Director Leigh Church says it's been a challenge tackling today's most popular teen musical
by: Jaime Valdez, CUE THE SCREAMS — Brendan Bixel, center, along with other cast members rehearse for Hazelbrook Middle School’s production of Disney’s “High School Musical.”

TUALATIN - Off stage two middle school girls sat across from one another not saying a word. Each concentrated as their fingers punched the buttons of their cell phones. The girls were deep in text-messaging mode.

And as another scene played out on stage, they continued their ritual. They could have been getting into character for Hazelbrook Middle School's production of Disney's 'High School Musical' - but probably not.

Most of the cast knows the Disney movie from start to finish including every word to every song. Without much of a stretch, the students identify with the musical that some are calling 'Grease' for this new generation of attention-hungry, cell-phone-using, pop-culture-savvy teens.

'There's no profanity. There's no major issues,' said Hazelbrook teacher and director for the play Leigh Church. 'The draw is it's just a sweet story. It's kind of nice that it is such a huge hit.'

Disney's 'High School Musical' the movie spawned a sequel, a Broadway production (which is slated to come to Portland in May) and an ice skating show. And undertaking a play with a huge fan following, an expensive royalties price tag and a cast intended to be filled with energetic, bubbly teens has been quite a challenge, Church admitted.

Hazelbrook Middle School, one of the three middle schools in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, has for the past four years been accustomed to doing smaller low-key productions. This year drama teacher Diane Leebrick thought the school might want to take on something bigger.

Once news got out that the school would be holding auditions for 'High School Musical,' the students could barely wait for their chances to shine.

'I really wanted to get this part,' said Sarah Trumbo, a seventh-grader playing the part of Kelsi. 'She plays the piano. I play the piano… We are the same person.'

The school had 80 kids try out. But only 35 made the cut for the cast. The first audition, Church said, was dedicated to finding the kids who could carry a tune. Leebrick, who took on the title of co-director, coordinated all of the choreography and musical direction.

And while the play does differ from the movie version, Church said just knowing the story and the characters has helped students to latch onto the themes of the play.

Performances are set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 23, and Thursday, April 24, at the school at 11300 S.W. Hazelbrook Road in Tualatin. Tickets are $5 and available at the door. And attendees can get $1 knocked off ticket prices by bringing a donation of canned or nonperishable food for the Tualatin School House Food Pantry.

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