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Rio Norte drama teacher sings praises of musicals

Her students' latest production opened Thursday.

Posted: March 29, 2008 1:05 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Holly Howell signs an autograph backstage at Rio Norte Junior High School on Thursday, opening night of "The Sound of Music."

"High School Musical" isn't just a hit kid's movie, it's a way of life for the drama students at Rio Norte Junior High School.

Gina Painter is Rio Norte's drama teacher, but she says she wouldn't be upset if you called her the school's musical teacher.

She has nothing against three-act plays, but prefers stage musicals year after year simply because they involve more students and, also she says, because students prefer them.

"I've tried to get as many kids as possible to take part," Painter said. "I don't think kids would be as interested in a three-act play."

On Thursday, the curtain went up on Painter's latest musical - suitably, "The Sound of Music."

The production also runs tonight with tickets for sale at the door.

On opening night, Holly Howell, who played the lead role of Maria, anchored a solid performance with the help 25 of her classmates, and with the help of a singing voice that was always on point, confident and consistently in character.

Painter said there's no way that many students would be able to get on stage if she had chosen, instead, to direct traditional three-act plays.

"The kids want to come in and have fun," she said. "At this age, I would have a lot of kids trying out for parts.

"The kids love musicals," she explained. "They love 'High School Musical' and they love Hannah Montana. They love to be involved in anything that involves singing and dancing."

And while musicals allow her to put a lot of kids on stage, choosing the lead character requires some critical judging and a lot of diplomacy.

"You have to be able to sing to be the lead," she said. "Some have wonderful comic timing but you have to be able to sing and able to act.

"Holly is very special."

Other solid singing performances - that came across due to constant and regular rehearsals, says Painter - were given by Michael Bradley who played the lead male role as Capt. George Von Trapp and by Grace Kimball who played Mother Abbess, singing "Climb Every Mountain."

Among the musicals that Painter has brought to the stage, some include: "Chicago," "Oklahoma" and "Grease."

"I prefer the big singing and dancing musicals," she said. "All the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals."
And, when school ends, the drama drive stays alive at Rio Norte.

Painter launched her summer school last, and this year students signing up for her summer program, Valencia Teen Theater, will be rehearsing the musical "Bye Bye Birdie." Auditions for that show start June 14.


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