After weeks of diligently working to craft a stage play sure to be a bona fide audience pleaser, the young students of Neverland Theater are excited to present “Princess Whatsername,” opening July 29, 7 p.m. at the Columbia Junior High Performing Arts Center.
Since June 28 the budding theater buffs – about 70 of them ranging in age from 10 to 18 years old from Fife, Puyallup and Federal Way school districts – have been attending the Neverland Theater musical theater camp experience under the tutelage of drama instructors (and sisters) Hayley and Emily Rathburn. Dedicating four days a week of their summer vacation to the camp, the students of stage had the opportunity to learn all about what it takes to present a play at a professional level. From behind-the-scenes – running the sound system, the light board, handling the ropes, costume design, makeup, hair, etc. – to being in the spotlight onstage, Neverland offers something for every student. Now, opening night is just a week away for the troupe to raise the curtain and get on with the show.
“It’s so hard to find something for such a wide ranging age group. It has to be appropriate for all age levels and have challenging stuff for the older ones. We came across this one and it’s spectacular,” said Hayley Rathburn. “At the end of every rehearsal we run through all the songs and the kids just go nuts for every single one. The songs are infectious and the story is so creative and well woven together. The kids are having a fantastic time.”
Told through songs, dance and laugh out loud comedy, “Princess Whatsername” takes place in a conventional fairytale setting with an unconventional fairytale story to tell. It all begins when a young girl awakens in a misty forest not knowing who she is or how she got there – or even what her own name is. Her mission is to find out, but how? Enter a cast of classic children’s fairytale characters from ages past: Hansel & Gretel, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and a collection of witches and villains, all of whom help her uncover the mystery of her identity in a musical adventure that will have audience members tapping their toes along the way.
“Among all this, the story is told in wonderful, big musical numbers that advance the plot,” said Hayley Rathburn. Salsa, funk, Celtic, country, medieval ballad – all of these styles of music and more provide clues for the princess in wonderful ways. For example, when she meets the Seven Dwarves, they notice that she’s wearing a necklace with a mysterious symbol pertinent to her identity and the dwarves launch into the song “Where’d You Get That Bling?”
“It’s very funky and the kids love it,” Rathburn said, noting that the big finale number, “Flashing Back Again,” is a must-see. “It’s like this seven-minute long epic thing where literally she’s having flashbacks from when she was a baby to everyone she’s met so far in the show.”
While usually plays held in the junior high’s performing arts center feature live music from a three- or four-piece ensemble, “Princess Whatsername” comes with its own pre-recorded instrumental soundtrack, which offers a fuller orchestration and richer sound. Fife High School Music Director Karl Sorenson taught all the music to the actors and with so much to learn it has been the most challenging one so far, according to Rathburn.
The costuming is another highlight of “Princess Whatsername,” all created by the hugely talented Rachael Shinn, office manager at Surprise Lake Middle School. Shinn has her own costuming business called Incredible Costume Creations to offer her fabulous fabrics to other school districts.
“The reason I decided to do it is because those kids work so hard and when they get up there and you put a great, creative costume on them, they just light up,” Shinn said in an earlier interview. “I make everything adjustable and washable, and I like to do it from head to toe – even boots.”
Before the show begins, a video made by Emily Rathburn will be shown so that audience members can get a look behind the scenes at rehearsals and see what goes into creating this Neverland Theater production. In addition to learning the nuts-and-bolts of stage work, there is another aspect of the summer theater camp experience that the youth learn – to believe in themselves and their own capabilities.
“We want these kids to leave here changed from this and have a worthwhile, lasting experience,” Hayley Rathburn said. “It may seem like it’s just a play but it changes you. One of the moms talked to us and said her kids are totally different people here. At school they get bullied and they get so down but they come here and they’re just themselves and they feel safe.”
Performance dates and times for “Princess Whatsername” are July 29 at 7 p.m.; July 30 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and July 31 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 at the door. And don’t forget to bring along some extra cash for $1 popcorn, hot dogs and drinks at intermission. There will also be Neverland Theater merchandise for sale including T-shirts and tote bags, rose bundles and DVD/photo packages for parents and families to order. All proceeds go back into the program to help pay royalties for usage of the play.
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