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'Peter Pan' comes to life at Tualatin High School

In one of its biggest productions, TuHS presents the classic tale of never growing up, opening Friday, Feb. 20

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Junior Austin Brown, playing the part of Peter Pan, spars with senior Braedon Kwiecien as Captain James Hook, during the rehearsal of Tualatin High School's musical of 'Peter Pan.' An elaborate set and students swinging from the ground to the rafters is an unusual occurrence for Tualatin High School's musicals. Well, it isn't unusual so much as impossible, something that simply had never — and seemingly might never — be done. Vocal music director Kim Kroeger decided to change that.

“I just wanted to offer something different,” she said. “We've done these shows very inexpensively. I just thought it was time for our community to experience something special.”

That something special is a classic and timeless tale of never growing up, a tale that many feel nostalgic for in one way or another. For Kroeger, her nostalgia comes from always wishing she could play Peter Pan, but never having the opportunity.

“So, I thought it would be fun to have the kids have the opportunity,” she said.

Planning for the production began a year ago when Kroeger booked “Peter Pan” sets from the Fullerton Civic Light Opera in California, and arranged for Las Vegas' Flying by Foy to come out and teach her students how to take to the air. At the time, she didn't know if she had approval, she just knew she couldn't pass up the opportunity. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Braedon Kwiecien plays the part of Captain James Hook during the rehearsal of Tualatin High School's musical of 'Peter Pan.'

“I could always have cancelled it,” Kroeger said, laughing.

If it hadn't been for Kroeger, director Dan Murphy doubts whether or not “Peter Pan” would be happening, or if the school would put on a musical at all.

“Kim really pushes the envelope, and I admire the fact that she has as much get-up-and-go as she does,” Murphy said. “None of this would exist without her.”

With the help of fundraisers and sponsorships, Kroeger didn't have to cancel her set or flying lessons, and TuHS's production of “Peter Pan” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20 in the school's auditorium. With that comes the inclusion of nearly 100 students in the show, behind the scenes and in the orchestra pit. And of course, for the first time ever, some of them get to fly.

“The only reason I auditioned for John was so that I could fly,” said senior Nick Steele, who plays John Darling. “It's scary because you don't have much control. It's mostly your operators who control all of it. ... I thought about it a lot before I started flying, but then once I did, I didn't think it was that big of a deal. But really, I could die at any time.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Reginald Stegmeier, the band teacher at Tualatin High School and Hazelbrook Middle School, directs the orchestra during the rehearsal of TUHS's musical of 'Peter Pan.'

A small smirk creeped onto Steele's face before he added, “But you have to suffer for your art.”

Joining Steele in the air are four other students, including of course the actor playing Peter. And behind each student in the air are people pulling on their wires, controlling their up and down and side to side motions. It's not an easy task — whether you're the person in the air or on the ground — and it's why an employee with Flying by Foy spent a couple days with everyone initially, teaching them the ropes and showing everyone what to do. On top of it all, this is a musical, so when the actors are in the air, they're usually singing.

“It's not what you'd think it'd be like. You have to keep all your weight back and have this standing straight up posture. It's really hard to keep all your breath and support while you're being tossed around and thrown,” said junior Austin Brown, who's playing Peter. “If something goes wrong, I can't play it off, because I don't know what's going on back there.”

While at the back of the flying students' minds is the possibility of something going awry, for the most part, they bring it up as an afterthought, with most of their focus on the excitement of it all.

“It's really fun,” Brown said. “You forget about the harness and everything, and it's just like, 'I'm flying!' I'm really excited for all the little kids to see it. I think that's where the 'magic' will come out.”

But the show's excitement isn't totally reliant on those above the crowd. Poor Captain Hook and his loyal pirates never get to fly, but their personalities alone are big enough to fill the room. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Junior Austin Brown plays Peter in TuHS's upcoming production of 'Peter Pan.'

“Hook is like, 'I AM CAPTAIN HOOK!' I love just getting into character and being outrageous and having fun,” said senior Braedon Kwiecien in a voice he created especially for the role. Somehow, it's simultaneously higher and lower than his natural voice, and operates on a cadence that would be awkward for normal talking, but lends itself well to pirate speak.

“The voice kind of made itself, really," he said. "The words are piratey, too, so I just thought the voice came with it.”

Brought to life by the students, dreamed up by Kroeger and led by Murphy, “Peter Pan” is possibly the most spectacular musical TuHS has ever seen. Murphy, who founded Broadway Rose Theatre with his wife, has directed TuHS's musicals for the last 13 years. He said the job comes with challenges, but there's something that brings him back year after year.

“I see freshman come in here, and they very nervously come in and they sing their song in the audition, and they don't know anybody in the school, and I see friendships blossom over the rehearsal period,” he said. “I think there's a sense of ownership, and I think they tap into some of the creativity that they may or may not have known that they had. And I think it really feels like a place to belong.”

On a Monday afternoon rehearsal a couple weeks before opening night, the students perform with gusto and spirit, and work with the orchestra to get their timing down. Kroeger and Murphy shout advice and reminders from off stage when necessary, and between scenes, the actors joke with each other before scurrying to get into position. They're tweaking details big and small, all to get ready for the show's unveiling.

“I can hardly wait. I can just absolutely hardly wait to share it with our community and the kids in the elementary and middle schools,” said Kroeger. “I just hope that it's infectious.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Austin Brown, playing the part of Peter Pan, flies with Lily Kirwan (Wendy) Nathan Haines (Michael) and Nick Steele (John), during the rehearsal of Tualatin High School's musical 'Peter Pan.'

See the show


"Peter Pan" the musical at Tualatin High School


• Feb. 20, 21, 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m.

• Feb. 22 and March 1 at 2 p.m.


Tualatin High School Auditorium; 22300 S.W. Boones Ferry Rd.


$10, free for children 2 and under. Tickets are available during school hours at the high school's main office, at the door 35 minutes before the show, or online at webstore.ttsd.k12.or.us. For more information, contact the music department at 503-431-5705.

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