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Riverdale teens ready for 'challenge' with winter musical

Actors say they're adjusting to the 1950s era for their roles in 'The Pajama Game'


SUBMITTED PHOTO: NATASHA PEREIRA - Isabel Pereira and Zion Smith rehearse a scene from Riverdale High Schools winter musical, The Pajama Game. Riverdale High School’s winter musical, “The Pajama Game,” opens tonight and runs through Sunday at the World Trade Center Theater in Portland, and cast members have expressed a lot of excitement about the 1950s-era Broadway show.

“As a cast, I feel as if we all have faced some challenges starting out: learning the music and singing it in the style of our characters, with passion,” says junior Ben Richmond, who plays Pop. “But our directors and fellow cast mates with more musical experience have been very helpful to me, and all of us, to perfect the music.”

Clara Hillier, co-director and choreographer of the show, says one of the challenges for students faced is adopting the mindset, physicality and social rules of a small town in the 1950s.

Junior Isabel Pereira, who plays Babe Williams, one of the female leads, has enjoyed the discussions the cast has had about gender roles, job security, labor unions and what the world looked like after World War II.

“It’s mostly just thinking about the lines the character says and how that motivates them to move from place to place,” Pereira says. “We sat down and talked with our directors beforehand about why our characters make the decisions that they do.”

Bailey Grayson, a senior playing Gladys Hotchkiss, another lead role, says that one challenge she faced is becoming her character entirely.

“Sometimes, I notice that instead of me being present in the moment as a character, I am in fact being and acting as myself,” Grayson says. “It is something I work very hard at, thinking about what my character would do rather than how I feel I would react or respond in a situation. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but I think it will always be something I need to work at.”

The large cast includes 26 actors and a crew of about eight students.

“One thing that I really think is going to stand out in this musical will be the dynamics and quality of the music,” Grayson says. “Our music director, Rob Fishel, is making a huge effort to make every note and phrase perfect.”

Fishel, a musician and conductor in Portland’s professional theater scene, was also involved with Riverdale’s production of “Urinetown” in 2014. Heath Koerschgen is once again co-directing with Hillier.

Even with all the extra time working on music and choreography, senior Zion Smith, who plays male lead Sid Sorokin, says the end results will be worth it.

“I think the audience will really enjoy the characters,” Pereira says. “They are really fun and lively, and there are a lot of jokes.”

Grayson is eager to share this musical with peers.

“I know many students are unfamiliar with this musical,” Grayson says, “so I am looking forward to showing them the humor, beautiful songs and choreography.”

Just a few weeks ago, Hillier said she expected choreography could pose the biggest challenge for the cast of this Broadway hit.

“Bob Fosse created the original choreography for the show, so I’m greatly influenced by his styling,” Hillier said.

Heather Crow is the marketing and communications coordinator for Riverdale School District.

If you go

When: 7 p.m. today-Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday,

Where: World Trade Center Theater, 121 S.W. Salmon St., Portland.

Cost: Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for students and seniors. Tickets are available on the Riverdale School District website: www.riverdaleschool.com, or at the door.