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Friday, August 01, 2014, 7:37 a.m.
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Off to Neverland

Peter Pan, the musical, set to soar on stage of Conway High School

By Tammy Keith

This article was published April 24, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

conway-junior-high-school-drama-teacher-aj-spiridigliozzi-center-shows-yessica-serrano-left-and-ben-tompson-right-how-he-imagines-a-scene-to-be-played-in-peter-pan-the-conway-high-school-musical-starts-at-7-pm-today-in-the-james-h-clark-auditorium

Conway Junior High School drama teacher A.J. Spiridigliozzi, center, shows Yessica Serrano, left, and Ben Tompson, right, how he imagines a scene to be played in Peter Pan. The Conway High School musical starts at 7 p.m. today in the James H. Clark Auditorium.

The musical Peter Pan is coming to the Conway High School stage beginning tonight, and yes, there will be flying.

Teacher and musical director A.J. Spiridigliozzi said he couldn’t do the play without that special effect.

“I couldn’t look at my kids and tell them, ‘We’re going to do Peter Pan, but we’re not going to fly,’” Spiridigliozzi said. “We just came off Beauty and the Beast and said, ‘How can we raise the bar?’ So, we’re going to raise it — literally.”

The show will be performed four times for the public — at 7 p.m. today and Friday and at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, in the James H. Clark Auditorium at Conway High School on Prince Street. The cost is $5 for adults, and $3 for students and children from 4 years old through the 12th grade.

Spiridigliozzi, drama teacher at Conway Junior High School, said the students have been fundraising all year to boost the budget.

“The flying is a major expense,” he said.

ZFX Flying Effects of Louisville, Ky., is the company hired to show students the ropes, as it were.

“We have three days with the flight director. He sets up equipment, we practice, and he leaves,” Spiridigliozzi said.

He said CJHS Principal Todd Edwards has been “so supportive” of the production, too.

Spiridigliozzi said he wanted to have another family-friendly show this year.

Beauty and the Beast was one of the most amazing experiences of my career,” he said. “Hearing those kids laugh and boo the bad guys and cry and cheer, … there’s nothing like it. Everyone was affected in such a positive way. We knew we wanted to do something like that again.”

He said it was a challenge to decide which version of Peter Pan to perform, but he thought it was the perfect show.

“I knew it would be a lot of fun for the kids — for our students — but I knew it would be fun for a younger audience, too,” he said.

Spiridigliozzi said 170 students are

involved in the production, including actors, stage managers, backstage workers and others.

“We have close to 30 little kids this year, as well — we call them the little kids — from 5 to 11 years old,” he said.

Peter Pan will be played by senior Jessica Taylor, who was Belle in last year’s show.

“She has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard come out of a kid, and she just handles pressure so well, and she’s brought so much to this — to [the role of] Peter,” Spiridigliozzi said. “She earned it at an audition. I did not expect her to be Peter Pan at all. … She had it; she had something.”

Jessica said she has always played “the sweet, innocent girl.”

“I wanted a challenge this year and decided to switch it up and go for Peter Pan,” she said. “Instead of playing a tall sweet girl, I’m playing a tall, very spontaneous young boy.”

“Every boy is played by a girl, except for Mr. Darling and Hook,” Spiridigliozzi said. “Lost Boys: all girls. Michael and John: girls.

“The reason is, the singing parts are so high that the boys couldn’t do it. It was written for very, very young boys or females.

“We have pirates and Indians, and I’ve incorporated some stage combat, so it gives the boys something to do. They’re having a blast.”

Wendy will be performed by senior Bri Brown, who has been in past productions, too.

“She is fantastic, very talented,” Spiridigliozzi said. “She just had a great audition. She picks up on things. The thing I love about Bri and Jess — they both want to be pushed.

“There is no divaness in them. They are very easy to work with — and they’re good people.”

Bri said she loved the movie Peter Pan when she was younger, “with all the adventure that goes into the movie and the story, and just the innocence the children have, so I thought it would be fun to do the musical.”

She said Wendy is “really fun, very innocent, in the middle of being a little girl and a woman.”

He said Hook is being played by a newcomer to the stage, ninth-grader Joe Coker.

“He kind of came out of nowhere,” Spiridigliozzi said. “When he came to audition, he said his name was Spartacus. He said, ‘No, it’s Joe.’ We call him Spartacus. So, he came in with a little humor. He’s great. He’s taken on the responsibility of such a big part; he takes it seriously.”

Spiridigliozzi said the freshman came in with a sense of respect for the veteran seniors.

“He’s got a commanding presence, too,” Spiridigliozzi said.

Joe said he was surprised that he was cast as Captain Hook.

“I figured I’d be an extra pirate,” he said.

He was in a couple of plays as an elementary-school student, and he has played Hook before.

“When I was in day care, we did this whole Disney-style production thing; it was obviously simple. I was actually Captain Hook,” Joe said.

He had one line, which he remembers: “‘Mr. Smee, report at once.’ Then I fell off the boat,” he said.

Tinkerbell will be played by a light.

“The light has had the best attitude,” Spiridigliozzi said, joking.

Other cast members include the following:

Mary Nail, a sophomore, portrays John.

Riley Mulaney, a freshman, plays Michael.

Tarek Esaw, a junior, is Smee.

Jonah Millirons, a sophomore, appears as Mr. Darling.

Kaelin Taylor, a sophomore, plays Mother.

Puppets will be used for the crocodile and for Nana, the dog.

This version of the musical was performed in the West End of London, and was written by Piers Chater Robinson.

“The music is more contemporary,” Spiridigliozzi said.

“We’re trying to incorporate a little piece of everything from every Peter Pan, like the Lost Boys were kind of inspired by Hook. The Disney movie has inspired me in different ways,” he said.

The non-negotiable element was flying.

“Peter, John, Michael, Wendy, for sure, are flying,” Spiridigliozzi said.

“Technically, it’s a challenge. It throws just another obstacle

in there,” he said. “Where we hang lights, we have to be really aware of what we hang, because we have to hang the flying equipment there.”

He said the actors have a “nervous excitement” about soaring on stage.

“They want to know exactly who’s on the flight crew,” he added, laughing. “They are excited. It’s going to be awesome.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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