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Hillcrest says final goodbye to auditorium in "Follies"
If you're familiar with Hillcrest High School, you know about their musicals.
When my oldest sister Lani saw her first Hillcrest production, it was Fiddler on the Roof back in the fall of 1991. Although Lani had planned to attend Brighton High School with our brother Rich and some of her friends the following year, seeing this particular performance confirmed her decision to switch her enrollment to Hillcrest. She saw Andrew Lambert as Tevya in Fiddler and was "completely blown away," as she put it. The caliber of Hillcrest musical casts and the mastery and zest with which they performed became legendary in the community.
So with Lani starting at Hillcrest, a long line of Turnbow students began and a family legacy was born. True, we mostly saw the Hillcrest stage as members of Chorale, Concert Choir, and Vocal Ensemble, but there were plenty of other appearances, too. Bryce and April were members of their respective Hillcrest Productions Companies, April was a student body officer, and Michelle, a homecoming and prom queen candidate. I definitely remember several of my brothers competing in the Mr. Hillcrest assembly, performing their hearts out on that stage. So while I don't come from a family of thespians or lead performers, we definitely had blood, sweat, and tears on that stage and in that auditorium.
For my part, I sang in all the choirs and played in the orchestra, often accompanying the choir on the piano as well. But more than anything, it was the musicals. Beauty and the Beast, Suessical, and Curtains will always be a part of me, because I was a part of them. I never had a coveted lead, but that was the thing about Hillcrest musicals—every performer made it what it was.
I laugh that I keep talking about the stage, because perhaps the most unique aspect about Hillcrest musicals wouldn't have happened without the dancing chorus members in the aisles putting their hearts and souls into these performances. Because of this practice of performers on stage and in the aisles, audiences experienced a unique surround-sound viewing that was unforgettable.
And I really won’t ever forget seeing Chris Davies in Oklahoma as Curly, or Jessi Durrant in her red boots as Ariel Moore in Footloose, not to mention Kate Smith as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, or Jessalyn Davis as Belle and countless other performances. Were the performers themselves the key to high school musical success? Maybe, but I don't think a handful of talented high schoolers were the sole reason for Hillcrest musical success. It was tireless teachers and instructors, talented and eager students, supportive parents, and the magic of what can happen when so many people come together. On that stage, and in those aisles, and in that auditorium, magic happened.
And it has happened again for one last time in an alumni-filled production of Sondheim's Follies. As I approached attending this performance, I had my reservations that it would be a little too on the nose. But I was pleasantly surprised by impressive group numbers, professional-level vocals, and stirring acting performances.
This particular musical's plot was not my favorite, perhaps due to the depressing nature of its premise, but it was certainly prescient. Even Oscar Wilde would have been shocked to see how life imitates art in this circumstance: a show about a group of performers returning to their old auditorium to reminisce and relive moments from their youth before the theatre is torn down. Despite the dark possibility of confronting old regrets, it became obvious that this choice of musical was appropos and perfect for showcasing current students and alumni talent with the impending demolition of the beloved Hillcrest Auditorium.
The night was punctuated by powerful vocals from the likes of Aimee Pike, Andrew Lambert, Lucas Henry Proctor, Rachel Proctor Tomsick, and more. Comedic timing and delivery from Chelsea Lujan, Brian Bentley, and Keri Anderson Hughes were pleasing. Audience members were also blessed with several show-stopping solos. Performer talents aside, I acutely felt the discomfort of wishing one could go back in time and make different choices. The characters, and most viewers for that matter, were forced to ask themselves, "did I marry the wrong person? Will I ever feel young again? What have I actually achieved in life?" Not really what I'd call an easy viewing experience. But then again, life isn't easy, is it? Sondheim and Goldman have a way of reminding us of the not-so shiny aspects of reality.
In the end, the final number of Follies leaves things open ended; while each of the four leads have a number realizing their own folly, they end up heading back to their same old worn out lives again, but this time with some hope for a brighter future. We can wish we had different lives and even play the game of "if I'd just made a different choice back then," but we made the choices we did for a reason. Even if we could go back, would we take a different path? Or would we simply give ourselves a hug and offer reassurance or self-love? It's about acceptance of who we are, enjoying where we are, and what we have. Old or young, if we can be happy in the now, we can be free of one of the most common follies in humanity: wasting time and youth wanting what we don't have. Instead, why not appreciate what’s right in front of us, particularly our relationships?
It’s only normal to miss things about the past, because in many ways, life was less complicated. As I left the show Friday night, I couldn't help but feel wistful as I walked the halls of my soon-to-be demolished high school. Despite missing the days of my youth on that stage, I also was glad to no longer be in that youthful stage. Like any young person, I did some stupid things in high school. I suffered heartbreak and speeding tickets and bad haircuts, and as Brian Bentley's character, Dimitri Weismann puts it, "But I'm here." Perhaps we could all learn from Dimitri and Carlotta that despite it all, we are still here. And particularly after the year we just had, that fact alone is well worth celebrating.
If you’re interested in saying your own farewell to the old school building, stop by on Saturday, May 22, 2021. The Official Hillcrest High Alumni Association is hosting a final open house from 12 - 6 PM for the old Hillcrest building, which is being demolished this Summer. At 2 PM, any alumni (and alumni parents, families, etc.) are invited to gather in the auditorium to sing “Peace Be With You” one last time in that space..