This year's Middle School Musical, 'The Pirates of Penzance,' promises laughter, vivid characters and elaborate stage sets and costumes. Arrrr!
by: Nicole DeCosta, 
From left: Michael Johnson, from Athey Creek Middle School; Reed Sturtevant, also from Athey Creek; and Sam Huck from Rosemont Ridge Middle School take a ride on a large ship prop used in the play “The Pirates of Penzance.” In the play, the characters the boys play are interconnected through hilarious events and heartfelt songs.

Police officers peeked from tall archways.

Flashes of blue, red and green spin about and stopped to reveal colorful female characters, dressed in bonnets.

A slew of pirates rushed the stage, stopped - danced a little - and pranced amid the girls, batting their eyelashes and laughing.

Known as the Middle School Musical, the talent showcase started 13 years ago and blends students from three middle schools in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District into two casts to perform a play.

This year, Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Pirates of Penzance' will run April 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17 at Wilsonville High School's auditiorium.

'It's a very festive and colorful atmosphere and community,' said Dana Edvalson, in charge of stage directing and production.

'In addition (to the students), adults and family members are involved. At intermission they're putting on fake tattoos and selling concessions in pirate outfits.'

The hilarious operetta is produced like a musical comedy for modern times. The storyline follows a boy - Frederic, played by Matt Spady and Sam Huck - who is apprenticed to pirates by his hard-of-hearing nurse. The play follows his conflict between being a pirate and fighting them, as a loyal British subject.

Then he meets Mabel, his love interest - played by Emma Davis and Aubrey Cleland. After pirate raids, Frederic's back-and-forth service with the pirates and a police defeat, Frederic is reunited to Mabel and her sisters are promised to pirates, who turn out to be nobel men gone wrong.

Barbara Vardanega brings the play's songs to life through her piano.

Practicing two to three days a week after school since school resumed after winter break, the middle school students from Athey Creek, Rosemont Ridge and Wood learned how to juggle homework and extra-curricular activities with play practice. Spady of Rosemont Ridge said he depended on his mom to run through his lines with him.

'I would go home and look through my lines - a lot,' said Spady. 'Now I've got 'em all down and focus on other things. We use a lot of eye contact on stage.'

At a Friday rehearsal, 120 kids in the play - 60 in each cast - fixed their costumes, juggled, went over dance routines and laughed, a lot.

'I really like this play mostly because of all the humor,' said Carolyn Cruze from Athey Creek, dressed in blue uniform and wearing a painted mustache. 'Even the smallest part has a really big impact. As a police officer, I'm going to make the most of my part.'

Parents sat in the stands to grab a glimpse of the choreographed numbers in the dress rehearsal.

'It's always exciting to make people laugh. If you have a big crowd and something funny happens it's great to see the reaction,' said Michael Johnson, who plays Major General.

In addition to the play's comic relief, students said they also enjoy singing for the audience. Sam Huck said he looks forward to belting out his lines; Jefferson Chandler from Athey Creek - who plays Samuel - said his biggest challenge this year is, 'hitting those high notes on my solo.'

'My character is whimsical,' he said. 'He's funny. I also goof off, like my character.'

Carli Moshofsky said her role as a daughter is special; while she's playing her role on stage she's also performing next to her father, John Moshofsky, a teacher from Athey Creek. Her mom, Ginger, and sister, Katie, help behind the scenes.

The play is a family event for many - with parents coordinating costumes, rides to and from practice, make-up and hair arrangements and taking lots of photos.

Middle School Musicals is a self-funding organization. Money comes from ticket sales, concessions - coordinated through Music and Arts Partners - and support from various groups, according to Edvalson.

And while a lot of efforts are concentrated beforehand to organize the event, when the spotlight hits and a large ship is wheeled onto stage and the songs begin, the play comes to life. The actors take over, showcasing months of practice, perfection and silly pirate mannerisms.

And they learn how to work as a team.

'Their enthusiasm makes for really fun theater. They get the jokes. They learn how to support each other rather than be competitive. They meet kids from other schools,' said Edvalson. 'We talk a lot about loyalty to one another. I enjoy watching (the students) take ownership of the play.'

To purchase tickets, visit the Athey Creek school Web site at and click on 'MS Musical.' Wilsonville High School is located at 6800 S.W. Wilsonville Road in Wilsonville.

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