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'42nd Street' Offers a Show Within a Show

Harrison High School students will take audiences back in time with their production "42nd Street", set in Great Depression-era Broadway.

Offering a unique look at the behind-the-scenes life on depression-era Broadway, Harrison High School students will take to the stage five times this weekend, performing the musical hit "42nd Street".

The show features Peggy Sawyer (played by Kayla Pettinato), a naive young woman from Allentown, PA, trying to make it big as an actress in New York City. But a missed audition leaves Sawyer on the outside looking in for the production of "Pretty Lady".

Her struggle to work her way to the show's leading role creates plenty of memorable characters and offers the ensemble cast lots of opportunities to shine. Debbie Toteda, who is directing her first show in Harrison, said the musical is a perfect fit for the 48-member cast with a variety of talents.

In order to work their way into character, students say they have been studying old films, watching YouTube videos of previous productions and trying to find a personal connection to the 1929 Great Depression-era setting.

"Right now we are facing hard economic times as it is, so these students can kind of relate to that," said Toteda. "I kind of ask them to sort of put themselves in a situation where they've felt that same strain, maybe not economically, but maybe they can find something they can identify with."

Pettinato, a senior who played the lead role in last year's production of "", will again take center stage as Peggie Sawyer. Already an experienced actress and four-year veteran of Harrison's productions, Pettinato said she has drawn on her own experiences with acting to help with the part.

"I went through a similar thing that (Sawyer) went through when I was young, just going on auditions and you face the rejection and then sometimes you get the part and you go through that," said Pettinato. "I had to learn what Broadway was all about just like Peggy did."

That character relation is found throughout the cast, as "42nd Street" offers many students the unique opportunity to act as actors and show audiences what it's like to produce a musical.

"It shows the audience what we do and what happens behind the scenes for us," said Nicole Barletta, a senior who will be playing Andy Lee, a choreographer in the show. "It brings it alive for them."

Totena said playing the role of actors has been a rewarding challenge for the students over the last 10 weeks.

"That part they can really identify with," said Toteda. "The crunch of putting a show together and the camaraderie and the excitement and hard work."

Another unique challenge this year is the use of tap dance throughout the performance. Audiences will be treated to several dance numbers that include a large amount of the cast. Although an audience favorite when the curtains are raised, training students to tap in such a short amount of time is a daunting task.

But students have worked together, stayed late for extra training and done a little homework to make sure they are confident and prepared for this week.

"That's the beauty of an ensemble show, is watching kids who never thought they could do this shine and watching the kids who could get better," said Toteda. "You are watching the success happen right in front of you in this type of a show."

Performances of "42nd Street" are scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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