Arts & Entertainment

'Jungle Book' last stand for Pasco High School's exiting theater director

The Jungle Book, which opens at Pasco High School on March 13 in the Gregson Auditorium, is Todd Westendorf's swan song as director at the school.

"After working at Pasco High for the past eight years, the opportunity presented itself to be able to start the Theatre Arts Program at Chiawana High School," Westendorf said.

Chiawana is the Pasco School District's newest high school, which will open to students in September.

"I jumped at the chance for this unique opportunity to direct a new theater program in a state of the art facility," Westendorf added.

But there's a touch of bittersweet attached to the new position at the new digs.

"Pasco High has been a fantastic place to work, and the students who have been a part of the theater arts program (during his tenure) also have been fantastic," he said.

Next year Westendorf said he'll have the best of both worlds by teaching drama at both high schools.

"The only bad thing is that I won't be able to be at both schools at the same time to run the after-school theater arts production club," he said. "So, this will be the last show I direct for Pasco High."

Despite all that, Westendorf and his drama students are excited about The Jungle Book, which is Rudyard Kipling's adventure story about Mowgli, portrayed by Kiersten Merrill, who grows up believing he's as fierce a wolf as any of the members of the pack of wolves who raised him.

Other key players are Bo Mendez as Shere Khan, Brennan Watts as Baloo, Courtney Verret as Bagheera, Delaney Rogers as KAA and McKenzie Shoemake as Tabaqui.

"This by far is the most ambitious play, technically, Pasco High Theatre Company has undertaken," Westendorf said.

That would include 45 additional lighting fixtures to add to the nine intellibeams and light fixtures already in the auditorium. Other visual enhancements for this production include hazes, smokers, fog machines, strobe lights, black lights and automated scenery.

"This show has all the bells and whistles of a full scale musical with the budget to boot," Westendorf said.

The only downside to The Jungle Book has been the sadness surrounding the team's costumer, Verna Schwilke, Westendorf said.

"When we first decided to do this show, Verna and I dove into the project with a high level of enthusiasm," he said. Then came the dreadful news that Schwilke had been diagnosed with cancer.

"We knew it was going to be hard to explain this to our cast and crew because the students are very close to Verna," Westendorf said. "Day by day the cast and crew rallied around Verna and they seemed to gain strength from each other."

And like a trouper, Schwilke stayed the course on her costume duties despite the cancer, he added.

"I am excited to present this show to the community," Westendorf said. "I know it will be special and we will remember it for the rest of our lives."

The Jungle Book continues March 14, 20-21 at 7 p.m. There also will be 1 p.m. matinees March 14 and 21.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and senior citizens. Tickets also are available at the door.

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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