Don't let the title be deceiving, "An Evening Without Sinatra," is anything but. The musical comedy, put on by the Nikiski Middle-Senior High School theater department, is packed from opening number to finale with favorites from Ol' Blue Eyes, as well as jazz and ragtime era classics and several songs written by Nikiski English drama teacher Joe Rizzo.
"I love the songs," said Nikiski sophomore Ramona Baker, who plays a waitress and a member of a tour group in the show. "I think it's so neat that Mr. Rizzo wrote them. They're the kind you find yourself singing late at night."
Rizzo did more than compose songs for the show, he wrote the script and is directing it as well.
The play is set in Chicago in 1962. The once celebrated Lieberman theater is doomed for bankruptcy in spite of efforts by Lieberman's daughter, Tommie (played by Nikiski senior Lyndsy Pritchard), and his theater manager, Sam (played by Nikiski senior Tom Lassen). They lead a ragtag crew of singing and dancing stage hands who are doing everything they can to draw a crowd and save the theater.
A romance plot develops when Tommie falls in love with Sam, who already is infatuated with the head choreographer, Lorraine (double cast with Nicole Sparkman, junior, and Nicole Hobbs, sophomore). In a last-ditch effort to save his theater, Lieberman (played by Don Glaze, the school's vice principal), finagles a one-night-only concert starring Frank Sinatra himself. But when Sinatra doesn't show, the crew is left on their own to save the theater.
Lassen has the honor and challenge of performing the Sinatra songs, since his character, Sam, rehearses as the singer's stand-in.
"I love Sinatra music," Lassen said. "I never wanted to do a lead role, but it's been a lot of fun. It took a lot of Frank Sinatra movies and a lot of going over things time and time again with Mr. Rizzo. But I don't have to be Sinatra, I just have to imitate him."
According to Rizzo, the concept for the play was conceived from Rizzo's years working as a student lighting technician at Soldotna High School Auditorium, where he graduated in 1985.
"Sometimes the techies would have to take parts in the plays in order to make them happen, so the singers and dancers also do everything else," Rizzo said.
This is the third play and second musical Rizzo has written. In keeping
with the theme of a comedy, he worked in jabs at the Chicago Tribune, Nixon and even some foreshadowing poking fun at Starbucks Coffee.
"There's all types of humor in it," Baker said. "There's a lot of things we don't get but an adult who comes in and is in the audience will laugh."
The Sinatra songs include "My Kind of Town," "The Song is You," "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "Me and My Shadow."
Rizzo wrote five songs for the show, "You Can Count on Me," "Let's See the Rat Pack Do That," "Can't Figure It Out," "Let's Dance" and "She's a Grand Old Place."
The musical roster also includes a song by Mim McKay, the music teacher at Soldotna High School, called "My Mother's Hands."
The technical director for the show is Nikiski science and dance teacher, Phil Morin, and the stage manager is Carla Jenness. Chris Morin is the choreographer for the show's numerous dances.
"This is the first big musical of the year, and the kids are doing a great job," Rizzo said. "It doesn't get better than Sinatra swing music and great dancers."
It helps that Rizzo has an experienced acting troupe to work with, he said. Many of the actors are members of last year's state champion Nikiski drama, debate and forensics team.
Having the support of his administrators and having an adult in the cast, Glaze, is an advantage as well because there is someone to model the type of commitment, listening and acting skills it takes to do a production, Rizzo said.
Since Rizzo wrote the play himself, the theater department was able to spend more money on costumes, sound equipment for the auditorium and other embellishments. Usually school theaters pay huge amounts for royalties on already-written plays, Rizzo said.
The Nikiski theater department had to pay royalties on the Sinatra songs and a few others, but publishing companies were reasonable with them since it was a school production, Rizzo said.
Another embellishment to the musical is a live band of Nikiski students and a trumpet player from Elmendorf Air Force Base to accompany the original songs.
"An Evening Without Sinatra" plays at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Feb. 1 and 2. Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 at the door. They are available at the Music Box, River City Books, The Bear Paw, Good Books and More, M & M Market and Charlotte's Restaurant. The musical has its own Web site on Nikiski high's home page under the theater heading
For more information, call Joe Rizzo at 776-9462.
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