Faces of the Valley: Raine Siegel helped shape the Highlands Musical Theater program

Raine Siegel, former director of the Highlands Theatre, finds it miraculous that high schools can stage a Broadway musical with just a few months of rehearsal.

As department head from 1992 until his retirement 10 years later, Siegel said it was always wonderful to see students discover the power of music and develop storytelling skills.

“It’s a commitment that leads to self-discipline, creativity, confidence, pride and self-esteem in students,” Siegel said. “These are qualities that can be useful in life, on and off the stage.”

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Siegel received her bachelor’s degree in music education from Clarion University and completed postgraduate studies at Penn State University.

She spent 20 years as a performing arts teacher at Wailua High School in Hawaii, as well as at a less tropical school in Clarion.

Siegel, who now lives in Erie, came to Highlands with extensive experience as a director, choreographer and musical director, having overseen theater in colleges, community and summer theater.

“I was happy to be back home and in Highlands until I retired,” she said.

While in the district, she oversaw shows ranging from classics, such as “Oklahoma” and “Guys and Dolls,” to more modern productions focused on teenage rebellion, such as “Footloose.”

“We were the first high school to perform ‘Once on This Island,’ and we received a personal mention and letter from songwriter and Pittsburgh native Stephen Flaherty,” Siegel said proudly.

“One of our goals was to bring joy to the community. I hope we did.

She credits a star-studded production team that included producer Sam Andrews, art designer Marti Larkin, orchestra directors John Cliquennoi and Erich Lascek, set construction manager Steve Kalnik, theater guru technology Jay Morgan and stage managers Bonnie Varley and Debbie Lehew.

“Besides the faculty dream team, we had hundreds of students from shop classes, art classes, student technical team and graphic design classes involved in the productions,” he said. she declared.

The parents volunteered to sew costumes and paint sets, and to raise funds to cover the costs associated with the elaborate shows.

“Looking back, I sometimes think I may have gone a bit overboard with my demands as a director. But when I hear from my students, they have positive memories of being part of the productions” , said Siegel, “Whatever path or career the students have chosen, I hope that being part of the experience has had a positive impact on their lives.”

Some of his students have gone on to professional careers in the arts.

Michael Zeiler, for example, is an alumnus whom Siegel described as talented and energetic. He is now the musical director of Highlands, carrying on some of Siegel’s traditions while taking the program to exciting new levels, she said.

Zeiler credited Siegel with shaping the district’s musical program.

“She was a real staple of the musical theater program at Highlands,” he said. “She was an incredible inspiration to thousands of students.”

Although she retired nearly 20 years ago, Siegel still pursues her passion and even remains involved locally.

She took part virtually in the recent Highland Cabaret which featured songs from more than three decades of district shows, including this year’s production, “High School Musical 2.”

“His way of teaching was with such a love for music and a passion for the performing arts,” Zeiler said. “I’m really trying to pass it on to this current generation of students in the same way.”

Tawnya Panizzi is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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