'High School Musical' — art imitating life?
McCOOK, Neb. — From the time Beth Hoyt was old enough to sing, she always loved music.
She started taking piano lessons when she was in Kindergarten and continued all the way through her nights playing saxophone in the McCook High School pep band for football games, striking up the school song every time players like Paxton Terry and Gabe Sehnert scored a touchdown.
Beth graduated from MHS this past spring having never met Paxton. She enrolled as a music major this fall at McCook Community College and auditioned for “High School Musical.” She was in the audience listening to the auditions for the male roles when an MHS senior started singing.
“It was Paxton, and it was the first time any of us ‘music nerds’ ever heard him sing,” Beth said. “He has an amazing voice and we all wondered why he’d never been in choir before.”
Art will imitate life on stage Saturday, Sunday and Monday when McCook Community College Theater and Music Departments team up with McCook High School Theater and Music Departments to present “High School Musical.”
Performances are set for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. on Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students (please be sure to have your student ID.) Tickets will be available at the door, there will also be a limited number of advanced tickets available for purchase in the High School office. Directing the play are theater instructors Amanda Davidson of MHS and Clay Grizzle of MCC.
Beth, who is known as a “music nerd” cast in the lead role as brainiac Gabriella Montez. Paxton, known as a “jock” at MHS was cast in the lead role of Troy Bolton, the “jock” – nobody knew could sing.
High School Musical” is essentially about labeling and peer groups.
“Paxton Terry is Troy Bolton!” said teammate and fellow cast member Gabe Sehnert said. “And the plot of this musical is pretty much our lives.” Sehnert was cast as Ryan Evans, twin brother of Sharpay Evans (played by MCC sophomore Lindi Johnson). The Evans twins are the leaders of the “thespians” who become incensed when they learn a “jock” and a “brainiac may audition for the high school musical thus upsetting East High School’s social order -- where thespians always get the lead roles.
“So I’m in class and I get a text from Gabe: “You should audition for ‘High School Musical’,” Paxton said. “On a goof, I said I would. I mean I like to sing but not in front of anybody.”
He’d never even been in a choir before, so the first time he ever sang in front of anybody was at the audition where he landed the lead male role.
“Paxton’s been doing an amazing job picking up the songs and learning very quickly,” Beth said. “Reading music or being in a play with no experience would both be challenges for anyone, but for him as a first-timer and taking on the responsibilities of the lead, and then adding the additional challenges a musical presents with acting, singing, dancing -- all while maintaining character, is pretty amazing,” Beth said, “He and Gabe have both been doing wonderful job -- really there are a lot of cast members doing a lot of things for the first time and it’s both frightening and rewarding at the same time.”
“It’s something out of the normal for me, and it’s been a learning process for everything the acting, the singing and the choreography,” Terry said.
Sehnert knew enough about plays and musicals to know there would be extra commitment during the start of his senior year of high school. “It’s like doing two sports at the same time, after school you get done practicing at one and then you turn around and practice another,” he said.
Lindi Johnson, who is a sophomore at MCC had been part of theater and music at both MHS and MCC but has been excited to “see different worlds collide.”
“It is so cool for me to see the different directing and teaching styles for both Mrs. Davidson and Mr. Grizzle,” Johnson. “I want to teach music and this helps me figure out the best methods for me to use, it’s also cool to see what students who don’t come from music or theater backgrounds bring to our production,” Johnson said.
Johnson said taking on the role part of Sharpay Evans was a challenge since Sharpay’s personality is so different than her own so she’s had to stretch her acting although she loves being cast in a role where she has so much on-stage time with Sehnert.
Even more challenging for her was taking on additional responsibilities as choreographer for most of the music.
“When we do the song ‘Stick to the Status Quo,’ the choreography and music is at times insane -- there is so much happening, and I have to rein that all in yet we’re all working hard to make sure our own parts click,” she said. “The first time I felt it all starting to come together, I sat back and just watched and noticed everybody was smiling and dancing -- that’s why we do this sort of stuff,” Johnson said.
This is Beth’s first experience in a musical and she is loving it – despite taking 16 hours of classes, including music theory, sight-singing/ear training, piano techniques concert choir band, and individual voice lessons. She has performed the national anthem several times this fall at MCC volleyball games, plays piano for her church and also works part-time at a daycare.
As an MCC Music with Dr. Merna Cabrera, Beth immediately had the chance to apply what she’s learning to her role.
“Dr. Cabrera has impacted how I’ve learned the songs and music in general, Beth said, “She’s helped me a lot with sight reading, ear training and listening, and helping me learn the songs. I hadn’t realized how much there is to music, and training my voice.”
Football had always dominated Paxton and Gabe’s autumns but they both decided to add something new to fill their schedules. They used to be home by 6:30 or 7 p.m. but his fall they got home in time to take a quick shower then on to musical rehearsals and home after 9 p.m.
Terry said when his teammates heard he was going to be in a musical, they were ecstatic and supportive and promise to be there for every performance.
“I’ve met some pretty cool people involved in this play that I never would have met without stepping out of that comfort zone,” Paxton said. “I’m glad Gabe talked me into it.”