Robert Morris, Moon Area share spotlight in musical production

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For its fall musical production, Colonial Theatre at Robert Morris University is bypassing what student actress Victoria Buchtan refers to as their "little black box theater."

Instead, the troupe is traveling up University Boulevard to collaborate with Moon Area High School thespians in the district's new high school auditorium.

The combination of talent pools and operating budgets is making for a more impressive production by students from both schools who are presenting "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" tonight through Sunday.

Middle, high school and college students have been working together for weeks preparing for the musical, based on a biblical story found in the Book of Genesis. The production tells the story of the son of Jacob whose brothers are jealous of him for his coat of many colors and decide to sell him into slavery in Egypt.

"You pick the best of the best from all of the schools and you get one wickedly good production," said Laura Mitchell, producer and Moon Area language arts teacher. "The talent is off the charts."

This first large-scale collaborative effort between the two schools came about through the efforts of former Moon Area superintendent Donna K. Milanovich and Robert Morris vice provost for academic affairs Lawrence A. Tomei.

"Sharing expenses allows us to have a more fully realized production," said Ken Gargaro, a Robert Morris communications professor.

Proceeds from the performances will be split between the two schools.

"The kids mesh famously," said Mr. Gargaro, founder and artistic director of the Pittsburgh Musical Theater. While directing the musical at Moon Area, he also brought along Brent Alexander, Pittsburgh Musical's music director, and Lisa Elliott, choreographer with Pittsburgh Musical and a Robert Morris professor, to help with the production.

Scheduling seems to be the most challenging part of blending the cast of about 40 students which includes an even mix of high school and college students. Additionally, about 25 middle-schoolers are being mentored by the older students.

Miss Buchtan, a Robert Morris sophomore from Carmichaels, is one of the narrators in the musical. She said during the four weeks of rehearsal, she has seen few issues while working with the various age groups but added that because some college classes meet in the evening and late afternoon, there have been times when some performers cannot make rehearsals.

She said the combination of talents requires the older students to be more mature and respectful.

"To me, Ken is Ken. But here, he's Dr. Gargaro," she said. "It's more professional. It gets them prepared for professional theater." Moon Area junior Dana Murray agrees. Working with different directors and different producers allows the younger students to see how the relationships work, she said.

"[We] introduce them into the whole world of theater to see if they want to get involved," said Dana, who plays Mrs. Potiphar.

Dana, 17 and a Moon resident, has been involved with acting since she was 10 and began taking acting classes. She most recently performed in Pittsburgh Musical's "West Side Story."

Miss Buchtan also acts with the company and has been involved with theater since sixth grade. This will be her third time working on a production of "Joseph," which has caused her the added issue of "three different interpretations coming at [her] face" during rehearsal.

Beside their separate roles in "Joseph" and their connection to Pittsburgh Musical, the two are dance captains for the production. Being dance tutors requires them to know all of the dance routines designed for the 21 songs in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical.

Shows are at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at the box office for $10 for seniors/students and $12 for adults.

Sonja Reis, freelance writer:

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