Stagemakers at the J present ‘Fame Jr.’
Hopes and dreams run high for a diverse group of students at the prestigious High School for the Performing Arts in New York City in the musical “Fame Jr.”
Stagemakers at the J will perform “Fame Jr.” May 18 and 21 at the Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley, Allentown and May 28 at the Temple Covenant of Peace, Easton.
Based on the book by Jose Fernandez with music by Steve Margoshes, and lyrics by Jacques Levy, “Fame Jr.” explores issues confronting many young people today.
Set in the early 1980s, the students commit to four years of grueling work as they build chemistry with their teachers and each other, but their relationships are often tested as they go through personal struggles to accept themselves.
Choreographer Cheryl Mortiz said having a show set in a performing arts high school with a specific dance ensemble enables her to stretch her choreography muscles, coming up with combinations she might not ordinarily use in a typical musical production.
Music Director Sebastian Paff was initially concerned about the limited number of “Fame Jr.” music tracks available for the cast to listen to.
“The music was not easy, but the kids came in wanting to learn,” Paff said. “There is some powerful talent among our cast. Their knowledge and love for theater has made this an enjoyable experience.”
Maggie Fajardo, of Allentown, a ninth grader at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, plays Carmen Diaz.
“Carmen is a bold girl with a strong upfront attitude that makes her fun to play,” Fajardo said. “The show is unique because there is not just one main lead.
“My fellow cast and crew are extremely kind, too. It is great to be able to perform with them.”
Jonas Hausmann, of Emmaus, an eighth grader at Eyer Middle School, portrays Schlomo Metzenbaum.
“Schlomo does not know what a great songwriter he is and his music makes him quite unique,” Hausmann said. “The people here at Stagemakers are amazing and I enjoy being able to perform with them.”
Hausmann said in comparison to other shows he has performed in, “Fame Jr.” requires a lot more choreography.
Megan Brenkert, of Upper Macungie, plays Serena Katz. “I love the show because everyone is supportive and amazing.They are like my second family,” Brenkert said.
Brenkert, an eighth grader at Springhouse Middle School, said she can relate to Serena because, like many teenagers, she wants to fit in.
Serena is a shy and serious person at first, but eventually with support from her classmates comes out of her shell.
Max Wetherhold, of Northampton, portrays Nick Piazza, a very confident teenager extremely passionate about theater.
“I relate to Nick because I love the theater as much as he does,” Wetherhold, a sixth grader at the Arts Academy Charter Middle School, said.
Wetherhold has been in three other Stagemakers productions and he says each of them has been a good learning experience.
Jace Figueroa, of Allentown, plays Tyrone Jackson, a teenager with a tough guy personality trying to hide a secret about himself.
“I like playing Tyrone; I can relate to being a tough kind of person,” Figueroa said.
Figueroa, an eighth grader at St. John Vianney Regional School, said he was finishing up with another show when “Fame Jr.” rehearsals started. Catching up has been challenging, but he has been having a good time with his fellow cast members making the transition more comfortable.
Emily Joseph, of Allentown, plays Iris Kelly, the best dancer among her classmates but not stuck up about it.
“Iris is a really nice girl dedicated to her work,” Joseph said.
Joseph, a seventh grader at the Arts Academy Charter Middle School, said “Fame Jr.” is her first time performing with Stagemakers and everyone has made her feel part of the family. This is her first show playing a character that has actual lines.
The most challenging part of the show for Joseph is having to dance and sing at the same time.
“But that is part of theater,” Joseph said. “It allows you to step out of the real world and become a different character.”
Maci Pollitt, of Whitehall, portrays Maybel Washington, a dancer with weight-loss issues.
“Maybel has a lot of sass but will do just about anything for food,” Pollitt, a seventh grader in the Whitehall-Coplay School District, said.
Pollitt said she can be someone else and feel free when performing on stage, which probably explains why she has performed in eight other Stagemakers productions.
Jess Fruscella, of Bethlehem, plays the role of Grace “Lambchops” Lamb, a fun and rebellious girl not afraid to speak her mind.
“I feel connected with Grace because we are both drummers and full of energy,” Fruscella, a 10th grade student at the Commonwealth Charter Cyber Academy, said. “I have to make sure I separate myself from her.”
Fruscella says that in theater, favoritism does not exist and everyone has an equal opportunity to shine.
Stefania Schoen, of Lower Macungie, portrays Esther Sherman, a strict teacher with good intentions to see her students succeed.
“Playing Ms. Sherman without being too mean is difficult,” Schoen said. “It is rewarding to perform with such a talented cast.”
Schoen, a ninth grader at Emmaus High School, is performing in her 12th Stagemakers production.
Brianna Minnich, of Whitehall, plays Ms. Myers, an acting teacher who comes off strong and abrupt, but is just trying to provide tough love for her students so they can reach their full potential.
“I absolutely love theater,” Minnich, an eighth grader at Whitehall-Coplay Middle School, said. “The best part is being able to be someone different and making new friends along the way.”
Director Sarah-Jane Pierce has assisted with Stagemakers performances before but “Fame Jr.” will be the first one she is directing.
Pierce said she is beyond thrilled to be directing this show.
“I graduated high school from the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts, which is very similar to the high school in “Fame Jr.” I feel a deep connection to the characters and their stories.”
Pierce is very proud of her cast and crew for all their hard work.
“I am so humbled to be able to work with their talents and pass along to them the love of theater,” she explained
“Fame Jr.” will be performed 7 p.m. May 18 and 2 and 7 p.m. May 21 at the JCC of the Lehigh Valley, 702 N. 22 St., Allentown.
The show will also be presented 2 p.m. May 28 at the Temple Covenant of Peace, 1451 Northampton St., Easton.
Tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance by calling the JCC at 610-435-3571.