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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest High's curtain rises on a season of classics: Shakespeare and Sondheim

Oct 12, 2023 11:52AM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High thespians, seen here in 2022, will return to the annual Shakespeare high school competition this October in Cedar City. (Photo courtesy of Hillcrest High theatre department)

Hillcrest High student-actors are taking a deep dive into “Henry VI, Part 2” not to just try to earn a fourth Shakespeare title in a row, but to engross themselves into the world of William Shakespeare’s writing.

Written about the lifetime of King Henry VI of England, the first part leads up to the War of Roses, while the third part, addresses the horrors of the conflict. The second part deals with the bickering of the king’s nobles, the death of his trusted adviser, the Duke of Gloucester, and the rise of the Duke of York—as well as the inevitability of the armed conflict.

“King Henry was crowned king when he was a baby so his Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester, has been advising him and actually assumed the powers and responsibilities of the throne until he was grown up,” said Gabe Williams, student president of Hillcrest High theatre. “In the play, the Duchess of Gloucester wants her husband to take more power, but he wants to remain faithful to the promises he made to Henry’s father.”

Williams plays the Duke of York, who oversees that area of England for the king. 

“All of those around the young king are kind of vying for power. The Duke of York tries to manipulate a lot of his surroundings to create the results that he wants. But unlike the others, he is playing more of a long-term game than anyone else,” he said.

Being on the Shakespeare team is one of Williams’ favorite parts of being involved in theatre.

“I always feel close to the Shakespeare team. We have a sense of purpose and fulfillment and joy that comes from working hard with the people alongside you. It’s kind of a hard thing to describe, but every year, we collectively feel this magic that comes from our hard work,” he said.

This year’s 57-member team will take their ensemble as well as individual and small group pieces to compete at the 47th annual Shakespeare high school competition Oct. 5-7 in Cedar City. The competition extends its invitation to stage tech to compete in Tech Olympics as well as to students who wish to participate in the dance and choir contests.

Following the competition, the Shakespeare team will hold a free showcase at 7 p.m., Oct. 9 on Hillcrest’s stage, 7350 S. 900 East. 

At the same time as the Shakespeare rehearsals, the musical cast was rehearsing “Into the Woods,” based on the book by James Lapine with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

“Into the Woods” intertwines beloved fairy tales as a baker and his wife, who are longing for a child, set out to break a witch’s curse. Along the way, they encounter Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack, each with their own desires and challenges, yet they must band together to save their world.

“Sondheim is the best musical theatre writer of all time so I’m excited to work with that writing in a full-length show because he finds ambiguity in specificity. He creates these metaphors with his songs, but instead of talking about things directly, he will talk about something specific and if you do the work in your brain, you can come to understand how that applies to your life,” Williams said. “Mr. (Josh) Long (Hillcrest High’s theatre director) talks about Sondheim’s process in his writing. His songs are dynamic and make a social commentary and have an interesting metaphor, word play and alliteration all at once.”

The performances will be held at 7 p.m., Nov. 30, Dec. 1-2 and Dec. 4. Ticket information can be found at on Nov. 1.

Following the musical will be “The James Plays,” performed in the spring.

The trilogy of “The James Plays,” by playwright Rona Munro, brings to life three generations of Stewart kings who ruled Scotland in the 15th century. Each play stands as a vision of a country struggling with its past and future; viewed together they create a narrative on Scottish culture and nationhood. 

Show dates will be available on the theatre website.

The season finishes with “Something Rotten,” based on the book by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick with music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick.

It’s a story about how two brothers, who want to make their name in the theater world, seek wisdom and learn that the future of theater will include singing, dancing and acting so they set to write the world’s first musical in the 1500s even though musical theater hasn’t emerged yet. 

“There’s a lot of dance numbers and a lot of singing and a lot of fun,” he said about the last show that will be performed during his senior year. “It’s going to be a blast.” λ