OldArchive / The Way I See It

Aida Abounds With Talent

Bob Shumway, co-director of the Wyalusing Valley High School's production of Aida, told me at Monday night's dress rehearsal that the abundance of talented singers in this year's cast is unlike anything he's seen in previous shows.

I've been shooting photos and writing reviews of WVHS spring musical productions for 31 years, and I'm here to tell you that Bob's assessment of this year's cast is right on. Aida raises the bar once again for WVHS shows and that bar was already in the stratosphere.

Aida is based on Giuseppe Verdi's opera by the same name. I know there aren't many opera fans here in the Endless Mountains, so don't let Aida's roots chase you away. The show being staged here in Wyalusing was originally intended to be an animated film, but after plans for the film were dropped, it was produced on Broadway in 2000 by Disney Theatrical, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice. The fact that Elton John wrote the music should give you a clue about where this show will take you musically, and the talented performers at the Wyalusing Valley High School will make that journey a pure joy.

When I arrived at the school Monday night around 7 p.m., at first I thought I'd come on the wrong night or there had been a change of plans. There were a few people seated in the auditorium, but the pit band that's normally down front wasn't there. After a few minutes of wondering what was up, I asked some folks and they explained that this year the band is located out of sight backstage.

So I wandered backstage to have a look for myself and learned from Jared Weir, one of the show's sound technicians, that this year for the first time ever, every instrument in the band has its own microphone. The mikes are all fed through a mixing panel, which Jared controls. The results are impressive. The band sounds wonderful.

Each actor also has a mike, and vocals, along with the band's music, are fed to another control panel at the back of the auditorium where Larry Beebe balances everything. The end result is outstanding. You can hear the actors perfectly and every instrument in the band is blended in just right.

But I must tell you that not being able to actually see local musicians offer up this excellent performance, at times left me with the feeling that this was a professionally recorded sound track being dubbed into the show. That's why I want everyone to know that out of sight back stage are real live musicians performing as they always have.

Shumway, who also conducts the pit band, is backstage, too, and not out front as usual where he can keep track of what's taking place onstage. So how does the show's director see what the audience is seeing? Turns out they've set up a wireless video monitor so Bob can see the stage while conducting the band. As far as I know that's another first for a WVHS spring show.

And as long as I'm talking about firsts, let me tell you that for the first time ever we posted selected video clips of Monday's rehearsal on our Youtube page, which you can access from our website, www.rocket-courier.com. And I must apologize for not being able to hold the video camera steady throughout all the footage. I just can't seem to get the hang of shooting videos and still photos at the same time.

But here's the thing about this show that really sets it apart: the amazing range of talent, especially among the cast's leading roles.

When the show opens you'll get an idea of what a delightful evening lies ahead thanks to Paige Millard's wonderful version of "Every Story is a Love Story." Paige is one of four seniors playing a major role, and her wonderful singing is just one of the reasons you'll love Aida.

Another comes from senior Stefan Poost. He plays the key role of Egyptian army captain Radames and does an excellent job. The story of Aida centers on a love triangle with Radames at the center. Stefan will draw you into Aida and his great vocals solidify his performance. In a word, he is excellent.

And then there's Ashley Long, a senior, who plays Amneris, the bride-to-be of Radames until he is distracted. This talented young woman has a voice so alluring and pure that she makes me think of Sarah McLachlan. See what I mean about how deep the talent is in this year's show?

In January, I heard senior T.J. Beyer sing at a wedding and I remember thinking at the time that I hoped this wonderful crooner landed a significant role in this year's show. So wait until you see what T.J. has in store for you: He plays the conniving villain Zoser and does an impressive job. But it's T.J.'s great singing that you'll love most and he's but another reason why this show is so great.

It's not just the seniors who shine brightly in this year's show, however, and here are two talented performers who round out the leading roles in Aida. I rank Adam Brigham, who's a junior, among the best singers I've heard perform in a spring WVHS spring musical, period. And when you add this guy to the group of talented students I previously mentioned, you'll understand why everyone is raving about the singing in this year's show. Adam's wonderful tenor solos are captivating. He brings a special presence to this show and is a key reason why audiences will love Aida.

And then there is Aida, herself, who is wonderfully portrayed by Kirstyn Ballard, a sophomore who is the youngest cast member playing a leading role. I can't say enough about Kirstyn's performance. Her dynamic singing will bring you to your feet. Her captivating stage presence is not what you typically experience on a high school stage. She sings Elton John's songs like they were written especially for her. She is Aida.

Of course there are dozens of others besides the five talented leading role performers I just mentioned who make this show tick. Senior Dan Shumway as The Pharaoh and junior Tracey LaFrance as Amonarso, Aida's father, head a list of dedicated, hardworking students who bring this show to life. And along with Shumway, co-directors Carol Madill, Dennis Dibble and Tonya Boatman deserve a huge round of applause for bringing these wonderful shows to our community each year.

So take my advice and don't miss Aida. It's got all the ingredients we've come to expect from WVHS Spring musicals: great costumes, splendid scenery and spirited dancing. And as an added bonus, it has a cast comprised of the best group of singers ever to perform in a spring musical.

What more could you ask for?



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