July 19, 2007

High school students shine in upcoming production

by Andrea Hahn


(Editors: Note hometown names.)

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The final offering this season from the McLeod Summer Playhouse, the musical drama "Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida," showcases the successful collaboration between Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Carbondale Community Arts.

The production marks the third year McLeod Theater is host for the Carbondale Community Arts Annual All Southern High School Theater Project, which is in its 11th year. The partnership began as a way to help resurrect the Summer Playhouse, but is now a much-anticipated part of the summer theater lineup.

"We were looking for ways to bring the Summer Playhouse back," said Mark Varns, chair of the SIUC theater department and co-general director of the Summer Playhouse with Tim Fink, associate professor of opera and music theater in the School of Music. "It seemed only natural to bring the All Southern High School Theater Project here."

The Summer Theater provides the theater, box office, orchestra, technical and stage design staff. The high school actors benefit from working with a professional crew. Carbondale Community Arts (CCA) assists with publicity and programs. Ticket sales were strong for the first two such productions, Varns said, adding that the pairing has been "a very successful collaboration."

Each year, the high school musical opens auditions to all Southern Illinois high school students. This year's production features seven area high school students in individual roles and a large ensemble cast.

"Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida" is based on the 19th century Italian opera, "Aida." It is a tragic love story in an ancient Egyptian setting. The love between Aida, a Nubian princess, and Radames, an Egyptian captain, is hampered by war, family obligations and conflicting loyalties.

The play opens Thursday, July 26 and runs through Monday, July 30. Sunday's performance is a 2 p.m. matinee, the other performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for students. Tickets are available at the McLeod Theater box office on the SIUC campus, or by calling 618/453-3001.

The cast is listed below, by hometown. The production team is Nancy Stemper, CCA executive director as producer; C. J. Harbison, Harrisburg High School Theater Department, director; Timothy Fink, SIUC School of Music associate professor of musical theater, vocal preparation and conductor; Deanna Leutkenhaus, graduate student, costume design; Ron Naverson, SIUC theater professor, set design; and James Diemer, graduate student, lighting design.


• Josh Kimball is Mereb, a Nubian servant who helps save his nation from Egyptian domination. This is Kimball's fourth production with CCA, and he has been active in community theater since he was 5 years old. He represented Benton High School, where he will be a sophomore, in a dramatic duet acting at the Illinois High School Association statewide competition. He was named to the IHSA All-Sectional group interpretative cast.


• Daniel Hansen, a Carbondale Community High School junior, is a hip-hop dancer with the Susan Barnes-Willow Street Dance Studio. He also studies jazz, tap, and modern dance. In this production, he is part of the ensemble cast. He was part of last year's "Beauty and the Beast" high school production at McLeod Summer Theater.

• Jacob Hays, a CCHS junior, plays the ambitious Prime Minister Zoser. His first appearance at McLeod Theater was in 1997 in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat." He was also in "The Most Happy Fella" and "Annie, Get Your Gun" at McLeod, and previously performed in four productions with The Stage Company and three with CCHS.

• Carl Herzog, a CCHS senior, is love-torn Radames in "Aida." He starred in last year's McLeod and CCA production of "Beauty and the Beast" as Beast. His past performances also include "Little Shop of Horrors," "West Side Story" (twice), and "Street Scene." A student of SIUC School of Music Professor Emeritus Richard Best, Herzog was also the student producer for this production.

• Lucien Klein is a member of the ensemble cast and a CCHS sophomore. "Aida" is his first musical, but he claims virtuosity on the karaoke machine and a love of both reading and video gaming.

• James Repp, a CCHS sophomore, comes to the stage for the very first time in "Aida." He is a member of the CCHS jazz choir. Besides his passion for singing, he is interested in baseball, soccer and his studies.

• Shakeia Lynn Smith recently graduated from CCHS. She plays Egyptian princess Amneris. Smith performed in several musicals while in high school, including "West Side Story," "Beauty and the Beast," "Grease" and "Little Shop of Horrors." She loves acting, singing, her church and her family.

• Glynnis White, a CCHS senior, is part of the ensemble cast. She is new to CCA productions, but not to the stage. She was in productions of "Godspell, Jr.," "Cats" and "Cinderella." She is on the CCHS speech team and she plays clarinet.


• Josephine Beyke, a Carterville High School sophomore, is part of the ensemble cast. She has plenty of stage experience gained through work with the Stage Company, Paradise Alley Players, Greylight Theater and with CCA's production of "Les Miserables." She is also a member of the Scholastic Bowl at her high school.

Du Quoin

• Linnea Cheek is a Du Quoin High School freshman and a part of the ensemble cast. She performed with the Pyramid Players in such productions as "Annie, Get Your Gun," and "The Music Man." This is her first time on the McLeod stage.

• Phillip George, a recent graduate of Du Quoin High School, is part of the ensemble cast. This is his McLeod Summer Playhouse debut, but not his first play. His past performances include "Snoopy," "Anything Goes," "The Pirates of Penzance," and "The Music Man." He plans a career in theater.


• Jillian Barron, a junior at Herrin High School, plays the loyal Nehebka, Aida's friend who sacrifices herself for Aida's safety. Barron's previous stage experience includes roles in "Cinderella," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and several more. She is a member of her high school's Speech Team.

• Angie Fisher is a Herrin High School junior and a member of the ensemble cast in "Aida." She has previous roles in productions such as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Cats." She was also part of last year's CCA-McLeod collaboration on "Beauty and the Beast."

• Anna Purcell is a Herrin High School junior and a member of the ensemble cast. She participates in music, theater and the speech team at Herrin. Past roles include "West Side Story," "Beauty and the Beast," and as the beastly Veruca Salt in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Her sister, Grace Stevenson, joins her on stage for this production.

• Grace Stevenson is in eighth grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School and a member of the ensemble cast. This is her first CCA performance, but not her first time on stage. She played a starring role in "Hansel and Gretel," and had roles in "School House Rock" and "The Music Man." Stevenson said she is happy to take the stage with her sister, Anna Purcell.


• Portia Gooden, a member of the ensemble cast, will be a freshman at Carbondale Community High School. "Aida" is her first performance with CCA. Her past theater experience includes "The King and I," "Don Giovanni," "Hansel and Gretel" and "Oklahoma!" She hopes to pursue a career in theater.


• Lawrence O'Neill, a junior at Marion High School, is part of the ensemble cast. He is an experienced actor with more than two-dozen productions under his belt, including starring roles in "Godspell" and "Aladdin" and an award-winning role in "Fiddler on the Roof." His sister, Maggie, joins him in "Aida."

• Maggie O'Neill, a freshman at Marion High School, is part of the ensemble cast. She is a regular performer in Southern Illinois, citing the Artstarts Company's "Cats" as her favorite production. She joins her older brother, Lawrence," in "Aida."


• Tim Sims, Murphysboro High School senior, is Amonasro, the Nubian king. Active in the award-winning high school Crimson Express Marching Band and a member of the school choir, Sims is also a consistent honor roll student.

• Timothy Wessel is a senior at Murphysboro High School and part of the ensemble cast here. He debuted at McLeod last year in "Beauty and the Beast." He also appeared in "The Music Man" and "Bye-Bye Birdie." He hopes to make a career in theater.


• Khloe Sunga shines as Aida, the star of the production. She is a recent graduate of Hardin County High School, where she was a member of the Scholar Bowl, WYSE team and the National Honor Society. Her past performances include "Lend Me a Tenor," "Anything Goes," "The Diviner" and "West Side Story."

West Frankfort

• Meredith Pitts is a Frankfort Community High School junior and a member of the ensemble cast. This is her first time on the McLeod stage, but she had roles in "The Music Man," "Cats," and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat," among others.