NEW CASTLE — (Video highlights and a complete cast list appear at the bottom of the story.)
It’s still a great time to be a basketball player at New Castle High School, even if you’re just pretending.
Though the WPIAL Class AAA champion Red Hurricane was dethroned in its attempt to win a state title, the ball is still bouncing in the school’s production of “High School Musical,” which opens Thursday.
“It’s been such a thrilling time around here for basketball,” said Karmin Dando, who is directing for a fourth year along with Joye Piscatella.
Dando said four members of school’s basketball team originally auditioned for roles in the play last fall, but had to withdraw because of the demands of their sport. However, Shawn Anderson, a junior on the WPIAL title team, served as a consultant.
“He helped us make sure things were done right,” Dando said.
Still, the persona of roundball hero Troy Bolton has been taken on by Anthony Humphrey, who played football for the Red Hurricane last fall.
Maybe it’s not much of a stretch for Humphrey to portray a high school senior since he’s been playing that role since school started last August.
“Last year I was a prince (in Cinderella),” he said. “This year I’m just a normal high school guy.”
But can anybody really call Troy Bolton a normal high school guy?
In the movie, Troy and Gabriella Montez come from two different worlds. Troy is a basketball star and Gabriella is the smart, stunning geek. When they meet on New Year’s Eve, they instantly click. Soon after Troy learns that Gabriella is a new classmate. They accidentally audition for the high school musical, but the social circles they travel in don’t approve of their new friendship.
Some jealous thespians manipulate the callbacks by getting them scheduled at the same time as the championship game.
Mariah Fornataro plays the part of Gabriella.
Fornataro said many students are anxious to see the play.
“They know the movie and want to know what we are going to incorporate into it,” she said.
Her favorite scene is performing the song, “Status Quo,” which takes place in the cafeteria.
“It’s very upbeat and there’s a lot of movement.”
There’s a deeper connection for the two leads, who’ve known each other since before grade school.
“There’s part of a song in which one asks the other about remembering when they were in kindergarten,” Mariah said. “And it’s neat because Anthony and I were in kindergarten together at Croton.”
Mariah has been working in theater since age 3. Her mother, Maura, had a starring role in “The King and I” at the Playhouse, and Mariah was in it.
Humphrey has seen the movie and plans to mix some of what he saw in Zac Efron’s performance of Bolton with some of his own ideas.
As for the excitement of the show, Humphrey compares it to the thrill of playing football on Friday nights at Taggart Stadium.
“The adrenaline rush is exactly the same. I get so hyped up and ready to go. Then after the first hit, everything settles down,” he said. “It’s the same on stage until the first song.”
Dando is pleased with what she has seen.
This year’s seniors are a very special group to us,” said Dando, who is directing for the fourth year along with Joye Piscatella. “They’ve been so good to us.”
“And they’ve been excellent mentors to the younger students in the play.”
More than a dozen eighth-graders were selected for parts in the chorus. The entire cast of 70 performers is featured in the opening number and closing of Act 1 as well as show’s final act.