PHS senior Micah Matthews sings out front during a scene from "High School Musical." (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High School’s top acting talent will take to the stage this week with four performances in the “junior” theatrical version of “High School Musical” — the popular movie that first aired in 2006 on the Disney Channel and was followed by two sequels with a third currently in production.

“It’s really fun to just do a rendition of these very famous popular characters and see how I can play with them, see how I can take bits of what they had and add it to my own style,” said senior Micah Matthews, who plays Troy Bolton in the A cast and Zeke Baylor in the B cast. “So it’s been really fun trying to make the two characters seem different in the way that I play them because they’re in a lot of the same scenes.”

Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News

Matthews and the other 40 PHS students involved with the production were putting the final touches on the performance Tuesday during a dress rehearsal. The show goes before live audiences in the high school’s auditorium at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights along with a 1 p.m. matinee on Saturday afternoon. Admission is $7 at the door.

“We have two different casts and every person has two roles,” said freshman Liam Bennett, who plays the same two characters as Matthews. “It gives more people star roles and a chance to perform and have different experiences.”

Double casting also allows the production to have backup actors ready to step in, if needed.

“Usually by the end of the show, somebody has gotten sick, so it always pays off in the end,” said Jolene Latz, co-director. “It’s just really tough in the practices.”

The show’s other co-director, Shannon Webb, added, “The talent is just ridiculous that we needed to” have two sets of personnel.

The student actors have different reasons for wanting to be involved in a school play.

“I love being on stage … I like attention in all aspects of my life but you just get this feeling when you’re on stage and I don’t know how to describe it — it just feels good,” said senior Grace Bennett, who plays Taylor McKessie in both casts. “And then all this hard work that you’ve done for this whole time and it finally comes together.”

Senior Ingrid Hellesto, who plays Gabriella Montez in the B cast and one of the jocks in the A cast, indicated that getting up on stage has been a new experience.

Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News

“It’s just fun because I’m usually a pretty generally quiet person,” Hellesto said. “So I guess when I’m on stage with other people who also like theater, it’s a time where I just get to have fun and be silly and dance and sing.”

Junior Bailey Bell, who is opposite Hellesto as Gabriella Montez in the A cast and a jock in the B cast, added, “I like hanging out with cool people that I don’t hang out with really in a lot of other aspects of my life, so it’s fun that I get to be around them and sing and dance with them.”

Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News

Freshman Isaac Avery enjoys the challenge of making the dance sequences work together. Avery plays Ryan Evans in the A group and Chad Danforth in the B group.

“I really like the dances in this play,” Avery said. “The dances in this play — they’re more difficult but they’re really cool when you see it put together.”

PHS play practice typically goes on for three months before the shows are performed in front of an audience but this year, there was a later-than-usual start. The co-directors said practice started the last week of September but “the kids were eager to jump in and just make it happen.”

Matthews said the cast and production team has put a lot of effort into making the play come together in that short period of time.

“There’s a lot in this for people and we just have fun,” Matthews said. “This is a pretty skilled cast, honestly, and you’re going to hear some good singing and you’re going to see some good dancing.”

Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News

Asked what they enjoy most about directing a high school play, both quickly said it’s all about the kids.

“We both direct at the middle school and so these kids were in the middle school plays, too,” Latz said. “It’s fun to see how grown up they are now and how much more they can do on their own without the supervision that comes with middle school. It’s just really cool.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.