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Westfield Summer Stage's 'High School Musical'

Disney Channel smash hit comes to life.

Already wildly popular on the Disney Channel, "High School Musical" will be presented Thursday-Sunday, July 26-29, by Westfield Summer Stage in the Westfield High theater.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. each night, plus a 2 p.m. matinee, July 28. Tickets are $10 via PayPal at www.westfieldtheatreboosters.com.

"THE SHOW is fun, happy and family-oriented, and the dancing will really amaze people," said Director Lori Knickerbocker. "And the students are excited about doing this show because they know it, inside and out. They want to be those characters, so it's a labor of love."

The musical has a cast and crew of more than 50 and, said Knickerbocker, "The kids are fantastic — a wonderful group of young actors. Some are from outside the school, and those budding, new friendships are one of the neatest things about Summer Stage."

She said the show's also a real collaboration between Musical Director Charlie Manship, Choreographer Yvonne Henry and Henry's daughter, Westfield grad Megan, who's the stage manager. And head carpenter Greg Aucott has done a phenomenal job with the sets. With Summer Stage, lots of parents are working hard behind the scenes."

And after seven years, Knickerbocker is now seeing former Summer Stage actors and Westfield students return to help in other ways — such as Megan Henry, plus Alex Merrill, with lighting, and Knickerbocker's daughter Courtney, assisting with choreography. Now, students like these are providing the leadership, said Lori Knickerbocker, "So it's really a self-sustaining program."

"High School Musical" is about Troy Bolton, captain of the high-school basketball team, and shy transfer student Gabriella Montez, who excels in math and science. They both try out for the leads in their school's musical. Despite obstacles from some other students, they follow their dreams.

PLAYING TROY is Westfield sophomore Taylor Aucott. "He's confident in his sports ability and his popularity, but is also just discovering he likes to sing," explained Aucott. "But he's insecure about it because he doesn't want his friends to judge him."

Aucott said Troy's fun to play because he acts differently around different people. His first lead role at Westfield, he said, "It's the most hectic, chaotic, awesome thing ever — being pulled around from scene to scene — but I love it. And the tech work is amazing."

He also likes the diverse sets — school classrooms, theater, cafeteria, gym, hallway with lockers, school radio station and a rooftop garden. "A lot of different things are going on in a small space," he said.

Since Aucott loves to sing, he's also pleased that Troy sings so many songs, and in various styles. For example, "Get Your Head in the Game" has a hip-hop feel, and "What I've Been Looking For" is a slower ballad. The latter is Aucott's favorite song in the show because "it's got beautiful harmonies and is in my range." He describes the show as "insanely, high-energy, good for both older and younger kids."

Westfield junior Claire Manship plays Gabriella. "She's pleasant, extremely studious and shy, and she's apprehensive about getting into a clique before she gets used to things [at her new school]," said Manship. And she's thrilled to have a lead role.

"It's a dream come true and something I've been waiting for, a long time," she said. "I've worked on getting rid of myself and being the character. And this time, I'm not the best friend and the loud one, as in the past, but the lead."

MANSHIP ALSO tries hard to be a good example for the rest of the ensemble. "It's not just about having the talent, but letting people know you have to stay focused and mean business," she said. Describing herself as a "hopeless romantic" in real life, she said, "I love finding my personal connection with Gabriella, and Taylor's personal connection with Troy."

Her favorite song is "The Start of Something New" reprise. "It's the first time Troy and Gabriella finally stand up for each other and decide they are going to audition for the show," said Manship. She said Summer Stage really wants to entertain the community and she hopes the audience will love the show as much as she does.

Westfield senior Brittany Martin portrays Sharpay Evans. "She's a dramatic, arrogant girl, and her brother Ryan [Garrett Henson} is her bubbly sidekick," said Martin. "She dictates the drama club at East High. She has a big crush on Troy and absolutely despises Gabriella."

Martin and Henson are friends in real life, so they already have "good chemistry, like brother and sister." And she's had fun meeting people from other schools. She also praised the work of choreographer Yvonne Henry, Knickerbocker, Megan Henry and Assistant Director Zoe Dillard, who helps with characterization.

She said it's tough "keeping a really mean face," the whole time. The best part? "Getting caked in the face," replied Martin. Her favorite song is "Bop to the Top," Sharpay's and Ryan's call-back song.

When Troy and Gabriella try out for their show, explained Martin, their friends discourage them because "he's the jock and she's the brainiac. And when both of them, plus Sharpay and Ryan, get call-backs for the lead, Sharpay's furious."

Martin expects this show to be a huge success: "It's already a very popular movie, and it's energetic, exciting and a roller coaster ride. There are great costumes, funny teachers and even skateboards, so there's something for everyone."

Westfield senior Garrett Henson plays Ryan. "He's Sharpay's sidekick — something dragged along," said Henson. "But during the show, I come into my own and start defying her and finally standing up to her."

He, too, loves his part — especially its flashiness. "Together, Sharpay and Ryan are the dynamic, theater duo, with flashy costumes, and they're so cheesy," said Henson. His favorite song is "What I've Been Looking For," a duet with Martin. "There are jazz hands and jazz squares and rhinestones everywhere," he said. "We go all out with it."

HENSON SAID the audience will love the happy ending. "Kids can see themselves on stage, as high-school students, in the future," he said. "And they'll want to get up and dance."

Coach Bolton, varsity basketball coach of the East High Bulldogs is the "typical, hard-core coach," said Westfield senior Neil Gunn, who portrays him. "He puts the game above all else. I think it's a blast. I've played a lot of sports, so it's fun to turn it around and be like all those coaches were to me."

His character missed the final shot in a game in high school and tries to make up for it through his son Troy. So he expects more from Troy than from anyone else. Gunn said the toughest part is keeping his voice from hurting from all the yelling he has to do. But, he said, "I like being in command of everybody on the basketball team. I'm in power, and its all in my whistle."

Westfield senior Ben Reese plays Zeke Baylor. "He's a basketball jock who has a secret obsession with baking," said Reese. "He has a crush on Sharpay and, midway into the show, he talks about making creme brulee and cake. Because Troy's decided to sing, he feels he can tell his secret now, too."

He said it's fun playing a jock and getting to sing. And he reveals Zeke's secret during the song, "Status Quo." Said Reese: "I get to stand on a lunch table to sing, and that's always fun."

Elizabeth Reed, a 2007 Westfield grad, portrays the theater teacher, Miss Darbus. "I'm a stereotypical, over-flamboyant, loud, dramatic teacher — and I'm that way in everything I do," said Reed. "I'm one of the only adult characters in the show, and it's fun working with the 'newbies' — the incoming freshmen and rising stars of Westfield Theater."

She's likes the fact that her role makes fun of "any theater teacher and director you've had in the past." Said Reed: "I wear giant, moo-moo outfits, tons of jewelry and bright colors that say, 'Look at me!'" Her favorite song is "We're All in this Together," because it's the finale done by the entire cast.

WESTFIELD SENIOR Allison Wruk has three roles: A theater student named Judy, a pregnant science teacher and the moderator for the school's science decathlon. She's also Reed's understudy. "I've been excited [about this show] since last year when Mrs. Knickerbocker said we'd do it," said Wruk. "I knew it would be great, and we bring a lot of fresh energy and humor to it."

She said juggling her roles is easy because "I love the show so much that I've seen it five times." Her favorite number is "Status Quo," talking about cliques and rebels in high school. "It's kids saying, 'You should stick to the clique you're in,'" said Wruk. "But the rebels say, 'You should follow your heart and do what you love because it makes you happy.'"

Centreville High senior Julie Lee portrays Taylor McKessie. "She's the brainiac and top nerd," said Lee. "She's snobby because she knows she's smart. She befriends Gabriella and wants her to participate in the science decathlon."

This is Lee's first show with Summer Stage and, she said, "I don't go to Westfield, so I was shocked and thrilled to get this role. I love performing, and to have a lead/supporting role is awesome. I get to stretch as an actress."

Playing student Martha Cox is Westfield sophomore Phoebe Dillard. "I'm a brainiac with a passion for hip-hop," she said. "In 'Status Quo,' everyone's confessing their secrets, so I do some hip-hop dance moves. It's fun because she's spunky and wants to be true to herself."

Dillard said people can relate to it because they're often told to stick to one thing. "But this says it's OK to be yourself, even if you have to go against your clique. This is like real high school."

Westfield sophomore Meghan Webber plays shy, timid, Kelsi Nielson, who wrote the words and music for the school play, but is scared to let anyone see her work. But she eventually becomes more courageous, dresses better and becomes more confident.

"She's both sides of me and an interesting character to play," said Webber. "And this musical shows what high school is like, but that it doesn't have to be that way."

Overall, Director Knickerbocker anticipates a huge and happy audience: "It's such a popular show that we expect every 9- and 10-year-old kid to be there — and singing along."