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Rose Hill Elementary, Studio East in Kirkland present 'Peter Pan'

For its 12th annual stage production, Rose Hill Elementary School is taking the classic story about the boy who wouldn't grow up and giving it a comedic and musical twist.

"Peter Pan in Neverland" features 35 fourth- through sixth-graders and is a not-so-traditional retelling of James M. Barrie's "Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up." The musical, a collaborative effort with Studio East in Kirkland, will be showing at 7 p.m. Jan. 7-8 at Rose Hill Junior High School, 13505 N.E. 75th St. in Redmond. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children and seniors.

The script, which is similar to the Disney classic many people are familiar with, was provided by Studio East, with musical direction by Dan Shelhamer. Studio East is also providing costumes and props. Parent volunteers are in charge of building the set.

This is sixth-grader Alessa Arimoto's second time in a Rose Hill Elementary production, her first year being last year in "Around the World in 80 Hours." In this year's musical, she's playing a pirate.

Alessa was part of the Seattle Girls' Choir before "Around the World" and said she auditioned for the production because she thought she could do a singing part with her choir experience. She really enjoyed the experience and decided she wanted to give it another go this year.

"Last year I thought it was really fun and I really liked having the audience applaud for everyone," the 12-year-old said.

Alessa said her favorite part about being part of the productions has been learning choreography for the musical numbers because it's "fun yet it's kind of challenging." The most difficult part is dealing with nerves. She said in the past, she would get a weird feeling before going on stage and worry about forgetting her lines. But after the first show, that anxiety goes away.

"If you do a good job on the first play, then you know you got it nailed for the second one," Alessa said.

Alessa's mother Pam Arimoto, a Rose Hill PTSA member and parent volunteer for "Peter Pan," said her daughter is not the only student to participate in the school's production multiple times. Arimoto said the annual show has a "very high return rate."

She said of the 35 students involved in "Peter Pan," only three are boys — one sixth-grader and two fourth-graders — but she doesn't know why. She said last year was about the same with a cast of mostly girls and only a handful of boys.

"I don't know what the dynamic is," Arimoto said.

Despite their small number, the boys in the musical are not intimidated by being surrounded by mostly female costars. "Peter Pan" director Walayn Sharples said the boys don't necessarily stick together either.

Sharples, who is also an actress, became involved with the show after auditioning for Studio East's StoryBook Theater, a program started to introduce young audiences to live musical theater. She had received a callback for January, but was also invited to direct "Peter Pan," which is part of Studio East's ArtReach!, a six-week school residency program for up to 50 students to put on a musical production. This gives schools the opportunity to have a drama program and students a glimpse into theater.

Because students pay to participate, anyone who auditions is automatically in the production.

"We pay Studio East a certain amount for them to do the play but the rest of the funds go to the school PTSA," said Arlene Kettering, a parent volunteer and the show's producer. "It's not a really big fundraiser. Mostly we shoot to break even on the whole deal. I'm hoping this year we'll make enough money to offer some partial scholarships for the play next year."

Auditions are held to determine who will play which part.

While she has directed in the past, this will be Sharples' first time working on a production with Studio East. Also, as a certified teacher, this is not her first time working with a large group of children. Even with all of her experience in theater and with children, Sharples was still very impressed with the Rose Hill Elementary students.

"The kids have just been awesome," she said.

She said the difficulties have come from the erratic rehearsal schedule they've had since the beginning. Rehearsals, which have been four days a week for three hours, began in November. But there have been holidays, snow closures and winter break between then and now. The students also did not rehearse on a stage until they returned from winter break. Despite these less-than-ideal circumstances, Sharples believes the students will still put on a great show.

"The kids had one of the best run-throughs the Friday before break," she said. "I have full faith in them and we will have a wonderful show."

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