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Jesuit theater bash celebrates decade of stage performances

by: Jaime Valdez, HOMECOMING — A lighter moment during a recent rehearsal includes, from left, Abby Irwin (partially blocked by piano, Jill Ferris, Lisa Ferris, Courtney Freed, Miko de Leon and Mike McKinsey.

Jeff Hall originally thought it would be great if he could assemble a couple dozen Jesuit High School alumni in honor of Saturday's 10th anniversary of the Alex L. Parks Performing Arts Center.

When he found 30 to 40 interested thespians, the chairman of the school's fine arts department was ecstatic.

'I think my last count was 93 performers,' Hall said of the one-of-a-kind performance.

What they will do is share their journeys of what they've been involved with since high school in song and story, reprising highlights of their performance years as well.

'It really is just a conglomeration of songs and stories,' said Hall. 'It's going to be pretty spectacular.'

Hall, who along with Elaine Klosser, serves as co-director of the Jesuit's theater department, said Saturday's performance will include songs from musicals over the last decade - everything from 'Beauty and the Beast' to 'Bat Boy the Musical.'

Hall said the gathering is also to celebrate the new performing arts center, which can hold about 500 audience members, almost three times the capacity of the old creative arts center.

'It's a beautiful facility,' he said. 'We're extremely fortunate.'

Because the returning alums are spread throughout the country, the holidays proved to be the most logical time to put on the show since so many have come home to visit family and friends.

A surprising number of those returning graduates have gone on to make names for themselves in musical or acting endeavors including Mandy Bruno from the class of 2000.

Bruno, 26, earned an Emmy nomination for her role as Marina Cooper on CBS' daytime soap opera 'Guiding Light,' made her Broadway debut this past year in 'Les Miserables' and appeared in an off-Broadway production of 'Frankenstein.'

She was part of a group who was gathered around the piano last week, practicing 'Once Upon A Time' from 'Brooklyn: The Musical.'

'I am stoked,' Mandy Bruno said of Saturday's event. 'This is awesome.'

Joining her on stage will be her sister, Megan Bruno, a 2005 Jesuit graduate who is going to school to become a nurse with plans to focus on pediatric oncology. Megan Bruno said she wants to incorporate music and dance therapies in the treatment of young cancer patients.

The sisters appeared together in the 1999 production of 'Children of Eden.'

Another set of sisters - Jill and Lisa Ferris - will perform as well.

Jill Ferris, who graduated last year, recalls being a Munchkin in Jesuit's production of 'The Wiz' when she was only 9 years old.

'I remember there were about 30 of us and we had (15 of) the girls over for a sleepover,' the 19-year-old recalled. 'That was a lot of fun. We had ice cream and stayed up all night.'

Jill Ferris is attending Oregon State University where she is a business major hoping to go into advertising or something in the fashion field.

Her sister, Lisa Ferris, 25, was in 'The Wiz' as well, performing as the Yellow Brick Road.

'There were 12 of us,' she recalled. 'We were dancers.'

Lisa Ferris, who graduated in 2001, said although there's a six year age difference between her and her sister, acting has always been the one thing they shared in common.

She most recently performed in the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City and is currently enrolled in the MFA program for acting at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

'Everything I've learned and applied to my professional career, I've learned here,' said Lisa Ferris.

Of her former director, she said Hall always treated everyone like professionals with a constant mantra of 'always tell the story,' reminding them that their acting talents were gifts.

Even as the actors took a break to review the upcoming performance, Hall reminded them of that purpose.

'We are all trying to tell a story,' he said. 'We're not the beginning of the story and we're not the end of the story.'

Also appearing in Saturday's celebration will be Abby (Irwin) Kilcoyne, a 1999 graduate who is now a vocal music and drama teacher at a school near Boulder, Colo.

Kilcoyne, 26, graduated from Ithaca College in New York where she was involved in music and belonged to an a cappella group.

'I'm really looking forward to it,' she said. 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.'

Kilcoyne, who appeared in such high school productions as 'The Wiz' and 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' said she's finding it fun to return to a place that played an integral part in shaping her as a person.

Two other returning actors include Miko de Leon, a 2004 graduate, and Nick Ardell, who graduated in 2001.

De Leon said he was happy to be part of the ensemble.

'I think it's such a fascinating experience to be part of,' said de Leon. 'I don't even know half of (those attending). The fact there's 90 people is incredible.' De Leon graduated from New York University with a BFA in theater and has been auditioning for acting jobs.

Both de Leon and Ardell appeared in Jesuit's performance of 'Westside Story' with Ardell playing the part of Tony.

'That was probably my most memorable experience from high school,' Ardell said.

Ardell most recently performed in the New York Musical Theater Festival, a grouping of off-Broadway shows.

'We were the first show in the history of the festival to sell out in three days,' he said, noting that producers often attend the festivals searching for shows to pick up.

Also planning to make appearances in the show will be Isaac Lamb, who is touring the country with his award-winning, one-man show, 'Defending the Caveman.' Lamb, who graduated in 1998, will make his motion picture debut this month in 'North Starr,' featured at the Sundance Film Festival.

Mike 'Tuba' McKinsey also will be on stage Saturday. McKinsey, a 1997 grad, is fresh off the road, having performed in tours that took him to Alaska and London.

Meanwhile, co-director Hall said if his former students are having half as much fun as he is in preparing for Saturday, they're in great shape.

The alumni will meet at a local restaurant afterwards to celebrate.

'It's going to be a blast,' he said.

Tickets for the performance are $50 for gallery seating. For tickets, go to www.jesuitportland.org/pac.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a catered reception in the lobby with the performance set for 7 p.m. and followed by a dessert reception.