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NUACS presents:

'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'

November 9, 2008
By RON LARSEN — Journal Staff Writer

NEW ULM - It's time for another New Ulm Area Catholic Schools student musical presentation, and this time the community can enjoy "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."

As usual, the musical will be performed in the Holy Trinity Middle School auditorium on State Street. Performances are set for Thursday, Nov. 13; Friday, Nov. 14; Saturday, Nov. 15, all starting at 7 p.m., with the final performance Sunday, Nov. 16, starting at 2 p.m.

However, the performance schedule could change if the Cathedral Greyhounds defeat Springfield Friday in the opening round of the State Football Tournament, Musical Director Anita Shikoski reports.

Article Photos

Pictured from left are cast members Joey Verschaetse, Thomas Kroening, Daniel Hayes, Peter Braegelmann, Isaac Rysdahl (Tom Sawyer) and Jon Braegelmann.

The Broadway musical obviously is based upon the novel by humorist Mark Twain, and its selection is based at least in part on its appeal to both young and old alike, Shikoski said.

"It obviously focuses around the antics of Tom Sawyer, played by Isaac Rysdahl, and his buddy, Huck Finn, played by Jon Braegelmann, and he meets a new girl in town, Becky Thatcher, who is portrayed by Katelyn Schwartz. Tom is being raised by his aunt Polly, and the whole play really is centered around his shenanigans," Shikoski explained.

"If there's trouble, he will find it, but we also find out in the play that he's very tender-hearted and that he's got a soft side. This revolves around many little scenarios of his relationships with his friends, and, he, of course, and Huck witness a murder fairly early on in the play," Shikoski said.

"So much of the play is centered around what they say and what they should do about what they saw and how that whole situation is finally resolved."

And, it wasn't a case that she just zeroed in immediately on using "Adventures" as this year's musical, she said.

"I read about a dozen scripts this summer, and, as a director, I look at the story line, I look at the music, and the perfect mesh is a really good story with really good music," she said.

"Always in the back of my mind, I'm considering whom are my try-outs based upon previous plays, and we want to get as many kids involved as we can. I was very aware that we had a very talented senior class, unusual in some respects in that many talented boys who I would anticipate trying out, we don't always have. We aren't always blessed with that much talent. We always have talent, but it is a little unusual to have that much in one class." Shikoski continued.

"So, we always want to do a family-friendly play, always something that is going to be very entertaining and appropriate for our school. This just fits. I just knew it when I read it. There were others in the running, but this was the one," she said.

"There's humor, and there's tenderness. There's beautiful music, funny music, funny remarks that both adults and children will appreciate. There's a fence; there are fights. It has it all."

Not only that but it seems that Tom Sawyer's nature makes it easier for an actor to get into and stay in character.

"I like to think I'm a pretty laid back kind of guy, but Tom definitely sees the sadder part of life when he has to. He sees the murder, and then he has to figure out what he does with it. That was sort of a challenge to change my, you know, facial expressions and adjust my tone and try to really portray that inner disparity he feels about the murder," said Rysdahl, who, like Braegelmann and Schwartz, is a senior.

"Tom's not the kind of guy to con people. He likes to share his work with others, but ... he likes his free time. He likes to imagine things, but I think always throughout the play, he does have that wanting to do the right thing about him," Rysdahl explained.

"Huck has trouble with education, and Tom is always sort of trying to prod him into learning how to read because he knows that it will be good for Huck. So, he's trying to look out for Huck there. I think he's trying to be a character who likes to mess around, but, under it all, he's a pretty nice guy."

Becky Thatcher, Tom's kind of heartthrob, certainly would agree with Rysdahl's assessment of Tom, and Schwartz, playing in her first major role, finds Becky is a fun character to play.

"I was excited when I found out I was Becky Thatcher. After reading the story [line], I kind of knew who Becky was so I was excited about that. I knew it would be a fun role for me to play."

Braegelmann finds that Huck Finn is an interesting character to play, as well.

"His dad's the town drunk, and his mom is I know not where so he kind of lives off in the woods and just lives a free life. He's kind of mixed up in some of the things he does, but he kind of has that underlying goodness to him. He's kind of like the innocent one, I'd say," Braegelmann explained.

As to how he prepares himself to play Huck, Braegelmann has a ready explanation.

"I think being in this costume does enough. I don't have any psych-out methods. I just kind of go out there and do it, I guess."

And, speaking of costumes, with the story line being set in Missouri in the late 1860s, having costumes that fit the time period is a virtual necessity to the musical's success. And, when there are 36 cast members, grades 5 through 12, to dress, well ...

"Most definitely a positive. Lora Rahe is an exceptionally fine seamstress. She's extremely creative. We have a really nice array of costumes in our production. We borrowed a few, but she's the one who really put all the costumes together. Couldn't have done it without her. She's exceptional. People say the same thing," Shikoski said.

Then, there's Marijo Sweeney who is the vocal/instrumental director, and with a musical like "Adventures" with a cast of 36, that's a big job. Then, there are the support crews, like the stage manager, Leah Eckstein; the pit orchestra; the stage crew, along with sound, makeup, set and lights technicians, and ushers and ticket-takers.

While putting on a musical like "Adventures" is a big challenge, Shikoski said the group assembled to take on the task couldn't be better.

"These kids are exceptional. Two-thirds of the cast are involved in extra-curricular activities - football, volleyball, soccer, dance line, skating, band, choir. They're so involved. They're in school all day. They go to practices, and they go to another practice. Just a phenomenal group."

Ron Larsen can be reached at



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