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Behind the scenes at 'The Music Man Junior'

--- Elk Summer Players show is July 27-29

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published July 25, 2007, 3:39 p.m.)



Rarely do you see the highlight of a theatrical event focusing on people the audience never sees. Why not? They're as essential as the actors and actresses telling the story, aren't they?

How convincing would "Fiddler on the Roof" be without a roof?

How could Romeo swoon Juliet under the moonlit balcony without just the right lighting?

And if Annie didn't sing, would we even like her?

A perfect example of the importance of the crews aside from acting is the Elk Summer Players' annual shows under the direction of Jeff Kleist, fourth grade teacher in the Elkhorn School District and director of the annual Elkhorn Middle School play.

There's so much more going on that people never even imagine under the direction of Chris Ghilani, music director; Tom Kleist, set design; and Amy Wuttke, choreographer.

Ghilani's group perfects their roles in a room far from the stage and Wuttke's group's focus doesn't have one word of dialogue.

Ghilani, a music teacher at Williams Bay Elementary School, has a huge job on her hands. It's her job to have the vocals be right on the mark while building confidence, motivation and self-discipline in teenagers.

"We go little by little, going further as they get to know their character," she said. "The older kids show newcomers a lot. The student helpers-kids who have aged out of the program but still want to be involved-lead the warm-ups and help so much in this area.

"It's our job to show them how to come out of their shells and have fun."

Wuttke, a former Elk Summer Player herself, is the perfect example of a product of the group.

"I'm amazed at what she's done," Ghilani said.

Wuttke has been with the group from the beginning seven years ago and worked with several other area theater groups. She's now majoring in theater in college.

"That's what we really want to see."

Wuttke's experience is paying off for her first time as head choreographer, she said.

"It's hard, but I'm surprised at how fast they're getting it. The things I've learned at school last year are already helping out."

Behind the stage the set crew is busy everywhere-above the stage, below the stage, behind the stage and outside of the building-creating the most ambitious stage the group has ever attempted.

"And most ambitious group we've had working here," Ghilani adds. "They've stayed on task and done all the work. (Kleist) couldn't be here one morning and left the kids a list. He returned and everything on the list was done and they were on to other jobs."

A stroll through the wires, blowing fans and half-built props leads to Annaka Clement painting.

Clement, 16, decided to go behind the scenes with the Elk Players after two years on the stage because she's always enjoyed building.

Because she's certified to use the power tools from her Tech. Ed. class in school, she's been a great asset on the crew.

She's having a blast, and learning from arguably the best set builder around has been a real learning experience, she said.

"It's really amazing to work with Mr. Kleist," she said. "We'll have an idea and be trying to figure out how it will work and he'll just draws it all right out.

"The same thing would have taken me three days.

"He has so much knowledge about how everything works on the stage and the flies and clearances. That comes with years of knowing the stage."

Some things Clement has learned backstage-it's very hard to see in the dark and three-dimensional scenes are easier and more fun to make than one-dimensional.

Newcomer to the players, Kyle Hertz, 14, has been a key member of the crew. He's known as the ladder man and knower-of-all-handy-work.

"He's the guy," Kleist sayd patting Hertz's shoulder. "The experience he's brought in here has been absolutely phenomenal.

"The amount of stuff his parents and grandparents let him do at home has made him the man around here."

"I've done a lot of this stuff with my dad," Hertz says.

Kleist's years of theater and set building, added to another hat he wears as an auctioneer, has led to the biggest stash of set design goodies around.

Elkhorn schools benefit by being able to use the equipment during the school year as a bonus. Kleist purposefully matches the dimensions of the existing equipment to further its usability.

The experience Kleist tries to give his students is to enhance the experience of the other crews through the set, he said.

"Our job is to compliment the intensity and amount of work kids (from all of the crews) put in and to have a set for them that they're proud of."

'Music Man Junior'

Meredith Willson's "Music Man Junior" introduces fast-talking traveling salesman Harold "the Professor" Hill, who visits River City, Iowa where his strong personality and charisma enable him to persuade the small, turn-of-the-century town to adopt his revolutionary music program, the Think System, or face the moral decline of the town's youngsters.

The Professor also meets-and falls in love with-Marian Paroo, a willful, spinster librarian. The chance encounter befuddles his scheme to create a boy's band.

She ultimately changes his con man ways, giving Hill and the entire town a lesson on the joys of emotional risks.

"Music Man Junior," winner of eight Tony Awards including best musical, author, composer and lyricist, will be performed by the Elkhorn Summer Players at Elkhorn Area High School, July 27-28 at 7 p.m., 723-8343. Admission is free, but donations toward next year's show are appreciated.

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Crew

Costume crew-Carol Clement, Stephanie Killen, Amber Wuttke, Chris Ghilani

Painting-Anna Clement

Backstage crew-Amanda Davey, Kyle Hertz, Kenny Schmelz, Stephanie Killen, Caitlin Dorsey

Sound crew-Brady Norton and Zach Miller

Lighting crew-Andy Loose

Student directors-JoHanna Burton, Anna Clement, Zach Miller

Cast

Harold Hill-Stephen Brellenthin

Marian Paroo-Karilyn Sisko

Mrs. Paroo-Rebecca Krueger

Winthrop Paroo-Caleb Holte

Amaryllis-Margaret Koss

Mayor Shinn-David Haling

Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn-Bailey Mahon

Zaneeta Shinn-Amber Billings

Gracie Shinn-Brianna Brueggemann

Tommy Djilas-Sam Keller

Marcellus Washburn-Connor Selvey

Charlie Cowell-Hayden Kyle

Jacey Squires-Isabella Virrueta

Ewart Dunlop-Tanner Norton

Olin Britt-Brad Killen

Oliver Hix-Adam Prince

Constable-Nathan Russell

Alma Hix-Alyssa Bluhm

Ethel Toffelmier-Hannah Hoyt

Mrs. Squires-Rachel Radunz

Maud-Jenny Vinje

The Pick-a-Little Ladies-Sarah Bailey, Dani Beierle, Samantha DelPrincipe, Chelsea Flynn, Rachel Hegland, Sami Opper and Amanda Stringham

Traveling Salesmen-Brad Killen, Peter Meylink, Ryan Neuman Tanner Norton, Ethan Pawinski, Shane Pogorzelski and Adam Prince

River City Townspeople and Kids-Amanda Amon, Linnea Baas, Danielle Braun, Alexis Burns, Kaitlyn Clarke, Emily Clement, Jocelyn Fath, Natalie Harmann, Rebecca Jensen, Megan Lockwood, Maggie Loose, Corinne Maddix, Shauna McIntire, Peter Meylink, Kenna Miller, Ryan Neumann, Ethan Pawinski, Shane Pogorzelski, Nicole Spence and April Williams

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