Arts & Entertainment

Students tell story of love through the Fab Four

Love is in the air this month and it has nothing to do with Valentine's Day.

Chiawana High School's choral department premieres its first rock opera musical, The Beatles: A Story of Love, at 7 p.m. Feb. 23.

Chiawana music teacher Debi Eng wrote it and also directs.

"The music of the Beatles is now reaching a very young but extremely enthusiastic generation," she said.

The story is a musical journey of love where the audience is as much a part of the story as the actors, Eng explains.

"As one goes through life, one realizes that family, friends and relationships are more important than financial or material success," she said. "One begins to realize that the common thread of all mankind is love. This is the basis of The Beatles: A Story of Love as told through the music of the Beatles."

The characters are all named after personalities in Beatles songs.

The cast includes: Jude, played by Ky Burton; Prudence, played by Emily Nelson; Sgt. Pepper, played by Zach Buhler; Eleanor Rigby, played by Alexandra Cid; Father McKenzie, played by Aaron Bleazard; Maggie Mae, played by Betty Wharton; Lovely Rita, played by Shelly Johnson; Lucy, played by Kristen Carpenter; Dr. Robert, played by Clayton Callaway; Maxwell, played by Jonathan Steel; SunKing, played by Erik Nunamaker; Martha, played by Rachel Ross; Honey Pie, played by Karson Taylor; Mr. Kite, played by Brad Barber; Her Majesty, played by Marissa Williams.

And even though this cast, as well as some of their parents, weren't even born when Beatlemania swept America in the early '60s, some were introduced to the music as children.

"I can clearly remember my first experience with the Beatles," Burton said. "I was about 6 years old, driving what felt like a million miles to see my grandma or something. My mom had this homemade CD playing. It had maybe 20 songs on it, but there was one I kept asking her to replay.

"It was the happiest song I've ever heard, and the singers sounded foreign and fun. I sang along with it as loud as I could."

That Beatles song was Here Comes the Sun.

"But although I had appreciated (the Beatles) for a long time, it wasn't until my freshman year that I really learned who the Beatles were," Burton said. "Now, the Beatles are my all-time favorite band. Their music excites and inspires me and I am thrilled to have a part in this show."

About 26 of the Beatles' most familiar songs are part of the show, and Pasco School District's veteran costume designer, Verna Schwilke, has provided all the vintage clothing.

Cid, who plays Eleanor Rigby, can thank TV for her love of the Beatles.

"I never took a second look at the Beatles until I heard their song Hello Goodbye on for the Target store commercial. After listening to record after record I came to the realization that this was not just a band. These were true artists. Mega musicians and they knew how to tell a story," she said.

Cid said fans will love the show. "For all of you Beatles fans, this show will blow your mind," she said.

Eng decided to tackle a rock opera to help raise travel money to send her choral students on a Northwest spring tour to perform at various music festivals.

But there's more to this production than music, Eng added.

"Katherine Rice (a Chiawana art teacher) has been working with her students to provide some amazing eye candy for this production," she said.

And Chiawana's drama teacher Todd Westendorf has played a key role in the rock opera as the set designer and assistant drama director.

"Most importantly, this is the most talented group of kids I have ever had the honor to coach and they will deliver the Beatles music proudly," she said. "We've also taken some of thing songs and put a new flavor to them. In the story line, we show how love transcends all throughout the ages."

Because after all, love is all you need.

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

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