PUBLISHED: 12:04 PM on Wednesday, February 22, 2006
High school performs annual spring musical

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Pippin (Justin Sanbei) with his family, stepmother Fastrada (Giselle Stone), father Charles (Mike Fishel) and stepbrother Lewis (Liam Campbell).
Learning lines, songs and dance is just part of the experience of the spring musical at Juneau Douglas High School.

Performing a good show is important, but bonding with classmates is what is important, said cast members of this year's "Pippin."

According to Bethany Bereman, JDHS drama teacher and producer of the play, the story is about a young prince searching for complete fulfillment, so he steps outside his own world.

Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Pippin's father, is up to his usual business of slaying thousands. Upon hearing this, Pippin decides to murder him. King Pippin tries ruling his father's empire but soon discovers that it's a harder job than he thought.

Finally, in despair, he thinks that he has no more hope of achieving his complete fulfillment.

But then he meets what he meets what he considers the "perfect" woman. Catherine picks him up off the street and Pippin is charmed by her and her small son and a large estate, but still seeks fulfillment in life.

"It's from the era of rock musicals," Bereman said.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Pippin, played by Justin Sanbei (left), has his eyes on Catherine, played by Clairen Stone, in the Juneau Douglas High School musical.
Senior Justin Sanbei is making his debut in the annual JDHS musical as the title character. Junior Zak Kirkpatrick, who has been in previous productions, is the leading player, a narrator of sorts who tempts Pippin to try different things.

"I just tried out because I enjoy singing. It looked like fun and I thought I'd give it a shot," Sanbei said.

He said the most difficult part of the show has been not being familiar with the process or gauging progress because of his inexperience.

"Everyone says that we're ahead of last year or that things are going smoother now," Sanbei said. "To me it's just chaos because we haven't run through the whole show yet and we've got a week to go."

Friends since kindergarten, Sanbei and Kirkpatrick said they've enjoyed acting together in the show.

"Our two characters in the whole play are about cooperating together," Kirkpatrick said. "The whole cast gets to know each other and work together. The best part for me is when we finally mesh and see it all come together."

Senior Erika Rothchild, who plays grandmother Berthe, agreed.

"We start with a group of 40 people who've never seen each other before, and it's a growing experience," she said.

Senior Giselle Stone, playing Pippin's stepmother Fastrada, said she looks forward to the musical each year.

"The musical is such an important part of this high school," Stone said. "It's hard work as well. If it was easy and there weren't auditions, it wouldn't be the same. You have to go through the struggle of getting it ready for people to appreciate what we do."

For sophomore Mike Fishel, who plays Pippin's father Charlemagne, or Charles, it's the first time he's been cast in a musical.

"I'm really excited to see it put together. I didn't want to wait and see what it's all about, so I went for it this year," Fishel said. "It's going to be hard to top this year."

The production features a ladder dance and trapeze, a first for the production, Stone said.

The storyline is one cast members can relate to, Fishel said.

"I can directly relate to it. Pippin is looking for what he wants to do, and what will make him happy in life," he said. "It's a stage in life that everyone in high school can relate to."

Clairen Stone, Giselle Stone's sister and a sophomore who plays Pippin's love interest Catherine, said the play is "wholesome" and is about a "right of passage."

"It's the simple things that build you into the person you are," Stone said.

Cast members' parents volunteer to help with publicity, scenery and costumes.

"These musicals wouldn't happen without parent involvement, and the whole community pitching in," Giselle Stone said.

Also contributing to the production are theater professionals and high school teachers.

Ryan Conarro of Juneau is directing the musical, as he has done in the past. He is an actor, director and educator who has a degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He is a member of the Alaska State Council on the Arts' Artist in Schools program, and recently played Duke Orsino in the Perseverance Theatre production of "Twelfth Knight."

Juneau resident and Gastineau Elementary School teacher Becky Engstrom is choreographing the show. She is teaching students Pilobolus, a collaborative choreographic process using a weight-sharing approach to partnering.

Also assisting with the show is JDHS band instructor Ken Guiher, JDHS choir instructor Richard Moore, Heather Sincic with hair and make-up, Art Roach with lighting and pyrotechnics, and Sheila Wyne of Anchorage with set design.

"We're very lucky to live in a town with theater artists who come in to assist us," Bereman said.

Along with the cast, students also participate in the show's band and technical support.

"We try to make this as much of a professional experience and training ground as possible," Bereman said.

"This is something that they can become unified as a group."

"Pippin" will be performed at 7 p.m. Feb. 24-25 and March 3-4 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 25 and March 4 at JDHS auditorium. Advance tickets are available at Hearthside Books - $6 for students and $8 for adults, or $10 at the door.