — comical and dramatic scenes, skits, singing, dancing and big ensembles.

Branson Reese, 17, will perform in a 'Saturday Night Live'-type skit — possibly the Janet Reno Dance Party or a Steve Martin routine. Junior Josh Motafches will also be in it as New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a boxing match with Reno.

In addition, said Reese, "About five freshmen boys, including my little brother Ben, have put together a scene from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' and Mr. Pafumi asked me to direct it. So, if they need help, I'm there."

"I'm really excited to participate in it," said Reese. "It's also a nice chance to step out of the spotlight and help other people with the 'Time Warp' dance." As for the cabaret, he likes the fact that it contains both Broadway and nonBroadway songs. Overall, he said, "It's a potpourri of theater magic."

"We have a lot of new faces and ideas," added Findley. "People should come, enjoy themselves and see a good show."