The Hills Are Alive

The Hills Are Alive

Last weekend, the Gig Harbor High School’s theater program transported two sold-out houses and one audience of around 70 to World War II era Austria in an incredible performance of The Sound of Music that was made possible only through an fantastic cast, director Tia Weniger, orchestrator Eric Swanson, the extraordinary pit orchestra, and many volunteers and supporters from throughout the community.

The Sound of Music is a musical about a family of seven children, their father—a captain in the Austrian Navy—and their governess, Maria, who wants to become a nun. It takes place in the late 1930s, when Germany took over Austria. The musical contains well known numbers like “Do Re Mi” and “My Favorite Things.” There are also songs included in the play that are not sung in the beloved movie, like “No Way to Stop it,” and “An Ordinary Couple.” A beautiful choir of nuns is also featured singing enchanting latin choruses. The incredible plot of the show, based on the true story of the Von Trapp family, was a wonderful experience for the actors to tell in their own way. Eleanor Trott (11), Leisl’s understudy, explained, “My favorite part of the show is getting to tell this amazing story! I really loved playing a character who was the same age as I am. I think it taught a lot about the importance of music and family in hard times.” Brooklyn Kircher (12), who plays Frau Schmidt, said that the main message she wants people to take away from the show is to, “stay true to [their] morals.”

The entire cast worked long hours to be able to put on such a fantastic production and enjoyed it through all the highs and lows. “It’s been such a blessing to be able to work on this show. I’ve gained a lot of experience that I will use in college in the theater program,” said Campbell Anderson (12), who is the understudy of Mother Abbess, the Reverend Mother of the abbey where our protagonist has become a postulant. Maria’s understudy, Halle Price (12), expressed, “This is my dream show and favorite musical, so seeing it come together like this has been such an amazing experience. One of my favorite things about the show is working alongside my other Maria, Jennica. She is an amazing actress, so being able to bounce ideas back and forth with her has been so fun!” Jennica Moomaw (12), the lead Maria, agreed that being able to work with other people in theater is the draw for her. “Theater brings together a lot of people that maybe wouldn’t normally meet in everyday situations,” she said, “Doing the Sound of Music has stretched me in a new way. Theater has taught me so much about life, how to work with people, and how to approach new situations with confidence and grace.” Bella Cummings (12), who plays Elsa Schraeder, expressed appreciation for the cast, claiming that she “couldn’t have asked for a better cast and crew to perform my senior show with. This has been such an incredible opportunity and I feel like I’ve grown so much as an actor and a person through it.”

Three very talented actresses in this show do not even attend our school. In fact, none of them are even in middle school! All three girls playing Gretl attend various elementary schools around Gig Harbor and have been incredible, putting a tremendous amount of time and effort into memorizing the show perfectly. Maia Weniger (4), Aura Weniger (4), and Charlotte Holly (2) take turns playing the youngest Von Trapp in the performances, blowing the audiences—and the actors—away. “I think that the musical was a fun experience with all of the people in the production,” said Maia. Holly described the show as feeling magical, and said that her favorite part was the lonely goatherd scene. Aura agreed that the bedroom scene was the most enjoyable. “It’s really fun and I like making new friends,” she said. Kaitlyn McCallister (10), who plays Marta, the second youngest Von Trapp child, praised their work, saying, “The Gretls have been working really hard on this show, and I’m so proud of them. I love Maia, Aura, and Charlotte so much. Thank you guys!”

One of the main reasons that the show is such a booming success is because of the incredible pit orchestra, led by Eric Swanson. Percussionist Noah Broadbent (10) said, “I really liked putting together the whole musical. I’ve never been part of a musical or any stage production before, so it’s a new experience for me, and it’s really fun.” Caleb Place (10), the bassist, described the musical as, “quite delightful. It’s really fun to go stay after school and work on music with friends. It’s a nice experience and helps me get better on my instrument.” Place said that his favorite aspect of the process was, “probably the shows, because the most fun part is just to see everything put together in completion.” Megan Brooke (9), the bassoon player, said that, while it was very time consuming to learn and put together, it was very worth it. “There were many challenging parts that helped me grow,” she said. In the pit, there are also several very talented adult volunteers, including Holly Turley, playing the violin. She has played for Gig Harbor High School’s theater productions several times before, and loves the challenge of mastering all the music, especially the hard parts. She expressed how wonderful the rest of the pit has done, and said, “I watched at the start of the process to the end how much personal growth there is for everybody, and how we go from a group of individuals at the beginning to a really cohesive unit at the end. We all learn to rely on each other, and I love that. It’s its own thing, that I don’t think there’s another experience like that.” Mr. Swanson, who has been in charge of putting the “music” in this musical, explained that the best part of being a part of the show was all of the little accomplishments throughout the production, like timing transition music just right. He added that all of the little inside jokes within the pit were another favorite part. “When you rehearse that much and that often together you have all these inside jokes and moments that only the people you shared that with know about,” Swanson said, “For example, I’m a Star Wars fan, so in the second act, when the guy comes out and says “stormtroopers” we all make eye contact with each other. We all know what’s going on. We don’t have to say anything, we just all know what the joke is.”

Michelle Suiter, our principal, who attended the Saturday noon performance featuring most of the lead cast, said, “It was just a tremendous all around incredible performance. Just everything about it was so special.” She explained that the show stayed exciting and surprising from the very first scene to the very last one. “I really liked the scenes that were just the nuns because it got to showcase them and their voices. Probably my favorite part was the Edelweiss moment. That was really special and really well done. It made me cry. I feel like the acting was on point and sitting there, watching the Austrian flags that people had, and then listening to Nex sing and Jennica joining in, and the emotionality and knowing about the war and knowing what the people of Austria went through made it a really profound moment.” She added that Tia Weniger, the theater director who is fairly new to Gig Harbor High School, has brought so much positivity to the program, “She’s super organized and talented and she understands all of the aspects of theater. But beyond that I think she brings a positivity and a calmness and an order to everything that makes it successful in the end. I think she’s been an incredible addition to our team.” She also expressed excitement for the future and everything that such a wonderful, growing program will mean for the future of the theater, of the students, and for the school’s culture. The theater really is blooming and growing like the edelweiss. In addition, Suiter said, “I loved having the pit orchestra there; with their transitions and everything they brought, [they] made it magic.” Students who were members of the many people in the audience also praised the show. Jordan Cunningham (9) told of her favorite part of the show, which was the singing and acting that took place. Izzy Helpenstel (9) mentioned the spectacular costume design, done by Abby Oake (10), Ruby Monroe (11) Karleigh Hammer (11), and Mrs. Jenny Monroe. Helpenstel said, “I liked the ballroom part. I liked the dresses in it, and I feel like the scene added to the play a little bit more.”

Director Tia Weniger could not be prouder of the fantastic performance. “The musical is phenomenal. We have 42 actors in the musical, and it’s double cast. We just hit the ground running, and we opened to two sold out houses this weekend. It was great!” She explained that she chose The Sound of Music specifically to fit the needs of the theater program. “I wanted a show that would capture the magnitude of talent in the program, and so I needed a show that had a big cast. I wanted a show that contrasted Mamma Mia from the year before and something that would challenge the students here.” Her favorite part of directing The Sound of Music has been “building a group of students that are full of integrity,” and she encourages everyone to come see the show.

If you didn’t get to see this amazing musical production last weekend, don’t worry! There are three more performances on Friday, April 5th, at 7pm, and Saturday, April 6th, at 12pm and 6pm. You can buy tickets using this link, but hurry to do so, since they’ve been selling out quickly!