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Cast member of "Peter and the Starcatcher" include (from left) Emma Schrader, Ricky Raffaele, Taya Johnson and Joey Russoniello. Photo by Victor Moreno

What: Peter and the Starcatcher
Who: MHS Theatre Company
When: Oct. 24-26, 7 p.m., matinee Oct. 26, 2 p.m.
Where: MHS Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: $5 students; $7 general admission, $10 VIP
ASL interpretation available

Despite a late changeout of the entire show just before auditions, Maricopa High School Theatre Company is making fast work of its fall production, “Peter & the Starcatcher.”

An origin story for “Peter Pan,” which the troupe performed last fall, “Peter and the Starcatcher” became celebrated for its sets and costuming in its Tony-Award-winning run in 2012.

“It’s the prequel, so it has so many sweet moments that tell you how Peter Pan came and how the story they fell in love with last year exists,” said theater instructor Alexandra Stahl, who directs the play.

Stahl had wanted to wait another year or two before producing “Starcatcher” because of the close proximity to last year’s production. MHS Theatre Company planned to perform “She Kills Monsters,” a nerd comedy drawing inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, but in mid-July the administration asked Stahl for something less controversial for now.

What made “Starcatcher” work well in the shortened timeframe was the fact many in the company were already well-versed in the basic story and were excited about the project. There is lots of word play and definitely pirates.

“It started out with some of the same characters, and that made it a little bit easier,” Stahl said, “but I didn’t want to bring back the red Hook coat, because I didn’t want people to be like, ‘That’s Hook!’”

Stahl was looking for “youthful innocence” in the casting of the orphan known only as Boy for much of the show. That turned out to be sophomore Joey Russoniello.

“Honestly, I love the show,” Russoniello said. “We saw the show when we went to Nationals over the summer. I never thought it would even be a possibility for me to play this role. And then we ended up doing the show.”

A singer before joining the company as a freshman, Russoniello has had to step up his acting skills.

“It’s a really good challenge,” he said. “That was something I really needed to develop, and this show is really pushing me to do that.”

Junior Taya Johnson plays Molly, who eventually is revealed to be [spoiler alert] the Starcatcher. In “Peter Pan” last year, she played Michael.

She describes Molly as a 13-year-old Victorian with an unusual educational upbringing and independent character. She watched a bootleg version of the original show on YouTube a couple of times and also fell in love with the story.

“It’s my first lead role, so I’m very nervous,” Johnson said. “I’m really happy I have the opportunity to do this play.”

The play does not lean heavily on either of the titular roles.

“It’s basically storytelling theatre. There’s no one person who is the star,” Stahl said. “They’re all telling the story together. Many play multiple characters throughout the show. There’s some points where these characters are listed in the script as ‘Narrator Molly’ or ‘Narrator Boy.’”

Cast: Boy (Peter) – Joey Russoniello; Prentis – Emma Schrader; Ted – Ricky Raffaele; Lord Leonard Aster – Simon Ty; Molly Aster – Taya Johnson; Mrs. Bumbrake – Haley Lemon; Captain Robert Scott – John Jackson; Grempkin – Aliyah Garcia; Bill Slank – Douglas Moulton; Alf – Derek Blakely; Mack – Angelina George; Black Stache – Julie Goodrum; Smee – Jae Luna; Sanchez – Mary Brokenshire; Fighting Prawn – Mary Brokenshire; Hawking Clam – Grace Goodrum; Teacher – Haley Raffaele; Ensemble – Morgan Cutrara, Gracee Clark, Ashton Crosniak, Isabella Netro, Astraya Ellyson

This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Victor Moreno

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Haley Raffaele and Bernadette Russoniello in "Freaky Friday."

Wednesday was opening night for Disney’s “Freaky Friday the Musical,” a production of Maricopa Community Theatre, which performs at Leading Edge Academy-Maricopa. The 18-member cast is led by Bernadette Russoniello and Haley Raffaele as a quarreling mother and daughter who mysteriously switch bodies and have to deal with each other’s problems for a day to gain new perspective. The show is directed by Carrie Vargas and choreographed by Cassandra Jackson. The show runs nightly at 7 p.m. through Saturday. There is also a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Raffaele and co-star Joey Russoniello can also be seen Oct. 24-26 at Maricopa High School in MHS Theatre Company’s “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

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Cast members of Maricopa High School’s production of Fiddler on the Roof performed “Tradition” from the musical on the ASU Gammage stage Saturday for the High School Musical Theatre Awards. MHS Theatre Company was among 26 troupes competing for prizes. It was the third straight year they have participated. Three performers – Antonio Gonzales, Douglas Moulton and Taryn Story – were Top 10 finalists in their individual categories, and MHS Tech Theatre was a finalist in sound design and set/prop design. The night was dominated by Mingus Union High School’s “Newsies,” a Broadway musical schedule to be performed next spring by MHS Theatre Company.

Antonio Gonzales, an MHS senior, leads "Fiddler on the Roof." Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

A hearty, energetic and often very touching rendition of “Fiddler on the Roof” opened Thursday at the Maricopa Performing Arts Center.

The latest production of the Maricopa High School Theatre Company hit all the big, showstopper expectations as well as the intimate notes of family, love and faith. The cast of over 100 was accompanied by an under-stage orchestra of student and adult musicians.

There’s solid story-telling, there’s singing, there’s dancing, there is a faux dream and a living nightmare. It’s a heck of a show.

“Fiddler” inherently lives or dies on the shoulders of whoever plays Tevye the dairyman, around whom everyone in the Russian village of Anatevka seems to revolve (literally at one point). In this case, senior Antonio Gonzales is at his best, carrying his scenes with authority and conveying the complexities of a simple man being tossed about by changes he cannot control.

He and Emma Schrader as Tevye’s wife Golde have some particularly strong sets together. They are a poor couple with five daughters, three of whom are of marriageable age and are portrayed by three of the company’s most accomplished actresses. All are excellent.

Aidyn Curtis as the oldest daughter Tzeitel must accept an arranged marriage to a much older but well-off Lazar Wolf (Douglas Moulton) or defy her father for a poor tailor she has loved since childhood (Brandon Korittky). Kjirsten Lemon as Hodel falls for a scholar with revolutionary ideas (Ricky Raffaele), which does not please Papa at all. Taryn Story as Chava commits the almost-irredeemable sin of marrying a Gentile (Derek Blakely), a break from faith and tradition that Tevye cannot bear.

Korittky as Motel the tailor rounds out four years as arguably the troupe’s most reliable character actor. He’s terrific here. Mary Brokenshire is a scene-stealer as Yente, as is Fallon Fruchey as long-dead Grandma Tzeitel.

The set is top-notch, effectively using small parts to convey larger scenes. The Fruma-Sarah entry with Astraya Ellison in the very funny dream sequence is a tour de force. The live orchestra was a good call on the part of director Alexandra Stahl. It was also transforming to have the actors choreographed into dancers by MHS dance teacher Alexandra Biggs.

Performances continue Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office.

Part of the cast of "Mary Poppins Jr." at Legacy Traditional School. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Chimney sweeps, penguins, bankers and a magical nanny have been seen scampering about Legacy Traditional School as the charter prepares for its big spring musical extravaganza.

This year, it’s “Mary Poppins Jr.”

The production is set for Feb. 22-23 and March 2. Musical Director Michelle Wagner has assembled more than 100 fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders into a singing and dancing troupe. Parents are also a vital link for organizing the production, which is a major fund-raiser, and getting the kids in terrific costumes.

“The cast is incredible,” Wagner said.

The production is a junior version of the 1964 Disney musical that was converted into a Broadway show in 2006, filled with familiar tunes and based on the books by P.L. Travers.

While several cast members have a few musical productions under their belts, seventh-grader Adelin Robinson is a new performer who landed the title role with her voice.

“At first I didn’t really want the role. I was so scared to do an audition in the first place,” Adelin said. “But after a while, it took a lot of confidence and I was able to try out.”

Adelin Robinson is Mary Poppins and Tanner Webster is Bert.

The story is a tale of the Banks family, which can’t seem to keep a nanny for two mischievous children, Jane and Michael. Mr. Banks has prioritized his work at the bank ahead of his family, but the arrival of a mysterious nanny sets his home life on end.

“I love coming up here and being Mary Poppins, a strict but kind nanny. It’s just amazing,” Adelin said. “I really love the songs and the music. At first, one of the songs had a note that had to be held for a really long time, but now I can hold it.”

Eighth-grader Caleb Ortiz plays George Banks. He has previously been in productions of “Aladdin,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Peter Pan.” He is also in the junior high choir and has appeared in smaller junior high musicals.

“Mr. Banks means business. He doesn’t like fooling around. He doesn’t like these kids coming in and bothering him. He’s just trying to work and do all his stuff,” Caleb said. “I don’t really like being mean so when I go to being nice it’s fun.”

Last year, eighth-grader Tanner Webster soared as Peter Pan. In “Mary Poppins,” he plays the lively role of Bert the chimney sweep.

“Bert is really fun to play,” Tanner said. “He’s super happy and he’s always very kind to other people. And at the same time, he is able to have fun, but he cares about others, and I think that’s a very good characteristic.”

The part includes a lot of action, and Tanner has been having fun with it.

“I love singing and dancing. His dancing is like really all over the place, super crazy and fun, and I really like that,” he said. “I do take inspiration from [Dick Van Dyke], but I do think it’s important when you’re playing a role to make it your own.”

Ryah Wilkinson, an eighth grader, plays Winifred, the matriarch of the Banks clan. She was previously seen in “The Little Mermaid” and “Peter Pan.” She has also performed in elementary concerts and is a member of the junior high choir.

“She’s a bit strict but she’s also nice,” she said of Mrs. Banks. “She likes to deal with things in an orderly fashion and make sure everything goes well.”


The Banks family (from left) Ryah Wilkinson, Morgan Lee, Tak Harris and Caleb Ortiz.

Fifth-grader Morgan Lee is happy to get into costume to play young Jane Banks, and she’s concentrating hard on the dance steps.

“I want to get the dancing right,” Morgan said. “All the choreography is kind of hard to memorize.”

For Takaru Harris, a fifth grader playing Michael Banks, the bed in the nursery has been more of a challenge. “The way they set up my bed is I have a pillow, and when I lay down it flies out. It’s difficult to lay down, and my back hurts because I have to stay up.”

Among others in the cast are Maya Pulliam as Katie Nanna, Logan Woods as Robertson Ay, Cydney Williford as the Bird Woman, Taylor Girard as Neleus and Diana Harris as Miss Smythe.

Showtime is 6 p.m. each night, with a 2 p.m. matinee March 2. Tickets start at $5. Contact the school at 520-423-9999.


Narrating the proceedings, David Vargas is "The Writer" in "The Good Doctor." Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Community Theatre is performing “The Good Doctor,” one of Neil Simon’s lesser-known comedies, this weekend. Made of a series of vignettes based on Anton Chekhov’s satirical short stories set in Russia, the play exposes hypocrisy, self-delusion, irony and human frailty, all with trademark Simon witticisms. The cast is comprised of veteran local performers and talented teens under the eye of assorted directors. Final performances are Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Leading Edge Academy.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Theatre Company launched “Peter Pan” Thursday night for its weekend production. Starring Taryn Story as Peter and Antonio Gonzales as Hook, the play puts its actors and stage crew to the test with very fun results. The well-known story follows the Darling children as they take up with an ageless boy for a bit of adventure. Using a bit of fairy dust, they fly to Neverland and have a jolly old time with its inhabitants of Lost Boys, warriors and pirates. While there are plenty of opportunities to ham it up for the high-energy cast, there are moments of genuine pathos with the worried Mrs. Darling (Kjirsten Lemon) and the core yearning of the Lost Boys for a mother.

This is Story’s first time in a starring role for the company, and she excels as the petulant, boasting, lonesome child that is Peter. As Hook, Gonzales is a preening, scene-stealing pirate captain, a role that is a near opposite of his previous lead role in last spring’s musical “The Baker’s Wife.” Tots in the opening-night crowd loved him, which is high praise. The Darlings getting to fly with Peter Pan are Genevieve Burno as Wendy, Simon Ty and John and Taya Johnson and Michael, and all are just as they should be. The play is full of action and colorful characters, and the cast goes at it with enthusiasm.

The play is directed by Alexandra Stahl, who draws from her cast a high level of performance that is now expected of MHS Theatre Company. Technical Director Kevin Piquette and his crew put together complicated set pieces that sometimes upstaged the actors with their cleverness. Sound and lighting were near perfect. “Peter Pan” continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and there is also a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5.

Antonio Gonzales is Hook and Taryn Story is Peter Pan in the play to be presented by MHS Theatre Company Nov. 8-10.

One of the first curiosities Alexandra Stahl noticed on becoming the theater teacher at Maricopa High School this year is the affinity the MHS Theatre Company had with Peter Pan without producing the play.

Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up
When: Nov. 8-9 at 7 p.m., Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Where: Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: $5
Who: Taryn Story (Peter Pan), Genevieve Burno (Wendy), Antonio Gonzales (Hook), Simon Ty (John), Derek Blakely (Smee), Aidyn Curtis (Princess Tiger Lilly), Taya Johnson (Michael), Kjirsten Lemon (Mrs. Darling), Douglas Moulton (Mr. Darling), Brandon Korittky (Curly), Chief Great Big Little Panther (Nicholas Perez), Emma Schrader (Nana), Alexia Esquivel (Liza), Jae Luna (Slightly), Cannon Jones (Tootles), Julianna Goodrum (Nibs), Zephanie Coleman (Omnes), Hannah Panter (first twin), Alex Hurley (second twin), Kade Cruse (Gentleman Starkey), Tommy Dryden (Cecco), Miles Starks (Bill Jukes), Matthew Ferguson (Noodles), John Jackson (Cookson), Francis Trast (Skylights), Alex-Ann Velasco (Mullens), more than 50 others.

In past performances, company members have performed pieces from musical off-shoots of the J.M. Barrie story like Finding Neverland and Peter and the Starcatcher.

“They just seemed destined to do it,” Stahl said.

The troupe performs the play Nov. 8-10 as its fall production. It is not a musical but the play that originated in 1904.

Though it is her fifth year teaching (she was previously at Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley), this is Stahl’s first with MHS Theatre Company. She worked to get familiar with the program and the students during spring semester.

“Casting was a real process. These kids are insanely talented,” Stahl said. “I’ve never been so proud of a cast.”

Senior Taryn Story plays the title character.

“I really like how it’s written,” she said. “It’s written for kids, but there’s a lot that adults can take out of it.”

Aidyn Curtis is Princess Tiger Lily. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Junior Genevieve Burno, who just finished a production of Cabaret with Maricopa Community Theatre, plays Wendy, the eldest daughter in the Darling household.

“It’s timeless,” she said. “So much can be taken from it.”

Theater tech teacher Kevin Piquette brought in ZFX Flying Effects to mount rigging and teach four of the cast members how to “fly” and the tech crew how to fly them. All had to sign letters of indemnity.

“Logistically, it’s a nightmare,” Piquette said of soaring students, “but I don’t think you can do Peter Pan without it.”

The cave of the Lost Boys is part of the complicated tech for Peter Pan.


Theater teacher Alexandra Stahl talks to the cast during rehearsals. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.


The first Peter Pan, in 1904, was Nina Boucicault.

Nina Boucicault (1904)
Maude Adams (1905)
Zena Dare (1914)
Jean Forbes-Robertson (1927)
Eva LeGallienne (1928)
Mary Martin (1954)
Sandy Duncan (1980)
Cathy Rigby (1990)

Genevieve Burno goes up as flying director Wesley Miller of ZFX Flying Effects provides guidance during rehearsals for “Peter Pan.”

Robert Andrews (center) as The Emcee in the Maricopa Community Theatre production of "Cabaret," which continues through Saturday at Leading Edge Academy.

Maricopa Community Theatre debuted its production of “Cabaret” at Leading Edge Academy on Wednesday. Performances continue nightly at 7 p.m. through Saturday. There is also a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee of the hit Broadway musical. Memorable performances by Robert Andrews as The Emcee and Teresa Sanchez as Sally Bowles lead the cast of familiar faces. The edgy work, so connected to Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli, is set in a German nightclub in the early 1930s as the Nazi party is starting to have an impact within the decadent culture, though many continue to turn a blind eye to the danger. MCT Artistic Director Carrie Vargas directs the show, with Stephen Shackelford as musical director and Kimi Cunningham-Shackelford as choreographer. Vargas and Cunningham-Shackelford are also in the cast with Michael Samuel, Bernadette Russoniello, David Vargas, Dylan Jacques and Chris Goodrum.

Adrian DeGuzman, playing Angel, rehearses with the company for the production of "Rent."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Rent” is coming to Maricopa in June.

What: “Rent”
Who: Maricopa Community Theatre
When: June 6-8, 7 p.m., June 9, 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Where: Leading Edge Academy, 18700 N. Porter Road
How much: $10/advance; $15/door
Info: MaricopaCommunityTheatre.org

Maricopa Community Theatre will present the rock musical in five performances June 6-9 at Leading Edge Academy. Director Carrie Vargas said it took two months to get royalties for the show. MCT is an AriZoni Theatre.

Vargas calls “Rent” a musical about “expressions of love,” whether love for others or self-love. She also said it will be a “unique interpretation.”

“Rent” was first performed in 1996, set during the AIDS epidemic of the late ‘80s in New York’s East Village. Inspired by Puccini’s “La Bohème,” it features characters trying to get ahead while dealing with poverty, drugs, loss and illness.

Randy Rice, who plays Mark, the narrator and a pivotal character in the ensemble, noted “Rent” was a “shocking and provocative show when it premiered. I don’t think you should go to anything that’s just comfortable.”

Like MCT’s “Sweeney Todd” before it, “Rent” is not kid-friendly and has adult content and language that Vargas describes as PG-13 or stronger. She said Maricopa has grown enough and evolved enough to be prepared for “Rent.”

“I liked how divine this show is,” said Adrian DeGuzman, an ASU student who plays eccentric Angel, a cross-dressing performer dying from AIDS who “brings everyone together.”

Maria Santillan plays Mimi in “Rent.”

Gay, lesbian or straight, many of the characters are artists in one medium or another. Several are HIV-positive but pushing forward, a fact that has continuing implications in the plot.

Jerry Allen, a familiar face for MCT, plays Roger, a songwriter whose girlfriend has died and left him in deep depression.

“I’m more like Roger than I think,” Allen said, adding that is what makes the character such a struggle for him. “The music is what pulled me in.”

The score earned one of the four Tony Awards given to the original Broadway version of the musical.

Brittany Randolph, also a returning MCT player, is Joanne, a lesbian and a confident lawyer with connections.

“I was extremely excited when I heard we were going to do ‘Rent,’” Randolph said. “I loved the story and the fact it is focused on love.”

For those who have only seen the film version, Randolph warns the stage version is different.

“It’s very human,” said Maricopa High School graduate Maria Santillian, who plays the complicated addict Mimi. “And it’s very real. It has a lot of awareness of things that are real.”

Opening night for the Maricopa High School Theatre Company’s spring musical, “The Baker’s Wife,” was Thursday. Met with a warm reception, the production features an entertaining if challenging score for a talented cast. The show stars Antonio Gonzales as the baker and Kjirsten Lemon as his wife, who becomes the center of a village scandal. Both give touching performances amid a town of comically feuding neighbors who will do just about anything to get their daily bread – even learn to get along. In support are Britney Montgomery, Collin Martin, Brandon Korittky, Carlos Aguilar, Douglas Moulton and many more. Performances continue Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students.

Antonio Gonzalez and Kjirsten Lemon star in "The Baker's Wife" for MHS Theatre Company. Photo by Mason Callejas


After years of staging musicals that have had their runs on Broadway and are ingrained in the musical-theater psyche, Maricopa High School Theatre Company is tackling a far less known show for its spring musical.

What: “The Baker’s Wife”
Who: MHS Theatre Company
When: April 19-21, 7 p.m., April 21, 2 p.m.
Where: Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: $7 adults; $5 students

“The Baker’s Wife” by Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein has a long history that includes a brief run on London’s West End but never a production on Broadway. Through regional and international productions, it was changed over the years and gained a cult following.

“I thought it was just going to be real cute,” said junior Antonio Gonzales, who plays Aimable the baker. “It’s not a very well-known show. Before we had actually started the process, I looked into it, and fell in love with it. It was a really good show.”

Set in provincial France, the story opens when a baker finally arrives in a squabbling village long without a bread baker. While welcoming the baker, gossipy villagers take note of his much-younger wife Genevieve. A handsome, young man pursues Genevieve, who resists his advances – for a while.

“She’s challenging, because she does something that I personally would not ever do,” said junior Kjirsten Lemon, who plays Genevieve. “I have to play her like to me that’s what’s right.”

The humble baker’s humble response to what befalls him is censure to the villagers, who take another look at their own relationships.

“It’s a sweet story,” said teacher Cynthia Calhoun, who is directing the musical, apparently her last for MHS. She has submitted her resignation effective at the end of the school year.

Teacher Cynthia Calhoun directs the students through a rehearsal. Hers is among staff resignations that go before the MUSD Governing Board this week. Photo by Mason Callejas

Calhoun said though the show is not well-known, its creators are. Schwartz wrote a collection of hits, from “Pippin” to “Wicked,” and Stein is revered in theater circles for “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“When you listen to the first song, Chanson, it’s so beautiful, especially with Britney [Montgomery] singing it,” Lemon said. “Right when I heard that song, I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be a great musical.’”


Cast List
Aimable … Antonio Gonzales
Genevieve … Kjirsten Lemon
Denise … Britney Montgomery
Claude … Carlos Aguilar
Martine (teacher) … Stirling Luckey
Therese … Aidyn Curtis
Pierre … Jae Luna
Doumergue … Genevieve Burno
Antoine … Kobe Hinton
Barnaby … Logan Spaulding
Hortense … Taryn Story
le Cure (Priest) … Douglas Moulton
Marquis … Collin Martin
Dominique … Brandon Korittky
Philippe … Emma Schrader
Inez … Ivie Keene
Simone … Chaienne Zoller
Nicole … Alexia Esquivel

The Villagers … Emmeline Boothe, Mary Brokenshire, Keara Burke, Aleyna Call, Isabella Chitwood, Zephanie Coleman, Morgan Cutrara, Astraya Ellyson, Autumn Fausz, Fallon Fruchey, Angelina George, Katie Gilmore, Emily Goncalves, Wynter Grissom, Hailey Gross, Tamara Hanania, Katie Hanks, Azeri Hanson, Makayla Horn, Scotland JanFrancisco, Princess Jimenez, Ashlyn Kelley, Rachel Knight, Dakota Larson, Haley Lemon, Isabelle Lopez, Aubrey Maas, Kylie Nolan, Michael O’Dell, Andrea Ortiz, Caterina Rizzi, Chloe Seekings, Heidi Smith, Katelyn Stroschein, Francis Trast, Alex-Ann Velasco

This story appears in the April edition of InMaricopa.

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Submitted photo

The students in the Maricopa Wells Middle School 20+1 Blended Learning programs wrote, produced, and performed original short stage plays based on well-known fairy tales. The students took fairy tales and rewrote them to create original “Fractured Fairy Tales.”

The sixth-eighth grade students performed their plays at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center March 27-28.

In all, the audiences were treated to 32 original plays written and performed by the students. All of the plays were set to digital backgrounds that were created by the students. Rather than build sets, the project required the students to create digital backgrounds that were timed to change with the dialogue and setting of the play.

It was a first-time experience for many of the students to be on stage. They also received help from the MHS Theater Tech department and teacher Kevin Piquette, and parents helped with costumes.

Tanner Webster, Talon Barth, Ethan Hodges and Audrey Duguay in "Peter Pan Jr." Photo by Mason Callejas

Legacy Traditional School is taking flight for their annual musical spectacular.

The charter school will present “Peter Pan” on two weekends, beginning Friday. The junior version of the musical features seventh grader Tanner Webster as the titular character, who refuses to grow up and lives in perpetual boyhood in Neverland with Lost Boys.

He is mischievous, boastful and, yes, can fly. Eventually, quite a few characters acquire the ability to fly, making this production an adventure itself.

Audrey Duguay, an eighth grader, stars as Wendy Darling, who does a good deed for Peter and ends being guided with her two younger brothers to Neverland. Fourth grader Talon Barth is Michael Darling, and Ethan Hodges, a fifth grader, plays John Darling.

Leading a gang of pirates in Neverland is the vengeful, crocodile-fearing Captain Hook, played by eighth grader Esteban Abundis. Aboard the Jolly Roger with him is boatswain Smee, played by eighth grader Jacob Snoddy.

Eighth grader Lindsey Coms narrates the story. The show is directed by Michelle Wagner.

Performances are Feb. 23-24 and March 2-3 at 6 p.m. There are also matinees on Feb. 24 and March 3 at 2 p.m.

Tickets purchased online start at $5 and go up to $20 depending on seating priority. Tickets can be purchased at https://shop.legacytraditional.org/az-maricopa/. At the door, general admission tickets will be $8.

Call 520-423-9999 for information.




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Maricopa High School students performing in Gila Bend. Submitted photo

Saturday, the Maricopa High School Band, Theater Company and Technical Theater programs participated in the Town of Gila Bend’s Light Parade and “Santa in the Park” event.

The event was planned and overseen by former MHS Assistant Principal Krista Vandermolen, now director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of Gila Bend.

The MHS programs were the spirit of the event. Technical Theater, along with teacher Kevin Piquette, built a float and mobile sound station for the parade and provided sound and announcements for the event. The Theater Company performed “Twelve Days to Christmas” from She Loves Me, and the Marching Rams marched in the parade and also performed a 20-minute concert of pep band and holiday music as part of the evening’s festivities at the park.

“We want to thank the Town of Gila Bend for inviting us to be a part of this wonderful event,” Music Director Ivan Pour said. “It was great to be able to share the success and wonderful programs we have at Maricopa High School with our neighbors in Gila Bend.”

Earlier this semester, the Technical Theater program competed at the Arizona State Thespian Festival. The team took third out of 60 schools. In the Skills USA competition, MHS placed second.

Marisa Lopez won the “quick knot tying” portion of the competition by tying all three knots in 5.56 seconds.  This was over 1 second faster than her nearest competitor. Other team members were Hyrum Sherwood, Connor Paine, Eric Bennett, Skylar Dugan, Ashley Piet, Yazmin Calleros and Keilani Hlebasko.

Technical Theater students were third out of 60 schools at the state Thespian Festival.

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Some of the MHS participants in the Arizona State Thespian Festival. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

A Maricopa High School senior scored straight marks of “superior” for her musical solo at the Arizona State Thespian Festival in November. The performance landed her a scholarship.

Britney Montgomery. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera


Britney Montgomery performed “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide, impressing the adjudicators. She earned the Amy Bennett Musical Theatre Memorial Scholarship, one of the highest scholarship honors available.

MHS Theatre and Technical Theatre students were among 3,000 performing at the Phoenix Convention Center, where they also attended workshops.

Britney wasn’t the only MHS student with high scores.

The Tech Team took first place among 64 teams in knot-tying. Senior Collin Martin and junior Antonio Gonzales also earned the top score of superior for their musical duet “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Kiss Me, Kate.

The group musical number “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail” from Bonnie and Clyde, performed by juniors Kjirsten “Kiki” Lemon and Aleyna Call and seniors Jalen Reyes and Lisa Moore, scored overall excellent. Junior Alex Hurley scored excellent with monologues from Picnic and Death of a Salesman.

Collin Martin (left) and Antonio Gonzalez. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

MHS also performed a one-act presentation of Tracks by Peter Tarsi, with Adrian Perdomo, Logan Spaulding, Aidyn Curtis, Taryn Story, Carlos Aguilar, Antonio Gonzales, Rachel Knight, Chaienne Zoller, Collin Martin and Ivie Keene. Maricopans will have an opportunity to see Tracks in performance Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. in the MHS Lecture Hall. Admission is free, and the performance is in partnership with the Health and Wellness program at MHS. 

Jalen Reyes, Aleyna Call, Kiki Lemon and Lisa Moore. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Aidyn Curtis is the fractious, reluctant bride in MHS Theatre Company's "The Taming of the Shrew." Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Theatre Company debuted its version of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” Thursday at the Performing Arts Center. The Bard’s popular battle of the sexes and battle of wills is softened just a bit but is still a crackling commentary on human relations.

Director Cynthia Calhoun has her cast of students whipped into Shakespearean shape, and the result is an entertaining comedy. In a post-Weinstein world, what could be tricky passages are handled with aplomb without losing innuendo.

In the lead roles, Aidyn Curtis as the head-strong Kate and Collin Martin as bombastic Petruchio are exceptional in a solid cast that is clearly having a good time with ancient text. Other standouts include Porter Jones as Hortensio, the phony music tutor, Ivie Keene as Petruchio’s overly literal servant, and Taya Johnson, who turns the small role of Biondella into something memorable.

The production runs through Saturday, with nightly performances at 7 p.m. plus a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Tickets are $5.

Aidyn Curtis and Collin Martin play Kate and Petruchio in a modernized version of “The Taming of the Shrew” created by Maricopa High School Theatre Company. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

For its fall production, the Maricopa High School Theater Company is performing William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” But it won’t quite be the standard interpretation.

What: “The Taming of the Shrew”
When: Nov. 9-11, 7 p.m., Nov. 11 2 p.m.
Where: MHS Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
Info: MHS.MaricopaUSD.org

In fact, a scene and characters have been added, and the ending goes in a different direction. The play will be performed Nov. 9-11 at the Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee.

Considered a classic yet problematic play for modern audiences, “The Taming of the Shrew” is a battle of the sexes that can be interpreted as either misogynistic or liberating. A central scene has the main character, Katharina, being psychologically and even physically tormented.

“Of course, with the whole abuse thing – oooh,” said senior Collin Martin, shaking his head. “But of course, we changed that.”

Collin plays the co-lead Petruchio, who woos Katharina – initially to gain her fortune. She’s not the only woman being wooed, but few of the women have much say in their futures. Because Katharina speaks up, often forcefully, she’s labeled a shrew.

“Some versions go to the major extreme where she’s like crazy, but we didn’t want to go so far as that,” said junior Aidyn Curtis, who plays Katharina. “It’s not that she’s crazy; she just wants to be heard. She wants to get her voice out, especially in a time when women couldn’t be heard as well.”

Theater instructor and play director Cynthia Calhoun, who also wrote additional content, made that silence literal in this interpretation. With the major exception of Katharina, many of the female characters communicate only through sign language. For the benefit of the audience, another actor provides the voice.

“Both are seen on stage, but one of the girls does the sign language for it. They both work together to portray the role,” Aidyn said.

Aidyn said she sees Katharina follow an arch similar to Petruchio’s, aggressive and fractious at first and then eventually insightful.

“I’m a rich dude. I even have a line, ‘I want to wive and thrive as best I may,’ so that line gives away my personality,” Collin said. “Petruchio’s really bold, but he does it so that he can get to an objective. He’s very straight-forward. He wants to have a wealthy wife. He doesn’t care how she looks; he’s just trying to get a wife.”

In the plot, wealthy Baptista (Britney Montgomery) has two daughters of very different temperament. Katharina is out-spoken and opinionated, not what any man of the time wants to deal with. Her younger sister Bianca (Autumn Fausz) knows how to win a man over, but she is not allowed to wed until Katharina is married off, a seeming impossibility. Lucentio (Stirling Luckey) falls for Bianca and concocts a scheme of confused identities to court her. Also vying for Bianca’s hand, Hortensio (Porter Jones) and Gremio (Logan Spaulding) plot to find a willing suitor for Katharina to get her out of the way. What arrives is Petruchio, who soon gets Baptista’s permission to marry Katharina despite all her loud objections.

Petruchio then sets off on an elaborate plan to win over his bride, or at least “tame” her. In the middle of this, students of the Bard might notice some additional text, especially a new wedding scene. 

“In Shakespeare, there are a lot of things that happen off stage that a messenger or someone just tells you about, and Calhoun didn’t like that so much,” Curtis said. “So, she added those scenes back in so you can see that action unfolding.”

Collin was previously seen in MHS Theatre Company’s “Les Miserables,” “You Can’t Take It with You” and “Wit.” Aidyn has been in “Pirates of Penzance,” “Les Miserables” and “Beauty and Beast” and has been stage manager. This is the first lead role for both of them.

Petruchio – Collin Martin
Katarina – Aidyn Curtis
Lucentio – Stirling Luckey
Bianca – Autumn Fausz
Bianca’s Voice – Taryn Story
Tranio – Carlos Aguilar
Biondello – Taya Johnson
Grumio – Ivie Keene
Gremio – Logan Spaulding
Hortensio – Porter Jones
Baptista – Britney Montgomery
Pedant – Kade Kruse
Vincentio – Douglas Moulton
Widow – Hannah Panter
Widow’s Voice – Angelina George
Margarita – Alexia Esquivel
Margarita’s Voice – Joycelyn Cabrera
Camila – Kjirsten Lemon
Camila’s Voice – Haley Lemon
Tailor – Genevieve Burno
Haberdasher – Rachel Knight
Friar – Emily Goncalves
Curtis – Azeri Hansen
Nicolette – Francis
Philippa – Brianna Hollingsworth
Josefa – Alex-Ann Velasco
Petra – Emmeline Boothe

Ensemble – The People of Merida:
Evelyn Bates, Grace Becking, Keara Burke, Isabella Chitwood, Zephanie Coleman, Harrison Delap, Madison Delap, Madison Ewald, Fallon Fruchey, Aubree Goettl, Dallas Grimm, Wynnie Grissom, Haley Gross, Tamara Hanania, Katie Hanks, Makayla Horn, Scotland JanFrancisco, Savannah Jones, Alexis Price, Caterina Rizzi, Emma Schrader, Chloe Seekings, Katelyn Stroschein, Lauryn Yazzie, Chaienne Zoller

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa Community Theatre opened its production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” on Wednesday at Leading Edge Academy, in time to get Maricopa in the mood for the spooky season. The final performance is Saturday at 7 p.m.

The cast of the murderous musical "Sweeney Todd" rehearses. Photo by Mason Callejas

A murderous musical is coming to Maricopa this month.

The Maricopa Community Theatre will perform its production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” Oct. 11-14 at 7 p.m. at Leading Edge Academy.

Matthew Ortega is pulling double duty as crew director and the play’s title character. MCT Artistic Director Carrie Vargas will play his counterpart, Mrs. Lovett.

Together they make up a dreadful duo, hell-bent on revenge – and meat pies.

Ortega said the show is recommended for audience members 14 and older, and parental guidance is suggested.

The musical production is a scaled-down version of the Stephen Sondheim original.

“I’m really focusing on the story of what’s going on rather than the spectacle,” Ortega said. “Don’t worry, there is still going to be blood spilled here and there, just in a different way.”

The cast of 18 auditioned in May, rehearsed through the summer, and began blocking and choreography in August. Since then, Ortega said the crew has met weekly for music rehearsals to master the difficult score.


Sweeney Todd: Matthew Ortega
Mrs. Lovett: Carrie Vargas
Anthony Hope: Kris Ludlow
Johanna: Lindsay Decoste
Tobias Ragg: Julianna Goodrum
Judge Turpin: Christopher Goodrum
The Beadle: Mario Bandin
Beggar Woman: Nicole Fiscus
Adolfo Pirelli: David Vargas
Ensemble: Kalei Ashlock, Sergio Barrera, Rain Bovey, Genevieve Burno, Cherish Forbes, Grace Goodrum, Dylan Jaques, Britney Montgomery, Maria Santillan
Johanna: Britney Montgomery
Beggar Woman: Maria Santillan
Crew Director: Matthew Ortega
Assistant Director: Brittney Randolph
Music Director: Lindsay Decoste
Choreographer: Kimi Cunningham Shackelford
Stage Manager: Mario Bandin
Costumes: The Sweeney Todd cast
Light Board Operator: Jerry Allen
Poster Designer: Noelle Wells
Box Office: Rachel Maas, JoAnn Ortega, Mario Ortega

Maricopa High School Theatre Company performed a scene from "Beauty & the Beast" at the ASU Gammage High School Musical Theater Awards June 3. Lillian Chitwood and Carlos O. Venegas were nominated for lead performances, and Venegas won for Outstanding Vocalist. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

It was as close as most Arizona high school students will get to the Tony Awards.

Maricopa High School students showed off just a bit of their production of “Beauty & the Beast” Saturday and walked away with two of the top honors at the ASU Gammage High School Musical Theater Awards.

The evening offered a revue of 19 of the top high school musical productions in the state this school year. Troupes performed a number or a medley of songs from their big musicals, which had been adjudicated by a panel comprised of teachers, ASU faculty and theater students.

Nikolas Mase, now an MHS graduate, played Lumiere in “Beauty & the Beast.” Out of 31 nominees, he received the award for Outstanding Supporting Performance – Male.

Nikolas Mase receives the award for Outstanding Supporting Performance. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

In a field of 46 nominees, Carlos O. Venegas was named Outstanding Vocalist for his performance as the Beast. Having to run to the stage from the back of the hall, he was in shock.

“I didn’t think I was going to get anything,” he said.

It was a unique experience for MHS students. It was the third year of the GHSMT awards but the first year Maricopa had participated.

“It was a lot of work, work, work, but we just had to make sure that we were in our places at the right time,” Mase said. “We took a tour of the Gammage to get us aware of where we were going to be running around.”

Director Cynthia Calhoun selected “Something There” for her students to perform from the show because it included most of those who had been nominated.

After having mixed with several of the other actors at other state competitions and hearing them talk about their musicals, Venegas said he liked being able to see the troupes “in action.” It was a learning experience for Calhoun as well.

“I get to see what other high schools are doing and learn from that,” Calhoun said. “I have validation that we’re on the right track, that what we’re doing is really good and we’re doing what we should be doing.”

Still in full makeup from his performance, Carlos O. Venegas receives the award for Outstanding Vocalist. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School’s other individual nominees:
Best Lead Male: Carlos O. Venegas
Best Lead Female: Lillian Chitwood
Outstanding Supporting Performance (Male): Jeron Hlebasko
Outstanding Supporting Performance (Female): Tyler Curtis, Brook Perona
Outstanding Vocalist: Tyler Curtis, Nikolas Mase
Outstanding Dancer: Stirling Luckey

The cast of "Beauty and the Beast" put on a show. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Adjudicators from Arizona State University Gammage came to see “Beauty and the Beast,” the Mariciopa High School Theatre Company’s spring musical. With this adjudication, the students and the department are competing for Outstanding Musical at the Gammage High School Musical Theatre Awards, to take place on June 3 at 7 p.m. at Gammage Auditorium at ASU.

“Not only are we competing as a company for our whole musical, but students were nominated in their particular roles,” theater instructor Cyndi Calhoun said.

MHS Nominees:
Best Lead Male – Carlos O. Venegas (Beast)
Best Lead Female – Lillian Chitwood (Belle)
Best Supporting Male – Nikolas Mase (Lumiere)
Best Supporting Female – Brook Perona (Wardrobe)
Outstanding Dancer – Chaienne Zoller
Outstanding Vocalist – Carlos O. Venegas

The Best Lead Male and Female from Gammage’s Awards night will have the opportunity to travel to New York City this summer and compete in the 2017 Jimmy Awards (the high school version of the Tony Awards).

To attend Gammage’s awards night and see Maricopa students perform one of the numbers from “Beauty and the Beast,” purchase tickets ($5 each) or for more information CLICK HERE

“Even though the event is general seating, the event is definitely a red carpet affair,” Calhoun said. “Please wish the following students ‘break a leg’ when you see them.”


Important meetings and the city’s monthly Game Night are part of this week’s activities in Maricopa. Below, Sequoia Pathway student Kacie Swaffield invites the community to the school’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” For details on these and other listings, or to add your own, visit https://www.inmaricopa.com/calendar/




Color Yourself Calm is at 11 a.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road.


 A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Maricopa Community Church, 44977 W. Hathaway Ave.




Day Trip to Sedona & Montezuma Castle leaves at 9 a.m. from Copper Sky Multigenerational Center, 44345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.


 Coffee with Friends of the Maricopa Library is at 1:30 p.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road.


 Maricopa Police Explorer Post Meeting is at 5 p.m. at Maricopa High School, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.


Celebrate Recovery Coffee & Karaoke is at 5 p.m. at Maricopa Community Church, 44977 W. Hathaway Ave.


Maricopa Youth Council meets at 6 p.m. in Multipurpose Room A at Copper Sky, 45345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Charcoal Drawing for Everyone, via Copper Sky, is at 6:30 p.m. at Central Arizona College – Maricopa Campus, 17945 N. Regent Drive.




Harrah’s Club 777 Toastmasters meet at 3 p.m. at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, 15406 Maricopa Road.


Parks, Recreation and Libraries Committee meets at 6 p.m. at Maricopa City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza.

MUSD Governing Board Meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at Maricopa Unified School District, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy.




 MUSD Gifted Parent Meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at Saddleback Elementary School, 18600 N. Porter Road.


A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Ak-Chin Social Services, 48227 W. Farrell Road.




Multigenerational Game Night is at 6:30 p.m. at Copper Sky Multigenerational Center, 44345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.


“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is at 7 p.m. at Sequoia Pathway Academy, 19287 N Porter Road.


Strength & Hope Al-Anon Meeting is at 7 p.m. at Community of Hope Church, 45295 W. Honeycutt Ave.




“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. at Sequoia Pathway Academy, 19287 N Porter Road.




A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Maricopa Community Church, 44977 W. Hathaway Ave.

Lillian Chitwood plays Belle in the upcoming production of "Beauty and the Beast," with Carlos Venegas (left) as Beast and Jeron Hlebasko as Gaston. Photo by Mason Callejas

It is sheer coincidence that brings the Disney musical “Beauty & the Beast” to the Maricopa High School stage as the live-action film version is in movie theaters.

What: “Beauty & The Beast”
When: April 20-22, 7 p.m., April 22, 2 p.m.
Where: Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: $5

“I didn’t even make the connection until a few months ago,” said MHS theater instructor Cynthia Calhoun. “I think it’ll all work out OK.”

The musical is the MHS Theatre Company’s effort to “go big again” for its spring production.

After the troupe metaphorically blew the roof off with “Les Miserables” last year, returning players felt they needed to follow up strong.

“I was actually thinking about another show,” Calhoun said. “But I had a couple of actors come to me and suggest this one. I always loved this show and wanted to do it.”

The plot is based on the French tale of a beautiful girl, Belle, who agrees to stay in an enchanted castle at the whims of its beastly proprietor in order to save her father (and escape a handsome but pompous suitor Gaston). The show originated as a 1991 animated film by Disney with songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. When it was later adapted for Broadway, more lyrics were added by Tim Rice.

CAST: Belle – Lillian Chitwood; Beast – Carlos Venegas; Gaston – Jeron Hlebasko; Maurice – Camron Loomis; LeFou – Erick Livingston; Mrs. Potts – Tyler Curtis; Lumiere – Nikolas Mase; Cogsworth – Mahkai Ball; Babette – Kjirsten Lemon; Chip – Adrian Perdomo; Madame de la Grande Bouche – Brook Perona; Monsieur D’Arque – Corey Simmons; Silly Girls – Setera Miller, Hannah Panter, Sarah Ledbetter; Beggar/Enchantress – Kari Bejmowicz; Prince – Jacob Loomis; Villagers – Morgan Lee, Taryn Story, Alex Hurley, Antonio Gonzales, Azeri Hanson, Logan Spaulding, Lindsey Matos, Rebekka Harris, Porter Jones, Aleyna Call, Dylan Stradling, Caleb Wilson, Emily Goncalves, Jacob Loomis, Skylar Trast, Harrison Delap, Francis Trast, Thiraphat Kongeinta, Hannah Crean, Patrice Perrone, McKenzie Durovka, Kaylin Griffin, Brianna Hollingsworth, Landin Thomas, Madison Ewald, Britney Daniels, Alana Daniels, Kayla Matos; Enchanted Objects – Kari Bejmowicz, Evelyn Bates, Chaienne Zoller, Stirling Luckey, Evelyn Young, Haley Lemon, Hailey Gross, Brychelle Jackson, Freya Abraham, Britney Montgomery, RyAnn Liermann, Derek Blakely, Keara Burke, Ivie Keene, Fides Bernales Joie Guela , Lindsay Hubbard, Alexia Esquivel, Savannah Jones, Ethan Stradling, Autumn Fausz, Alexis Price, Heidi Smith, Julia Edens, Tamara Hanania, Dallas Grimm, Justin Atkinson, Wynnie Grissom, Zephanie Coleman, Makayla Horn, Mikayla McLaughlin; Male Swings – Porter Jones, Stirling Luckey; Female Swings – Britney Montgomery, Aidyn Curtis.

In auditions, senior Lillian Chitwood stood out, though she was accustomed to supporting roles. Her work landed her the role of Belle.

“She’s grown so much as an actor,” Calhoun said.

Chitwood said she has been singing her whole life.

“I thought it would be cool to finally get the lead,” she said. “It’s hard being confident in myself, that I can do this.”

Belle sets the stage for the production by singing the song “Belle” with the villagers, and that happens to be Chitwood’s favorite. To pick up tips for creating different chemistry with different characters, she has studied other productions on YouTube.com.

The Beast is played by senior Carlos Venegas. He was also the lead in “Les Miserables” and scored a “superior” at Central Arizona Festival of Theatre this year with a highlight number from that musical to qualify for international competition.

“I’ve always wanted to do the show of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ since I was younger,” Venegas said. “Like in my mind I thought, if I ever did ‘Beauty and the Beast’ I really, really want to be Beast. And so when I finally got the opportunity I went for it. I wanted it really bad.”

Jeron Hlebasko was just as eager to play the arrogant Gaston. Calhoun pointed out the senior was used to playing romantic love interests, like Marius in “Les Miserables.” He wanted a change, and Gaston fit the bill.

“He wasn’t always on stage but he was someone big, someone important, someone just powerful,” Hlebasko said. “I prefer power over calm.”

Like Belle and Beast, his character is well-known, and Hlebasko wants to add his own flair. “I want to be able to add a little more of who I am into it,” he said.

Calhoun is working with a cast of around 80 students. Technical and construction students are vital to the production as well, building a castle and village. Art students are creating 3D objects to complete the set.

This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Grace Castellanos (left) and Derek Reiher perform in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

It’s a story about rebellion against asylum-hood oppression.

Although the setting for the award-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took place decades ago, acting students at Sequoia Pathway Academy are learning about mental health awareness in today’s society by portraying patients inside a psychiatric ward.

The play opens April 28 at 7 p.m., has two performance April 29 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and closes May 5 with a show time of 7 p.m.

Acting teacher and director David Blanchard said the play shows students the advancements in mental health that have taken place since the play was written, as well as improvements the health system has yet to make.

“We are looking at the state of mental health in America even today … where you can see that not much has really changed,” Blanchard said.

The central characters in the play, R.P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched are played by Derek Reiher and Kacie Swaffield, respectively.

CAST (in order of appearance)
Chief Bromden: Grace Castellanos
Aide Warren: Jaiden Simcic
Aide Williams: Mauryce Harper
Nurse Ratched: Kacie Swaffield
Nurse Flinn: Nina Sarappo
Dale Harding: Abigail Paternina
Billy Bibbit: Jeremy Greifer
Charlie Cheswick: Rachel Couts
Scanlon: Mason Whitted
Martini: Rachel Griffin
Ruckly: Elizabeth Prentice
Randle P. McMurphy: Derek Reiher
Dr. Spivey: Cadel Grisinger
Candy Starr: Kaytlin Bovey
Aide Turkle: Calvin Wright
Sandra: Halley Sanchez
Other patients: Bryanna Juarez, Jillian Alvarez, Jillian Miller, Kiva Deluca, Lexi Vargas

Reiher, who was cast in the school’s previous productions of “Grease” and “Spoon River Anthology,” said his biggest challenge in this play is capturing the essence of the insubordinate McMurphy.

Specifically, Reiher said the obstacle has been figuring out “how to release all this embodiment of the character and find who this character is and what I have inside myself to bring it out.”

The acting class of 24 students, the majority of whom are female, required Blanchard to switch the genders of certain characters.

Sophomore Grace Castellanos plays Chief Bromden, a traditionally male role.

“I personally think it’s pretty cool because I get to play a strong, empowered character that’s supposed to be male – as a female – which is kind of empowering to me,” Castellanos said.

Another aspect of the production is unique: The set.

The play takes place inside the school’s multipurpose building, which has a stage. However, actors will not perform on it this time.

Instead, the performance will take place in the center of the building’s floor surrounded by the audience, providing the play-goers with an immersive experience.

“We are going to sit them and kind of make them feel like they are all patients in the mental ward, too,” Blanchard said. “They just don’t know it yet.”

Tickets can be purchased at SequoiaPathway.org or at the door. Adult prices are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Student prices are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.

Photo by Michelle Chance
Photo by Michelle Chance

This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Wit" will be on stage Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

As the human body shuts down, the mind can race into strange territory. The battle between the intellectual and the physical, poetry and science in the last days of life is at the center of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Wit,” to be performed Saturday by the Maricopa High School Theatre Company.

If You Go
What: “Wit”
When: April 1, 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Where: Black Box Theatre on west side to MHS Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
Who: MHS Theatre Company
How much: Free (donations encouraged)

“Wit” is the second student-directed production of the season, following the entertaining whodunit “And Then There Were None.”

Directed by senior Carlos Venegas, “Wit” has a cast of students and teachers. Performances are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre at the Performing Arts Center.

“I’ve wanted to direct a show ever since my sophomore year, and this year it’s actually become a reality,” Venegas said.

He and “Wit” have something of a history.

“I’ve done projects on it since my sophomore year, and it kept coming up,” he said. “Finally, we were like, ‘Let’s just do it.’”

The partnered project two years ago included creating a technical design with which he was not satisfied. He tackled it again his junior year and was much happier with the results.

“That’s when I really grew attached to the show,” Venegas said.

First performed in 1995 and written by Margaret Edson, the play has appeared on and off-Broadway, winning Obie and Tony awards.

The central character, Vivian Bearing, is a professor of English literature in the final stages of terminal ovarian cancer. She is undergoing relentless tests and has become the subject of study by medical students in the hospital. And she is not exactly likeable.

“She is a very cold, uncompromising, very highly-motivated, driven professor,” said MHS drama instructor Cynthia Calhoun, who plays Vivian. “She comes across as actually incredibly mean. For her, knowledge is everything.”

The script is comprised of many monologues for Vivian as she tries to approach her fate cerebrally at first. Her specialty is the 17th century poetry of John Donne, whose metaphysical work plays a big part in her mental exercises as she deals with bad news after bad news.

A clinical fellow on the oncology team is one of her former students (played by Collin Martin), but it is soon clear he is not very different from Vivian – sentiment-free – and his interest in her is only as a scientific study rather than a dying human needing kindness.

Not just a keen portrait of the cancer experience, “Wit” is intellectual, stark, transforming and often bitingly funny.

“I majored in English when I first found this play when I was doing my master’s degree in English, and I wrote about it and loved it,” Calhoun said. “Something struck me about this character. She’s having to live with this illness, and it’s terminal, and she knows it’s going to kill her; she knows it’s going to affect her quality of life, and she knows they’re trying to do research. Me personally, I live with chronic illness, and there’s no cure, no treatment for it. I completely understand that feeling like a little piece of her body is giving up as she goes through this. Each new scene, it’s like another piece is done.”

Venegas said directing has been an education.

“I had no idea about a lot of the stuff that happens behind the scenes because I’ve always been on stage,” he said. He’s been helped out by assistant director Rachel Blakely, who also stepped in to play a role.

While Calhoun has enjoyed not having the burden of directing “And Then There Were None” and “Wit,” it has been a challenge keeping her fingers out of the decision-making process.

“I know all of the little pieces of things that need to happen for it all to come together, and the hard part for me is not jumping in and saying, ‘You need to do this and this and this,’” she said. “Carlos is perfectly capable of that, but there’s a point where he has to figure out how he’s going to get certain technical things done, how he’s going to make set changes happen.

“It’s been kind fun to watch.”

Students auditioned for most of the roles, but Venegas directly asked Calhoun and teacher Tyler Miller, who plays Dr. Kelekian. It is his stage debut.

Rounding out the cast are Kari Bejmowicz, Nikolas Mase, Ivie Keene, Chaienne Zoller, Aleyna Call and Mahkai Ball.

Admission is free, but donations are encouraged to help defray costs of sending state-qualifying student-actors to national competition this summer.

Still to come April 20-22 is the MHS Theatre Company’s big spring musical, “Beauty & the Beast.”

Go under the sea with the "The Little Mermaid" at Legacy Traditional School Feb. 24-25. Photo by Mason Callejas

Legacy Traditional School will present its annual theatrical production Feb. 24, a junior rendition of a Disney classic — “The Little Mermaid.”

Under the guidance of Legacy Musical Director Michelle Wagner, the 120-student cast will be wrapping up rehearsals this week in anticipation for their opening night performance.

This year’s musical, Wagner said, is special not only for its imaginative nature, but also because it showcases the many facets of the human spirit.

“This one has a lot of emotional contrast,” Wagner said.  “We have the evil side of it with Ursula, and then we have the joy and the love with Prince Eric and Ariel, there is just so much character change and costume change and color change that really makes it magical for the audience to be a part of.”

Now, in the final days of production, Wagner couldn’t be more excited to see all the hard work coming together.

“We actually start preparing through the summer, so as soon as school is done we start preparations with all the adults,” she said. “We start auditions the second week of school, in August. Then, we start rehearsals a week after that and we’ve been going ever since, nonstop.”

The school changes the production each year in an effort to keep things fresh for the students who have been involved in theater for so long.

“There’s a lot of students who have been a part of it since kindergarten, so we’ve never repeated a musical, to keep them inspired and excited about musical productions,” Wagner said.

Eighth grade student Taya Johnson has been acting in Legacy School plays for five years now, but this is her first performance as a lead character — Ariel. And, as she put it, it couldn’t have been a better role.

Taya Johnson as Ariel. Photo by Mason Callejas
Taya Johnson as Ariel. Photo by Mason Callejas

“I’ve been doing these plays since fourth grade, and this year I wanted to go for, you know, the person that’s on the shirt, the Disney princess,” Johnson said as she pointed at a classmates T-shirt bearing the mermaid’s likeness. “So, I’m so excited.”

Estraya Ellyson, also an eighth grade student, is playing the role of the antagonist — Ursula — and is equally excited about the role.

“Being Ursula has probably been the highlight of my life, “ Ellyson said. “She has probably been my favorite Disney villain since I was like 6.”

Ellyson expressed her appreciation for the hard working team of actors, actresses and crew members.

“I love my cast. They’re not just cast; they’re family. They are really just the best people I could ask for,” Ellyson said. “And the director and the stage crew, they’re just amazing.”

The first of three performances will be Friday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m., with two performances happening the following day Saturday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. all in the Legacy Traditional School Auditorium.

Pre-purchased general admission tickets are $5 and can be bought through the school by calling 520-423-9999. General admission tickets purchased at the door will cost $7, while reserved seats in the front two rows will cost $10-20.

The MHS production of "Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in the Performing Arts Center. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Theatre Company is taking a trip to “Narnia” this week with its interpretation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

The show opened Thursday night in the Performing Arts Center. It is appropriate for families, and the opening-night crowd included several youngsters.

Similar to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the set and costuming of this well-known story are as important to the staging as the actors. The MHS crew comes through admirably on that score, and good light management enhances the other-worldliness for a fun theater experience.

The plot follows the Pevensie children, sent out to the English countryside during World War II for safekeeping, who discover an unlikely passage to the magical world of Narnia. There, a White Witch is trying to usurp the throne of the rightful king, the lion Aslan. The Pevensies must quickly judge which side they are on.

The youngest brother Edmund ultimately has the most soul-searching to do as his self-centered actions endanger not just his siblings but the entire land. Played perfectly by Brandon Korritky, his defiance of his older brother Peter, prevarications and craving for special treatment by the White Witch are clearly portrayed without completely stripping him of sympathy.

The question becomes whether he can be salvaged by Aslan, voiced by Nikolas Mase, who also plays the Professor and Santa. Mase’s voice has just the gravity needed for the royal role. The giant lion is completed by puppetry created by Todd and Dylan Stradling and operated by Christian Patten and Isabella Garza.

Also delivering as the other Pevensies are that same Dylan Stradling as noble if officious Peter, Setera Miller as good-natured Susan and Sarah Ledbetter as young Lucy, who instigates the entire family adventure by hiding in a wardrobe.

Tyler Curtis as the White Witch in "Narnia." Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Tyler Curtis as the White Witch in “Narnia.” Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Tyler Curtis clearly relishes her part as the evil White Witch. Whether manipulating Edmund, torturing a faun or bossing around wolves, she commands the stage whenever she appears.

That faun, Mr. Tumnus, is played with great vulnerability and nervous energy by Porter Jones. Tumnus’ friendship with Lucy is sweetly played.

The Pevensies also befriend Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (Derek Blakely and Hannah Panter). They are all hunted by the witch’s army of wolves, led by Carlos O. Venegas and Ivie Keene.

The cast is filled out with dozens of students playing woodland animals and mystical creatures in fun bits of costuming.

The story was adapted by teacher Cynthia Calhoun, who also directs.  The technical crew is led by teacher Kevin Piquette, who designed the set created by his students. Amid the staged forest, important elements like the witch’s sleigh and the wardrobe function as they should to tell the story.

The show runs through Saturday. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday. Cost is $5.

A dress-rehearsal glimpse of MHS Theatre Company's "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." Submitted photo

The Maricopa High School Theatre Company is on a fantasy bent this year.

If You Go
What: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
Who: Maricopa High School Theatre Company
When: Nov. 10-11, 7 p.m., Nov. 12, 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Where: MHS Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: $5

The fall production is “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In spring, look for the students’ version of the musical “Beauty and the Beast.”

The journey to Narnia is Nov. 10-12 at 7 p.m., plus a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is based on the book by C.S. Lewis and is adapted for the stage by Cindi Calhoun, the MHS teacher who heads the theater department.

Calhoun wrote the play over the summer. She said the well-known story should draw families to the Performing Arts Center for a night of entertainment.

She said she kept very close to the book, which is full of good and evil, betrayal, redemption, mythical creatures and assorted talking animals. It follows the adventures of the four Pevensie children in wartime England. Sent out of London during the Blitz, they stay in the country home of a professor.

The youngest child, Lucy, finds an old wardrobe and quickly discovers it is a portal to the mystical land of Narnia, which is completely encased in eternal winter and ruled by the White Witch. Lucy’s older siblings eventually follow her there. They become the center of a power struggle between the White Witch and the lion Aslan, the rightful king, who has reappeared after a long absence.

Some of the cast members of MHS Theatre Company’s production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: (clockwise from left) Ivie Keene, Carlos O. Venegas, Brandon Korittky, Hannah Panter and Kjirsten Lemon.
Some of the cast members of MHS Theatre Company’s production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: (clockwise from left) Ivie Keene, Carlos O. Venegas, Brandon Korittky, Hannah Panter and Kjirsten Lemon.

“This is the first time I’ve had a super-intensive villain role,” said senior Tyler Curtis, who plays the White Witch. Theater-goers may remember her as Madame Thenardier in MHSTC’s spring production of “Les Miserables.”

“She’s evil because she likes it,” Curtis said. “She wants power.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is senior Sarah Ledbetter, who plays Lucy, an 8 year old. “Apparently I’m great at playing children,” she said. She was Gavroche in “Lez Miz,” but this is her first major role.

“I’m kind of stepping out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Ledbetter said the planning for this production has been very smooth. Part of that is put on the shoulders of the stage manager, sophomore Aidyn Curtis (Tyler’s little sister). She helps with blocking and calling cues. She’s also in charge of attendance at rehearsals.

Aidyn has performed in previous MHS productions, but now has a perspective from the other side of the footlights.

“I did really enjoy the audition and call-back process,” she said.

Scores of students have been cast. It is not uncommon for an actor to take on more than one role, but senior Nikolas Mase has three parts. Mase will give voice to Aslan while also playing the professor and Santa.

The White Witch’s henchmen are wolves, and leading up the pack are senior Carlos O. Venegas and junior Ivie Keene. Both have been very active with the theater program and read together during casting.

“I’ve always wanted to play bad guys,” said Keene, who also loves the fantasy aspect of the story.

Venegas, who, like Tyler Curtis, intends to major in theater, said he loves that the play adaptation is Calhoun’s work.

Submitted photo
Submitted photo

‘Passing Strange’ re-imagines Othello; ‘Ideal Husband’ a teen production

Writer and director Carrie Vargas instructs performers and production team members at a rehearsal for the Maricopa Community Theater presentation of "Passing Strange." From left: Mario Bandin, Aleyna Call (seated in background), Brittany Ames, Jerrt Allen, Ivie Keene (stage manager) and Carrie Vargas (writer/director). Photo by R. Mason Callejas

By R. Mason Callejas

This October under the direction of Carrie Vargas the Maricopa Community Theater is presenting “Passing Strange,” an original adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Othello.”

In the more than 400 years since its inception, Shakespeare’s tale of the Moor of Venice has been reproduced in more than 12 languages for stages and screens around the globe. Considered by many to be one of the most influential of Elizabethan tragedies, the play has undergone many adaptations since its creation in an attempt to perpetuate its themes of love and jealousy.

As both writer and director Vargas amalgamates classic themes of envy and betrayal with modernity, politics and race to introduce a fresh arrangement of the timeless follies of human nature.

“This production will be a world premiere,” Vargas said. “The play utilizes technology from news reports, to text messaging and FaceTime to weave the tale of manipulation, love, deception and the race for the White House.”

Stars of the play are Jerry Allen as General Edward Morrison, Brittany Ames as Camilla Brabantio-Morrison, Mario Bandin as Michael Cassio, Aleyna Call as Emily Barrett and Ashley Riecken as Talon Barrett.

Performers Ashley Riecken and Matthew Call rehearse for the Maricopa Community Theater's October presentation of "Passing Strange", an original adaption of Shakespeare's Othello. Photo by R. Mason Callejas
Performers Ashley Riecken and Matthew Call rehearse for the Maricopa Community Theater’s October presentation of “Passing Strange”, an original adaption of Shakespeare’s Othello. Photo by R. Mason Callejas

Other players are May McCarthy, David Vargas, Maria Santillan, Matthew Call, Brian Holman, Simon Crawford, Britney Montgomery, Kylie Nolan, Precious Suares, Kylee Tetzloff and Katie Campbell.

“Passing Strange” will be performed at the Maricopa High School Lecture Hall Oct. 27-28 at 7 p.m., and Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available in advance for $10 and at the door for $15. A student-only preview will be presented Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. Students with a current, valid student ID will be able to see the production for $5 on Oct. 26 only.

Also in October, Maricopa Community Theater’s teen troupe is producing yet another witty English classic – Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband.”

The play stars Dylan Stradling, Ashley Lynn, Elizabeth Prentice and Lawrence Valdivia.

Other players include Joycelyn Cabrera, Ashley Riecken, Rain Bovey, Maria Santillan, Simon Crawford, and Ethan Stradling.

“An Ideal Husband” is scheduled for performance at the Maricopa High School’s Lecture Hall Oct. 13-14 at 7 p.m., and Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.


MaricopaCommunityTheatre.org for tickets