Apt Pupils

The Civic Academy’s production of Happy Days features an authentic cast of high-schoolers without TV preconceptions

Apt Pupils
Young Kwak
A group of about 30 teenagers in street clothes are onstage at the Civic, rehearsing a big song-and-dance number for the forthcoming musical production of Happy Days. It’s now 1 pm. They’ve been running and re-running through scenes like this one since early in the morning, and they will continue for another four hours.

Tomorrow, they’ll do it all over again as they’ve done for the past two weeks.

For young amateurs like Morgan Keene and Josh Spencer, this arduous process is the highlight of their summer. The two high schoolers are playing leads Pinky Tuscadero and Arthur Fonzarelli (aka “The Fonz”), and they view the challenge as an opportunity to prove themselves.

“If you say you’re involved in a high-school theater program, people think it’s not good,” says Spencer, 16, soon to be a junior at Central Valley High School. “But in this show, there’s so much talent in all different areas. You wouldn’t think a group of high schoolers could pull a show like this off in three weeks.”

It’s Spencer’s first big acting role, and certainly his first lead. He’s coming to the show with more than a decade of dance experience, but many of the other demands — the singing, the acting — marks new territory for him.

Yet he’s proven an apt pupil. In addition to regular sessions with a voice coach, he’s quickly learned to adapt an iconic TV character like The Fonz to his own personality without forsaking the unshakably cool hombre that audiences expect.

Keene finds herself in a similar situation. The 15-year-old, who’s preparing to enter her sophomore year at Mead High School, is relishing the chance to fill the shoes of the brash, straight-talking Pinky Tuscadero.

“My personality is totally different from hers,” she says. “She’s tough. And I keep my opinions back a lot of the time. At first it was kind of hard to match up to her and figure out how I could be like that.”

After two weeks of rehearsal, Keene is much more comfortable in those shoes. “She’s going to be edgy,” she says of her character, “even rude in some parts.”

Like Spencer, she’s taking part in this Civic Academy production with a view to expanding on her background in singing. Following minor parts like an understudy role in last year’s Sound of Music at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, she’s now adding acting and dance to her repertoire.

“It really is a fun experience,” says Spencer. “It’s fun getting to know everybody, and it’s a lot of hard work, but it pays off in the end when everybody’s coming to watch you and support you.”

Happy Days • Aug 10-17 (Wed – Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm) • $18 ($16 seniors, $10 students) • Spokane Civic Theater • 1020 N. Howard • spokanecivictheatre.com • 325-2507

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About The Author

E.J. Iannelli

E.J. Iannelli is a Spokane-based freelance writer, translator, and editor whose byline occasionally appears here in The Inlander. One of his many shortcomings is his inability to think up pithy, off-the-cuff self-descriptions.