Although it isn’t the first production in the new Piketon High School auditorium, it is the first where the director, parents, cast and crew get to have the full experience of all that the space offers.

Lights, sound, special effects and the voices of a cast that is 52 members strong will be on full display in the comforts of the new space as Disney’s Moana Jr. is set to take the stage this weekend with performances scheduled for Friday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday. Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6 each and can be reserved by calling (740) 289-4117.

The production itself is based on the 2016 Disney film Moana. According to the website, Moana is about an adventurous teenager who, with help from demigod Maui, sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder and save her people.

“We have a huge group of sixth graders in this cast. Since they have been doing this for a while, they are a good example for the younger students,” said Hablitzel, noting that nearly 90 Piketon students ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade auditioned for the production. “We also have 15 students who had never done a musical before. So, it has also been a building year for us.”

As to why Moana was chosen for Piketon’s fall production, Hablitzel explained, “Moana is just my favorite Disney princess. She’s a strong, independent woman, and I love that as a role model for the kids. The kids assume Moana is Hawaiian, but she’s not. She’s Samoan.”

By doing this production, there is a strong educational factor for participants, both in learning the background for Moana and through Hablitzel’s new theater class offered to Piketon High School students for a fine arts credit.

“Musical Theater International (MTI, a theatrical licensing agency) really does a good job of making it a total cultural, educational experience instead of just performing the musical without knowing the background,” said Hablitzel.

“Moana reminds me a lot of Lion King, because it was a totally immersive experience into African culture. They have written Moana the same way, so we had dialect videos where we learned the Samoan and Polynesian words and what they mean. It’s just a full cultural experience. We are learning about an ancient culture that we don’t know.”

Besides teaching English and American Literature at Piketon, Hablitzel now has two periods of theater built into her day. The response to the new theater class has been positive with a total of 22 students taking it for the first time. In the theater class, participants have the opportunity to build sets and props, sculpt, paint, and work behind the scenes to prepare for the upcoming production.

“Theater is a good class for students who need a fine arts credit. A lot of kids are really enjoying it because it is something different. I had a student yesterday tell me, ‘I thought the musical was for nerds, but it was actually cool.’ They get to see behind the scenes, like the special effects with the fog machine and the volcano, plus the experience of seeing it come together,” said Hablitzel.

“I’m going to take the students in my theater classes to go see a show in the spring. Some of these kids would have never thought to go see a musical. It is a cultural experience and allows them to see another facet of life.”

Last spring, Hablitzel had the students do Seussical, the musical, as an all-encompassing production to open the new auditorium with students from every grade, kindergarten through senior, participating. Leading up to that production, practices were held in the old Piketon High School auditorium, the home of musical productions of the past. They moved into the new auditorium just a few days before Seussical took the stage.

“We had a lot of parents come in and volunteer because the Piketon Musical Department was responsible for finishing the backstage the way we wanted. All of the cabinets were put together by parents. They put together chairs, put hooks in the dressing room, and helped to get stuff organized,” said Hablitzel.

“We’re still moving in, but we are getting there. Everything has its place. It’s a great space and we’re happy to have it. The band and chorus rooms are right there beside it so they have great access. We are going to have a full orchestra in the spring for the high school musical. We actually have an orchestra pit, which is really exciting. It feels like a professional space and the kids treat it that way.”

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