Wake Forest, Franklinton youths in weekend musical.
By David Leone
RALEIGH — English Bernhardt kissed a boy.
It was a special moment for the rising senior, but for platonic reasons. Up until now, the budding actress had never done drama.
“I’ve been in so many shows, here, there, at school and the N.C. Theatre,” she said. “I’ve never been a romantic character. This is the first time ever I’d had to kiss someone.”
Bernhardt is the second female lead for In the Heights, produced by the N.C. Theatre Conservatory Master Summer Theatre Arts School (STAS).
She joins 35 other youths in the dramatic production this weekend at the school, 3043 Barrow Drive, Raleigh, near Triangle Town Center.
Bernhardt and a handful of the other actors live in Wake Forest, including Ravenscroft student Ahmad Ratliff, rising Enloe High sophomore Trey Fitts and rising Wakefield Middle seventh-grader Reed Shannon. Another actress, Cathy Stephens, is a 2013 Franklinton High grad.
The Tony-Award winning Broadway musical tells the story of a Dominican-American community in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. The performance follows characters’ struggle to achieve hopes and dreams in the midst of uncertainty and hardship, and the importance of relationships, home, and belonging through song and dance.
The sound of experience
Bernhardt, Fitts, Ratliff, Shannon and Stephens play the primary characters of Vanessa, Kevin Rosario, Benny, Sonny and Abuela Claudia, respectively.
These middle and high schoolers have been rehearsing extensively for the four-week summer camp that ends with a full-scale production.
All of the leads have previous experience, some with the N.C. Theatre and at other venues.
Stephens has played Lucy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Gertrude McFuzz in Seussical and several other roles.
Ratliff played the Hawker in STAS’ performance of The Who’s Tommy last summer.
Bernhardt played the title role in Annie, Louisa in The Sound of Music, Nellie in Annie Get Your Gun and other roles.
Though young, Shannon “acts, dances and sings every day knowing someday he shall be called to perform on Broadway,” N.C. Theatre representative Casey Cleland noted.
And Fitts, who has worked in community theater since age 7, has appeared in Tommy, All Shook Up and in the Senior Acting Company’s You Can’t Take it With You and The Crucible.
Fitts, 15, takes the part seriously. In addition to a rigorous rehearsal schedule, he has been working on the background of his character, a father whose daughter is a college dropout.
“I did a little research, since this is a Latino show, about the … classical Latino culture in ’50s and ’60s when my character was growing up,” Fitts said.
“It’s a very serious production. We’ve been rehearsing eight hours a day for the past month,” he added. “Plus, our production team is the best of the best. This is professional directors and choreographers and stage managers.”
Fitts comes from a musical family and plays both piano and drums — and hopes the N.C. Theatre is just one step on the way to an acting career.
“Acting makes me happy. The dream would just be to see what happens after college,” he added, “to see if I want to move to New York or another big theater city.”
Bernhardt, 17, is equally excited about this production and her future possibilities.
She’s performed in eight or nine of the N.C. Theater’s main stage shows, preferring singing roles.
“I’ve been really blessed to be in their shows,” she said.
Like, Fitts, Bernhardt comes from a musical family and began learning dance at age 2.
“I was in my first show, Music Man at age 8. [After], I just wanted to be in show after show after show. I auditioned for anything and everything,” she said.
The rising Ravenscroft senior is now gunning for a college with a musical theater program.
“With musical theater you don’t have to choose between singing and dancing,” she said, adding she intends to pursue it as a career.
“Hopefully after college — I would move to New York tomorrow if I could, to try to be on Broadway,” she added. “It’s a big dream, but you have to dream big.”