Worlds are created on stage, that land beyond the curtain where fantasy and realism elbow one another for a place in our imaginations.
For some Johnston County students, the stage might be a launchpad, propelling them to live out their Broadway and Hollywood dreams. For others, it’s a community more than a calling, a place for friends old and new.
Two schools on different ends of the county will present their spring musicals in the next couple weeks, capping off months of preparation, hours of rehearsals and countless wrestling matches with butterflies.
Clayton High School will unveil its production of “Catch Me If You Can,” the tale of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., whose story was popularized more than a decade ago in the Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio movie of the same name. In Smithfield, students from the elementary, middle and high school classes of Neuse Charter School will offer up the classic “The Wizard of Oz.”
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Drama teacher Burgundy Trimmer is in her first year at Clayton High, having come on in December to lead the school’s spring musical. She said she wanted to do “Catch Me If You Can” to highlight a couple of talented male performers in the school. She also wanted to stage a production with a variety of solos that most audiences haven’t seen beyond the big screen.
“I figured this show would be a perfect fit for the talent we have right now,” Trimmer said. “It’s not done very often, and I like the storyline, how it’s a true story. ... I like the fact that it’s not overdone; you don’t usually hear about schools doing this show. If you say ‘Phantom’ or ‘Wicked,’ everyone could probably think of a song from that show. This is not as well known, but I think people will leave here really impressed, with songs stuck in their heads.”
“Catch Me If You Can” follows the tricks and cons of Abagnale, played on the Clayton stage by Nicholas Kraft, and the FBI agents hot on his tail, led by Carl Hanratty, played by Jacob McCain. The show’s 28-person cast draws some of its talent from the annual performances of the Clayton Youth Theatre, where both Kraft and McCain are veterans. Kraft, who called Abagnale a dream role for him, said it’s more demanding to put on the school production because students have to balance the musical with schoolwork. McCain said that with a lot of the cast having CYT experience, there’s a freshness that comes from working with other students in the school.
“I’ve been doing theater for a long time,” McCain said. “I always knew I was going to sing; from seventh grade, I knew that’s what I was going to be. I used to be a super-quiet kid, but I’m at home on the stage; it’s the only place I want to be. When new people came to the show, it totally changed the dynamic.”
One of those new people is first-time performer Mitch Hall, a football player who was encouraged to audition after a friend heard him sing in church. He plays Frank Abagnale Sr.
“I’ve grown up in sports all my life, so it’s not something I really thought about,” Hall said. “I’m glad I did it. I kind of wish I had done it sooner. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Trimmer, the first theater-specific teacher Clayton has had in a few years, said the high school musical is great for those who want to pursue acting and music careers, but it’s just as beneficial to the future doctors, lawyers and accountants in the cast and crew. Getting up in front of one’s peers, parents and friends and singing a song on stage builds a rare confidence, Trimmer said.
“Kids can get so much from being involved in theater, and they can apply it to any field they go out and do when they leave high school,” Trimmer said. “You can get confidence, if you’re the football player or the quiet kid. We have all types in this show. Everybody feels good about themselves.”
An all-school musical
The high school musical at Neuse Charter is more of an all-school musical. With a cast of 70, Johnston County’s only charter school is performing perhaps the most famous musical of all, the Wizard of Oz, on stage at Johnston Community College. Given the nature of the school, where ages span more than a decade, simply putting on a show is a special kind of feat. In the afternoons, the cast practices where it can, one day in the cafeteria, another day in the gym, leading up to a dress rehearsal at JCC and then opening night.
Landon Hall, a third-grader, plays the Mayor of Munchkin Land and possesses the confidence needed to enter politics. He said he had considered going for a lead, but was happy with his role. Many of the cast’s younger students will play munchkins, though fifth-grader Grayson Dunn plays Dorothy.
Despite creeping up on being a century old, the Neuse students said “The Wizard of Oz” still commands a certain respect and adoration.
“It’s one of the most iconic songs ever, ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ” said ninth-grader Ian Davidson, who plays the Tin Man. “It has such a powerful message, even though it seems like a little kid song; it has such a powerful message and underlying tone that you don’t have to have everything in the word, but you can achieve that. I think that’s true for all generations.”
One of the messages in the play, said ninth-grader Griffin Lloyd, who plays the Cowardly Lion, is that sometimes meeting a new person can unlock something previously hidden, either in ourselves or in the world around us.
“It’s not necessarily good versus evil, but what I got out of it is that meeting new people can help you with your problems,” Lloyd said. “Being nice to people you may not associate with normally, you learn from those people and experiences.”
That message is embodied in the cast, some students said, where simply the nature of interests and growing up often divides kids by age. While some gaps will always remain, 10th-grader Regan Heavey, who plays the Wicked Witch, said now she knows more of the student body from all grades and ages. Heavey’s hair has a shock of green running through it that she said actually predated her audition for the Wicked Witch.
“I sort of knew some of the freshmen, I sort of knew some of the seniors, and I barely knew some of the younger kids, but now I can walk around and say, ‘I know these people,’ ” Heavey said. “I’ve had conversations with these people. I would like to hang out with these people again. Creating these new friends and creating these new ties is a really important part of theater overall.”
A.J. Boyce, an eighth-grader who plays the Wizard, said that because he’s never really been into sports, he thought he’d try theater as an outlet for some of his creative energy. He doesn’t foresee a time when the classic show won’t hold some relevance.
“I like the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ I liked it before, I’ll like it in the future,” Boyce said. “But what’s really interesting, the Wizard shows the Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow what they already have inside them, but they don’t think they have it.”
Clayton’s “Catch Me If You Can” will run 7 p.m. March 30-31 and 1 and 7 p.m. April 1. Tickets in advance are $12 for the public and $6 for students; at the door, they’re $13 and $7. For more information, go to claytonhighschoolperformingartsboosterclub.com.
Neuse Charter will perform “The Wizard of Oz” at 7 p.m. April 6 at the Johnston Community College. Tickets are $11. For more information, visit johnstoncc.edu/performingarts.