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Disney’s ‘High School Musical’ Comes to Whitefish Stage

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – Whitefish High School senior Zach Tkachyk already gets the occasional phone call from an admiring, younger girl. Playing a role made famous by this generation’s pre-teen heartthrob, Zac Efron, is sure to only add to the attention.

“I’ve had quite a few girls say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re the co-star with Zach?’” said Kelsey McFeely, an eighth-grader at Whitefish Middle School and the female lead opposite Tkachyk in the upcoming presentation of Disney’s “High School Musical.”

More than 40 students of all different ages and from all corners of the Flathead Valley have come together to take part in the stage version of this wildly popular movie. The show, which runs April 19 to 21 at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center, is part of the Alpine Theatre Project’s after-school education and outreach program.

For those who don’t have children or are just out of the loop, “High School Musical” was released by Disney in 2006 as a made-for-TV movie – and quickly drew a mass following, especially in the pre-teen age group. It’s spawned teen idols like Effron, top-selling soundtracks and DVDs, two sequels, a concert tour, a book series, video games and more.

Not since “Grease” or “West Side Story” has a musical had such a broad impact.

All that made the show an obvious choice for Betsi Morrison, one of ATP’s three founding artists and the show’s director along with husband Luke Walrath: “It’s iconic,” she said. “And nobody around here has done it, yet.”

While, it’s a bit intimidating to take on such a popular piece – “There’s nothing more critical than a 9-year-old girl,” Morrison jokes – the crew hopes to win over die-hard “High School Musical” fans by sticking close to the script and using the dance choreography from the movie. Judging by practice, the show promises to be an hour-and-a-half of high energy singing and dancing.

“High School Musical” tells the story of two high school juniors from rival cliques – Troy Bolton, captain of the basketball team, and Gabriella Montez, a shy transfer student who excels in math and science. Together, they try out for the lead parts in their high school musical and, as a result, disrupt the status quo and divide the school.

In short, the plot’s chock-full of teenage angst, young love and feel-good, life lessons. Or as Tkachyk puts it: “It’s like taking all the drama of four years of high school into an hour-and-a-half.”

Which also means it’s easy for students in ATP’s stage production to relate to their characters. Themes like fitting in socially, struggling with loyalty and friendships, and trying to sort out one’s future plans hit close to home.

“There are a lot of real life instances and pressures and stupid games that high schoolers go through (in the play),” Erika Corne, who plays Gabriella’s “brainiac friend” Taylor, said. Corne graduated this December from Whitefish High School a semester early and is now attending FVCC.

“I’m having to juggle decisions of what do I want, where do I want to go and how do I get there,” Corne said. “My character’s so like me, or I’ve made her so similar to me, that I can so relate to how she’s feeling.”

For Tkachyk, Troy’s desire to branch out from sports is understandable. The teen says he used to be “kind of a jock,” playing soccer, hockey and tennis until he decided to devote his time to acting and singing.

The switch has paid off.

In the fall Tkachyk will head to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo. to study musical theater. Tkachyk auditioned for the nationally competitive program earlier this spring, and landed one of the school’s nine spots for male students.

At just 14, his female opposite, McFeeley, could be entertaining here in the valley for several more years to come. It’s the young teen’s first show, but she says seven years of dancing and Morrison and Walrath’s tutelage have helped her along. “It’s something I’ll definitely do again,” she said.

But first, the duo has to convince a crowd of preteens and their parents to fall in love with their version of East High’s Taylor and Gabriella: “They’re in love with the movie,” Tkachyk said. “We need to make them in love with the show.”

Alpine Kids! Theatre Project presents Disney’s “High School Musical”

Sunday April 19 at 2 p.m.; Monday, April 20 and Tuesday, April 21 at 7 p.m. (apx. showtime 1½ hours)

Whitefish Performing Arts Center

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and $7 for children, and can be purchased online at www.alpinetheatreproject.org or by calling 862-SHOW (7469).

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