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Good news!

Musical comedy coming to Conway High School

By Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer

This article was published April 15, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

Babe, played by Lexie Shipe, has her eyes set on Bobby, played by Wilson Gifford, in the Conway High School production of Good News! The musical is set in the 1920s on a college campus and features songs such as “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries.”

Conway High School will present the musical comedy Good News! on April 19-21 at the James H. Clark Auditorium, 2100 Prince St.

Show times are 7 nightly, with an additional performance at 1 p.m. April 21.

Tickets, available at the door, are $10 for adults and $5 for students (ages 4 through the 12th grade) and Conway School District employees.

“It’s an obscure show, one that not many people know,” said A.J. Spiridigliozzi, who teaches Stagecraft I, Theater I, II and III and English Language Arts [ELA] drama at the high school. “I first became acquainted with it when I was at [Chittenango High School] in New York. I did it with a professional company in Syracuse, New York. It was a small company, and I was double-cast as Sylvester and a football player.”

Spiridigliozzi said Good News! originally opened on Broadway in 1927. The local production is the 1993 revised version, originally presented by Music Theatre of Wichita Inc. with book by Laurence Schwab, B.G. DeSylva and Frank Mandel; words and music by DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson; and new adaptation by Mark Madama and Wayne Bryan, with additional lyrics by Bryan and additional musical arrangements by Craig Barna. It is presented by special arrangement with Tams-Witmark Music Library Inc.

“This is a high-energy show,” Spiridigliozzi said. “There’s lots of singing and dancing. It’s fun, … and it’s funny. It has several love-interest stories.

“Although the show may be relatively unknown, some of the songs that came out of it are not,” he said. “Among those songs are “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” “The Best Things in Life Are Free” and “Keep Your Sunny Side Up.”

“We did Mary Poppins last year and wanted to do something a little different this year,” Spiridigliozzi said. “This is definitely different. I want to expose the kids to as many different styles of musical theater as possible.

“There was a little pushback at first because no one knew this show,” he said. “Now that they are familiar with it, everyone seems to be enjoying it. It’s really coming together.”

Spiridigliozzi said the musical centers around a college campus in the late 1920s.

“Tait College is all abuzz as the undefeated football team ends the season with a game against their bitter rival Colton College,” he said. “Tait’s star football player is just about good at everything, except for astronomy. Tom’s failing the test puts the school in a frenzy. Why does the cutest girl in school have a crush on the worst player in school history? How does her ex-boyfriend feel about that? What is the connection between the Tait’s football coach and astronomy teacher? Will Tom pass the astronomy test with his new tutor? Will Tait finally beat Colton?

“To find out these answers, and more, come see our play,” Spiridigliozzi said, smiling.

“A lot of the comedy in the show comes from Wilson Gifford, who plays Bobby Randall, the third-string football player,” Spiridigliozzi said. “Wilson is the perfect Bobby.”

Gifford is a senior at Conway High School. The 18-year-old son of Richard and Becky Gifford plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas and major in education.

“I got involved in theater in ninth grade,” Gifford said. “I was in S’s class when he was at the junior high school.”

Students and fellow teachers often refer to Spiridigliozzi as “Mr. S” or simply “S.”

“I was a basketball player and had never thought about doing theater,” Gifford said. “S and I formed a bond. I played Willard in Footloose in ninth grade but didn’t do any plays in 10th or 11th grade. I thought I would come back to it for my senior year.

“I’ve always been the comedic relief, so this part is perfect for me,” Gifford said, smiling. “I feel like I’ve been able to sink my chops into this role. I love to ham it up. I love making people laugh.

“But I think this will be the end of my run in theater,” he said, laughing. “I want to be a first-grade teacher after college and don’t intend to get involved in theater while I am in college. This is the end of my run.”

Junior Lexi Shipe plays the part of Babe O’Day, the femme fatale of the musical who sets her sights on Bobby.

“Babe likes to be the center of attention,” Shipe said of her character. “Her ex-boyfriend is Beef. She sees scrawny little Bobby and wants to make him her next boyfriend.

“This musical is a lot of fun,” she said.

Shipe, the 17-year-old daughter of Amber Hoppe of Conway and Christopher Shipe of Bryant, plans to be involved in theater in college, hopefully at the University of Arkansas. She appeared in last year’s high school production of Mary Poppins and in the 2016 production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Junior Jessica Reddig is the student director of Good News!

“What’s special about Jessica is that she’s also written, produced and performed her own theater productions,” Spiridigliozzi said.

Reddig formed Sandman Productions when she was in ninth grade. She most recently wrote and directed Across the Pond, which was presented in January at the high school auditorium.

Reddig said she has been acting since she was 8, when she took lessons at Blackbird Academy of Arts.

“Everything started from there,” she said, “but this is the first time I have student-directed anything.”

Reddig, the 17-year-old daughter of Carl and Anita Reddig, plans to attend UCA and major in theater.

Additional members of the Good News! cast are as follows:

• Roman Aaron appears as Tom Marlow, the star football player who is failing astronomy.

• Maddie Meek portrays Connie Lane, the studious young woman who agrees to tutor Tom.

• Wyatt Richardson plays Coach Bill Johnson, the football coach.

• Mary Mosley portrays Professor Charlotte Kenyon, the astronomy professor.

• Hannah Ferguson plays Patricia “Pat” Bingham, who attracts the attention of Tom.

• Lance Rogers appears as Beef Saunders, the “hulking

brute” of the football team.

• Joah Gomez portrays Pooch, the trainer for the football team.

• Miriam Pwandapwanda appears as Millie and Kelli King as Flo, friends of Pat Bingham.

• Lawson Points plays Sylvester, the “ultimate freshman,” who wants to be a part of everything on campus.

• Ashanti Neal plays Ticket Taker, a comical character.

Others in the cast include Jovoni Johnson as Windy, Tanvir Mondair as Slats, Noah Smith as Lefty, Austin Minister as Grubs, Sidnie Thompson as Corda, Makya McMillion as Lucy, Brett Thompson as the Ukulele Kid and Roger the Ram, Elliot Wiebe as policeman

No. 1 and a football player, and Jack Fritzges as policeman No. 2 and a football player.

Appearing as sorority girls are Hannah Grace Kelly, Carlie Cowgill, Madeline Raup, Kiara Bradford, Payton Brady, Olivia Marotte and Bailey Grage.

Appearing as football players are Stephen Wilson, Stephen Tilman, Nathan Lynch, Austin Minister, Chris White, Ben Floyd and Sterling Scallion.

Portraying professors are Johanna Coleman, Phoebe Darley and Katelin Riddle.

Appearing as students are Rhys Helwig, Halley Brown, Rae Treadwell, Taylor Lemieux, Nichelle Wescott, Abby Duvall, Hannah Taylor, Cheyenne Bryan, Genna Kowalla, Maiah White, Madison Miller and Sarah Hubbard.

Portraying members of the choir are Niyanna Quintana, Alex Davis, Jasmine Botello, Jacqueline Ruiz, Gracie Dantzler, Lillian Clark, Brooklyn Walthall, Maliya Manning, Zaliey Chaffin, Kayla Brynum, Darby Budd, Jaden Woody, Ethan Talley, Maria Crockett, Chloe Harder, Evan Rout, Lucas Massingill, Carlie Cowgill, Stephen Tilman, Nathan Lynch and Johanna Coleman.

Appearing as cheerleaders are Grace Anne Thone, Jessie Hull, Elizabeth Kennedy, Kate Pillow, Gracie Childress, Lauren Reynolds (majorette), Berris Teague, Elena Wiltgen, Aryn Blumenberg, Kennedy Caruth, Taylor Conway, Hailey Mims-Crawford,

Hannah Taylor and Kylie Dallas.

Featured girl dancers include Mary Dean Johnston, Eliza Kordsmeier, Zeniya Wilhite, Brooke Church, Olivia Bowles, Jasmine Cooper, Sydeny Mulhearn, Braelyn Pridmore, Avari Jackson, Madison Lipscomb, Anna Caroline Gregg, Elizabeth Ablondi, Claire Lambert, Madeline MacNamra, Eden Kirsh, Kennedy Lee, Meredith Storie, Haley Claire-Mathis and Avery Townsell.

Featured boy dancers include Noah Smith, Devron Foster, Ashton Ligon, Blayne Griffin, Ben Floyd, Joah Gomez, Bryton Butler and Lawson Points.

Stage managers are Kylee French, Miller Myers and Delia Murry.

Olivia Stephens, director of dance for the Broadway Dance Academy at the Red Curtain Theatre in Conway, is choreographer for the musical. Samantha Kordsmeier, a student at the University of Central Arkansas, is the assistant choreographer.

Conway School District employees assisting with the musical include Kayla White, music director; Patty Oeste and and Sam Huskey, assistant musical directors; Robin Ratliff, orchestra-pit conductor; Casey Griffith and Kara Branscum, costumers; and Aaron Hill, set construction.

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