Mama Madison: Theatrical talent close to home

Real high school musicals shouldn't be missed

A couple weekends back, as a group birthday present, my mom treated my sister, my niece, my daughter and I to tickets to a Saturday matinee performance of Flashdance: The Musical at the Overture Center. The two 11-year-old girls absolutely loved it. And to be honest, if you'd been in the balcony, you might have caught their 40-something moms performing a relatively tame lip sync to "Maniac" and "Manhunt," as well. When it comes right down to it, what's not to like about a stage show that features yards and yards of Lycra, ripped sweatshirts and a sexy steel worker?

Oh yeah, I can definitely think of one thing not to like (beyond the somewhat forgettable new music). The price. At nearly $50 dollars a ticket, it was an extremely expensive afternoon. And that's without buying (much to my daughter's chagrin) a pair of the fluorescent pink legwarmers they were selling in concessions.

So what's a parent who is not the financial equivalent of Annie's Daddy Warbucks to do if she wants to expose her kids to musical theater more regularly?

The answer came just this past Saturday night when my same performance-going posse (plus my five-year-old nephew) went to the closing night performance of West High's spring musical Beauty and the Beast, a stage adaptation of the 1991 Disney animated feature. To say it was absolutely fantastic would be the ultimate in understatement.

Junior Grace Ferencek who played Belle has a gorgeous singing voice and was a complete delight to watch on stage. She was so fabulous that I was somewhat tempted to make my way backstage after the performance to get her autograph before she someday wins a Tony or an Oscar. Trust me, she's that good.

And the fact that Reid Annin, also a junior, had the acting chops to communicate the pathos of the beast under heavy make up and faux fur was remarkable, as well. Truth be told, every member of the ensemble was well cast and memorable. I wish I could name them all, but there must have been at least fifty kids in the production, if not more. And whether portraying French countryside villagers or anthropomorphic kitchen utensils, their excitement with being on stage was palpable.

Mix this in with lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.

So I'm genuinely sorry for you theater fans who missed out on West's show. But there's no need to fret. There's another chance to check out a Madison high school musical this weekend at La Follette. The Lancer Cast & Company will be presenting the final performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! over March 13-15 at 7:30 p.m. (Call La Follette at 608-204-3600 for reservations, because the online ticketing function is down right now, or buy tickets at the door.)

Yes, I guess you can say, to borrow from Ado Annie, that I'm becoming a "Girl who Cain't Say No" to a terrific student musical experience. And tickets for this one are an outrageously affordable $7 for adults and $5 for students.

I've often heard you get what you pay for. But "What a Feeling" it is when you get -- as is the case with high school theater -- so, so much more.

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