Northlanders unite in song and dance

A musical about bringing together jocks, smarts and drama kids is bringing together kids from across the Northland. The Duluth Playhouse's September production of "High School Musical: On Stage!" is being presented by a group of students ages 12-...

A musical about bringing together jocks, smarts and drama kids is bringing together kids from across the Northland.

The Duluth Playhouse's September production of "High School Musical: On Stage!" is being presented by a group of students ages 12-18 from across northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin as part of a performance intensive. An intensive is a theater camp ramped up to a professional performance schedule. Students learn all aspects of the production from acting to costuming, lighting, sound and advertising.

Students started the class Aug. 4. By opening night Sept. 11, they'll have learned the lines, songs and dances they'll perform on stage. They'll also have created lighting and sound effects, the costumes and props used on the set and the advertising and decorations promoting the play in the community and in the Depot, said Kate Horvath, Duluth Playhouse education director.

The students are able to get so much done in a short time because the production involves two complete casts -- Team Flamingo and Team Fabulous. While one cast practices, the other cast works on sets or costumes or learning how to run the lights and sound effects, she said.

"It gives kids who don't normally have summer theater opportunities a time to shine," she said.


The class has brought together 42 students from throughout the area. They're driving down from Two Harbors and the Iron Range to participate and up from Minong or west from Lake Nebagamon. Douglas County youths are well represented in the cast.

Christina Case and Matt Davey, who play the lead roles Gabriella and Troy, in the Flamingo cast are from Superior. Adam Holden of Lake Nebagamon and Hannah Simiyu of Superior perform with them. Tressa Harings, of Minong, takes over the Gabriella role on the nights when the Fabulous cast takes the stage. She is joined by Robby Steltz, Jessica Johnson and Molly Nelson of Superior. Director Kate Horvath also hails from Superior.

It's fun having two casts. There's not a lot of competition between the two groups, Johnson said.

Both casts are good, Harings said.

The actors can get help from their counterparts in the other cast and watch how they do a scene, she said.

Both casts good but perform differently because they are made up of different people, Steltz said.

Horvath often tells each cast to perform a scene in a way that best suits it's style, he said.

This is the first summer the Duluth Playhouse has provided a performance intensive experience.


"High School Musical" was the right production to attempt an intensive for teenagers because it is such a popular show, Horvath said.

The stage production is based on the Disney movie "High School Musical." The show follows the story of basketball star Troy Bolton and science and math genius Gabriella Montez as they meet and discover their love of singing. The teens try out for the high school musical stepping outside their traditional high school roles. The show was wildly popular with teens when it was first shown on the Disney Channel.

Local youths interested in theater have been looking for opportunities to attempt more difficult roles and performances on stage, she said.

The popularity of "High School Musical" helped attract more than 100 students to audition for the intensive in April.

The 42 teens chosen for the show have a variety of drama experience. Some students have performed for the Playhouse in the past. Some have had private dance and vocal lessons since they were children. Other performers have never performed publicly, but they help one another, Horvath said.

"It's great to see how everyone's willing to work together to make the best show possible," she said.

Everyone in both casts get along, the performers said.

"It seems like we all are similar," Holden said.


Everyone has so much in common, Case said.

If someone starts singing spontaneously no one gives the singer strange looks. Usually other people start singing along or dancing, said Hannah Anderson who lives near Carlton.

"It's great to be in an environment where you love everyone," Davey said.

At the intensive camp there are no cliques. The actors live far apart but are close in their interests, Anderson said.

Often they want to get together outside of practice but aren't able to because of the distance, Case said.

During performances, the casts switch between performing and backstage duties every other night.

The play opens with a private showing Sept. 10 and Team Fabulous opens the show to the public Sept. 11.

During the show's run, one cast performs on stage while the other cast runs things backstage. Students not performing will help with costuming, lighting and props. They'll also serve as ushers and man the ticket booth.


The intensive is designed to give them experience and skills so they can be competitive in theater in the future and know how to get the roles they want in future productions. Many of the performers are planning to act in college, Horvath said.

Acting with the cast are seasoned actors in the play's two adult roles. Tammy Ostrander, a theater professor at the College of St. Scholastica performs as Mrs. Darbus, and Duluth Playhouse regular Tom House performs as Coach Bolton.

The production schedule is about to get more intense for the students involved. Since Aug. 4 the students have practiced during the day, but once school starts Tuesday, they'll be spending their days at school and their nights rehearsing and performing during the show's run Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 1 and 4 p.m. and Sundays 2 p.m. Sept. 11-28 at the Duluth Playhouse. The cost is $15 for adults and $12 for children 17 and younger.

The actors recommend coming to see the play even if people have already seen the movie.

The play is better. The characters are more real. In the movie they're almost stereotyped too much, Case said.

The play also includes harder dances and more harmony than the on-screen production, she said.

"They will never look at 'High School Musical' the same way again," Steltz said.

Call Anna Kurth at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail akurth@


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