Andrean theatre program finds itself in the spotlight
Andrean High School junior Matthew Tarala sings during the AHS Theatre Coffeehouse, an open-mic event for student performances, at the Merrillville school's cafeteria on Sept. 8. Tarala said the theatrical events have helped him discover his expressive talent. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)
by MARLENE A. ZLOZA
Northwest Indiana Catholic
MERRILLVILLE – Boasting more students than any other extracurricular activity at Andrean High School, the theater program is reaching for the stars this fall as it builds upon a successful summer.
Rehearsals are well underway for the fall production, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” but just one stage is not big enough to hold all the young talent bursting from the wings, leading AHS Theatre Director Stephen Grabek to introduce three years ago Theatre Coffeehouse, a kind of open mic night offered several times each school year.
“It’s all student performers, with maybe a teacher or two taking the stage,” said Grabek, a Pied Piper who arrived at AHS in 2013 and brought new energy to the drama department. “We outgrew our theater, so we’ve moved into the cafeteria.”
Grabek said performers “can do anything you want to do – acting, dancing, play guitar, tap dance, magic. . .” while audience members pay $5 for three hours or more of live entertainment. “We start at 5 p.m. and go until about 8 or 8:30, and people can stay all night and enjoy all the coffee, tea and baked goods they like while watching the acts.”
The first Theatre Coffeehouse of the season was held Sept. 8, and featured everything from vocal percussion to card tricks. A father-and-son act, Daniel and Dean, performed a U2 song, while Alyssa Maldonado sang the Norah Jones hit “Don’t Know Why.” A group drew laughs and applause for their impersonations of a teacher, a presidential candidate and other characters, while senior Ogunde Snelling brought down the house with his rendition of “Don’t Let Me Go” from the musical “Shrek,” set to reach the AHS stage next spring. Tech crew member Paul Maicher had classmates gasping in awe and asking “How did you do that?” after performing a series of card tricks.
Freshman Miller Hesterman, of Calumet Twp., stunned the crowd with a polished beatboxing (sound effects) routine that suggests an appearance on the AHS stage is in his future. “I made a lot of silly noises when I was younger and realized I could do it, but this was the first time I’ve done it in front of an audience, and with a microphone,” Hesterman said. “It was nice (to get a positive response).”
For those who like a more traditional theater experience, Andrean’s fall play, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” opens Oct. 6, telling the story of how an orphan became Peter Pan.
“We are one of the first high schools in the country to perform it,” said Grabek. “I saw a professional production last October and since then, every day I checked to see when the rights were available, and I was on it within two hours.”
Adapted from a 2004 novel, the play was written by Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys,” “The Addams Family”) and won five Tony Awards in 2012. “I’ve been wanting to do this show since I heard of it,” added Grabek, who sat in on a Q-and-A with Elice during the dramaturg (script consultant) workshop. “This play is about taking a character that everyone (already) knows and loves and telling his story in a way that people will relate to and understand.”
The cast of 12 is also challenged by the rigorous action. “This show is very, very physical and takes a lot of endurance and strength,” Grabek revealed. “Cast members play a multitude of roles, there are boats and a large rope to handle. . .and we find out how Captain Hook lost his hand.”
In the lead role is senior Ogunde Snelling, one of five AHS thespians who returned with honors from the Educational Theatre Association’s International Thespian Festival this summer in Nebraska.
“Two of our acts placed in the highest category with Superior rankings,” reported Grabek - the duet “Confrontation” by Snelling and Tyree Austin from the musical “Jekyll and Hyde,” and the duet “Mushnik and Son” by 2016 graduate Mark J. Judge and junior Zach Scalzitti from “Little Shop of Horrors,” while 2016 graduate Joey Albomonte earned an Excellent ranking for his solo, “You’ll Be Back,” from “Hamilton.”
“They did a great job to make it that far and perform that well,” added Grabek, “and they had the opportunity to attend workshops and learn from professionals, and to network with their peers from all over the country.” Judge and Albomonte are both pursuing acting and musical studies this fall at Ball State University.
Grabek also hosted Andrean’s first Summer Theatre Camp for students entering grades 6 to 9, teaching improvisation, character development, dance and stage combat with help from several AHS students.
Andrean High School XX sings during the AHS Theatre Coffeehouse, an open-mic event for student performances, at the Merrillville school's cafeteria on Sept. 8. Debuting three years ago, the talent night is a creative outlet for members of the theatre department, Andrean's largest extracurricular group. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)
Andrean High School junior Paul Maicher performs a card trick for his classmates during the AHS Theatre Coffeehouse, an open-mic event for student performances, at the Merrillville school's cafeteria on Sept. 8. Debuting three years ago, the talent night is a creative outlet for members of the theatre department, Andrean's largest extracurricular group.
(Anthony D. Alonzo photo)