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by Chris Conley

Many community theater groups wont do Miss Saigon. Its difficult. You need a very strong female lead. And theres the challenge of making a helicopter land on stage. The debut production of the Everest Academy for the Arts succeeds at both. Their stated purpose is to present difficult theater, drawing on the talents of D.C. Everest drama alumni and other local talents.

Kim, the star of Miss Saigon, is on stage for almost the entire show, and her lines are all sung. Maggie Ward was up to the role. Shes a solid singer, although she was in danger of being overpowered by her male co-star Alex Anderson during some of their duets. She needed her full throat, while he needed to hold back his noticeably more-powerful voice. Ward effectively conveyed vulnerability and inner-strength through her looks and voice. She did an excellent job keeping her emotions up and her focus strong for the nearly two-and-a-hours shes on stage. Anderson, who has a less demanding role as Chris, was the best singer in the cast.

There were several stand-outs in supporting roles. Joshua Grant, as Engineer the nightclub proprietor, rode the line between being outright sleezy and doing what was needed to survive. He had very good stage presence during his solo numbers. Victoria Kemnetz, as the American wife Ellen, was a good singer. Jason Wadzinski, the bad-guy love interest, was a compelling presence in every scene he was in and had a good singing voice too.

The helicopter scene, difficult to execute, was less than convincing. But, coming midway through the second act, the audience had near total buy-in to the production and seemed willing to make allowances. The staging and scenery were excellent. Miss Saigon does not have a memorable score; its ballad-heavy and the emotions the play elicits overshadow the songs. The stage orchestra was the best Ive heard for a Central Wisconsin community theater production.

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I've wondered since first hearing about the Everest Academy for the Arts what their relationship will be with Wausau Community Theater.

WCT would have had a difficult time producing Miss Saigon. They would have had strong leads, as they always do. But the larger production numbers, which are sometimes a weak point for community productions, would have been a challenge. They were very well done last night. Staging using the larger Grand Theater stage would have been more challenging. A full operetta with non-professional voices presents audio and blocking issues in a bigger house.

Yet WCTs longevity gives them a bigger mailing list, a larger subscriber base, and many fundraising advantages. They would have sold more Miss Saigon tickets. Last nights show was about 100-people short of filling the D.C. Everest High School auditorium.

Im not suggesting that Everest Academy and Wausau Community Theater will be rivals. They may do different things well. Everest put on its show in the summer. WCTs schedule runs from fall to spring. They will certainly draw from the same talent pool for auditions. Their audiences will be similar. The two groups may compliment each other, giving theater-goers even more shows to see over the course of a year. But theres a part of me that wonders will we have two pretty-good community theater groups when we could have one, combined great one.

Its undeniable that the Everest Academy for the Arts has made a strong debut. I look forward to their next production.

Chris Conley
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

By Randy Escalada from Manila, Philippines (Her Majesty's Theatre: Miss Saigon) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons