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Popular Disney 'High School Musical' production opens Friday in Bemidji

Basketball star Troy Bolton and academic whiz Gabriella Montez discover they share a common interest in singing -- and each other -- in Disney's "High School Musical."...

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Basketball star Troy Bolton and academic whiz Gabriella Montez discover they share a common interest in singing -- and each other -- in Disney's "High School Musical."

The stage version of the Disney Channel original movie will open at 7 p.m. Friday at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse.

Additional 7 p.m. performances will be held Dec. 15 and Dec. 20-22. Matinees are scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 15-16 and Dec. 21-22.

Admission is $14 for adults and $9 for kindergarten to college students. Tickets are available at Brigid's Cross Irish Pub, 317 Beltrami Ave. N.W., and one hour prior to each performance at the door.

Director Cate Belleveau said the musical will feature Ben Bakken of the Twin Cities as Troy and Kiley Hazelton, an eighth-grader at Bemidji Middle School, as Gabriella.

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Bakken starred in 70-plus performances of "High School Musical" with the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, which premiered the stage version of the musical.

Bakken, who is a hip-hop dance instructor in Chaska, Minn., also just wrapped up "The Rocky Horror Show" at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul. He played Rocky in the show.

When Disney decided to make the "High School Musical" movie into a theater production, it chose only five places in the United States to initially show the stage version, Belleveau said. She said Disney selected the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis as its premiere spot.

Since then, Disney has released the rights so others can produce the stage version of "High School Musical."

Although they come from two very different backgrounds, Troy and Gabriella, who is a new student at East High, find they both have beautiful voices and a love for singing when they meet at a ski resort and sing a duet together during karaoke there, according to Belleveau.

The next day at school, Gabriella discovers she and Troy both attend East High.

They reconnect and encourage each other to try out for the upcoming musical at their high school. But their cross-clique relationship -- and plans to audition for the musical -- challenges them and the status quo at their high school.

Meanwhile, Sharpay Evans considers herself a drama diva and always plays the lead role in shows at East High, Belleveau said. Sharpay and her "sidekick" twin brother, Ryan, add to the twists and turns of the story.

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TrekNorth High School senior Megan Conlon will play Sharpay and Bemidji State University student Jeff Darchuck will play Ryan.

Belleveau said "High School Musical" will feature singing and a four-piece band.

"It's all very hip-hop, contemporary music," she said.

Abe Hunter is the show's music director. Shar Paquette is coaching cast members for the show and sharing music duties with Hunter.

The musical is a production of the Mask & Rose Women's Theater Collective. The local organization has a double mission, Belleveau said. She said the primarily goal is to stage substantive stories about women's lives and the secondary goal is to offer more theater training and productions for regional youth.

The Bemidji production of "High School Musical" is underwritten by a grant from the Bemidji Jaycees, the Ernie Rall Youth Theater Scholarship and the support of members of the Mask & Rose Women's Theater Collective.

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