Students prep for 19th annual middle school musical

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Logan Williamson, Nathaniel Colman and Sam Raffetto, all from Athey Creek, practice their roles. The stage at West Linn High School was packed on Monday night with hundreds of middle school students, each decked out in colorful costumes and belting out their lines with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation.

The 19th annual middle school musical won’t debut for another week, but Monday’s costume parade allowed students from two casts to pose for pictures in full costume while also performing two numbers from the play. Between cast and crew, more than 100 students from Athey Creek, Wood, Three Rivers Charter and Rosemont Ridge middle schools signed up for the musical, which this year is a rendition of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

The parade was a whirlwind, with students shuffled left and right across the stage and grouped together for an array of poses in front of assorted parents in the audience. In the middle of it all was Dana Edvalson, the show’s artistic director since its debut back in 1995.

During the photo portion of the parade, Edvalson pointed and directed where exactly each student should go, and when the time came to run through a few of “Joseph’s” numbers she was not shy about stopping midway through with precise suggestions.

“I think we need to cut down the hugging with Joseph here. It throws everything off.”

“Guys coming down into the aisles: You’re happy! Show it.”

Edvalson certainly knows what she’s talking about — this is the fourth time she’s directed “Joseph,” which also happened to be the first middle school musical put on by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. But that experience doesn’t necessarily make the rehearsal process any easier.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Nathaniel Colman plays the lead role of Joseph on the 'N' cast of the Middle School Musical.

“It’s more challenging than last year when I did ‘Pirates of Penzance,’” Edvalson said. “Because everyone’s on stage at the same time. But that makes more energy for the whole cast, that makes it great for the audience because they can see their kids the whole entire time.”

Edvalson has also been forced to adjust to the loss of longtime vocal director Barbara Vardanega, who left the musical last year to focus on her teaching duties at Athey Creek. The departure left Edvalson unsure of the musical’s future, but she knew that she wanted it to continue in some capacity.

“I don’t think it was ever in jeopardy,” Edvalson said. “Because I knew the district wanted to keep doing it, and I was willing to keep doing it. ... I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll see what happens.’”

The musical eventually received grant money from Music and Arts Partners, a nonprofit organization that funds arts and music in the district, and hired a new vocal director — Reggie Stegmeier — as well as orchestra director Amy Biancardi.

Though adding those two new faces has been “terrific,” according to Edvalson, the three have faced a new challenge this year without Vardanega as a direct connection within the schools.

“There’s a tremendous amount of time put into this, and neither one of them are in the school district — I’m not either,” Edvalson said. “We’ve sort of had to figure out other ways to connect with the kids outside of rehearsals.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Athey Creek students Sophie Bohley and River Doherty are participating in this year's musical.

Difficult, certainly, but not impossible.

At the costume parade on Monday, the chemistry between Stegmeier, Biancardi and the students on stage was palpable, while Edvalson filled her role as the overarching guiding force.

It’s a roll she fills well for students, who appreciate the chance to shine on stage without the high-stakes pressure of, say, a high school performance.

“It’s really relaxed and they’re not stressed over perfection,” said Laura Notario, an eighth-grader at Athey Creek. “It’s about the fun.”

For Joe Young, an eighth-grader at Wood, the middle school musical is an opportunity to combine two of his primary interests: music and acting.

“I’m just a music person in general, and I love acting, too, as a more minor thing,” Young said. “It’s been really fun. The cast members are really fun to hang out with and get to know.”

Where Young is genuinely passionate about this particular art form, others are simply exposing themselves to a new experience — broadening their horizons before the whirlwind of high school begins. And that, according to Edvalson, is part of what makes the program special.”There’s a lot of kids that do this that will never do it again,” Edvalson said. “And we like the idea that they get to try this.

“The theater kids go to sports, but a lot of times the sports kids don’t come to theater. So this way everyone sees how hard it is, and they’re more supportive of each other.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The 'N' cast will perform its first show on April 12 at 7 p.m.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Morgan Mankin, Laura Notario and Sophie Shelbourne practice their roles as Pharoah Groupies.

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