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West Hills Introduces Steampunk to an 1870s Musical

Apr 08, 2016 10:46AM ● Published by Tori La Rue

By Tori La Rue | tori@mycityjournals

West Jordan - West Hills Middle School combined comedic opera with steampunk style in their production of “The Pirates of Penzance” in March. 

Students requested a school musical with prominent roles for boys and with lots of stage time for chorus members, producer Clarisse Offen said. “The Pirates of Penzance” was a great fit for these reasons, but the production crew feared that the students wouldn’t enjoy it because its roots date back to 1879, Offen said. 

“We wanted to do our own thing with it, so that it would be unique, and steampunk just worked,” Judy Binns, volunteer director, said. “I thought the kids would dig it, and they do. It gives it that little something extra to say, ‘We’re West Hills and we’re awesome.’”

In the steampunk genre, science fiction and new technology meet the Victorian era, producing an edgy and industrial old-fashioned look. Metallic gears hung from the school’s ceiling over the stage, and the students’ homemade costumes combined lacy designs with dark leather to set the scene during the show’s run on March 11 and 12. 

The classic story unveiled in its new environment as ex-pirate Frederic, played by Nathan Cooley, stumbled upon the daughters of Major-General Stanley and fell in love with one of them. 

Abigale Hokanson, who plays the love-sick daughter named Mable, said her favorite scene is when the ensemble of police come on stage and sign about how they will die to protect the Major-General’s family from any pirates. 

Major-General Stanley, the man with the most power in the show, was played by Gavin Robinson, the shortest member of the cast. Gavin, 12, said this was his second play and he got butterflies when waiting to go on stage. 

“Once I get on stage, I am ready to go,” he said. “It just feels so cool to be on stage and have people laugh at you.” 

Gavin sang “Major-General,” a fast-paced tongue-twister song in which he describes his qualities. Gavin stood on a wooden crate as he sang the song, helping him to stand out among the rest of the cast.

In another song, the policeman danced in rigid form, occasionally breaking out a more modern dance move. Offen designed the policemen’s outfits, with olden-time collared white shirts as a contrast to their modern-style dance.

Alene Peterson helped two of her granddaughters make their costumes for the show. She said they modified skirts from the DI and found steampunk accessories to give their outfits some flair. 

“It was funny because the Zurchers was basically all out of steampunk accessories because everyone had rounded up supplies from there for the show,” she said. 

After seeing the performance, Peterson said she loved the concept of combining “The Pirates of Penzance” with steampunk. 

“I’d seen the play before, but they altered the play to fit the age of the kids,” Peterson said. “It really worked. Steampunk made it just fantastic.” 

The cast consisted of 72 seventh- through ninth-graders, with six students on stage crew and six more running the technical booth. The directors, producers and other helpers are volunteer moms whose kids attend West Hills. 

Offen didn’t have any children attending West Hills this year, but she said she loves helping with the school musical so much that she didn’t want to miss this year. 

“Judy and I decided that even after all of our kids have grown out of West Hills, we want to still keep the musical alive and around,” she said. 

Spectator Brian Hall said West Hills pulled the play off so well that he would have thought they were in high school. He said he was surprised West Hills didn’t charge an admission fee. 

“This is the type of thing I would pay to see,” he said.

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