– Mt. Ararat brings musical theater back to Midcoast

The Mt. Ararat Stage Company rehearses ahead of the March 4 opening of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” John Terhune / The Forecaster

Good grief.

For two years, COVID-19 has hampered local school arts programs, forcing bands out and acting troupes online. Even though schools have returned to normal, musical theater and its loud, crowded stages have often not been possible.

But on Friday, two long years after their last musical performance, high school students from the Mt. Ararat Stage Company will once again dance on stage with their opening performance of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

“I’m so excited to play for people,” said senior Rachel Eaton, who plays Sally Brown, the 5-year-old’s most famous funny page’s little sister. “It’s been so long since I’ve been able to sing in front of people.”

The group will perform at 7:30 p.m. on March 4 and 5 before closing with a performance at 3 p.m. on March 6. Tickets for each performance, which will take place at the Orion Performing Arts Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School, will cost $15 for adults and $12 for students, school staff and seniors.

Charlie Brown, played by Chase Ross, visits Lucy’s psychiatry booth. Avery Myrick plays Lucy. John Terhune / The Forecaster

The show, based on the 1999 revival of Clark Gesner’s 1967 off-Broadway hit, is made up of a series of vignettes that examine relationships and growing up, according to band co-adviser Kristen Thomas.

“It’s a bit like attending two months of Sunday comics,” said Thomas, who also leads the school choir. “Every Sunday is a different strip.”

Senior Chase Ross, who plays the show’s main character, said it was fun to see the world through the eyes of a child.

“They have the smaller issues,” he said. “But for them, it’s big.”

Organizing shows during a global pandemic has posed many problems, big and small, for the group, which will perform masked under district rules, according to director Adam Blais. Yet even though COVID forced the band to close their doors to live audiences last year and instead play “Clue” remotely, Blais and Thomas pushed their cast to make the best of the situation.

“My general rule has always been to embrace the pandemic as a character in the play,” said Blais, who also works as education and development manager at the Public Theater in Lewiston.

The Blais stars have acknowledged the trials and tribulations of playing with masks. Since most of their faces are not visible to the audience, they had to find new ways to convey emotions and alert the audience the character is addressing.

Sally Brown (Rachel Eaton) and Snoopy (Carly Satterfield) play tug of war with a jump rope. John Terhune / The Forecaster

Yet they also embraced Blais’s philosophy of “meeting challenges without difficulty.”

“Even before COVID, there’s always something wrong,” Ross said. “You can’t prevent it.”

The show won’t look exactly like the company’s ambitious musicals of the past, Blais said. Pandemic concerns prevented the group from performing with a live pit orchestra, and the musical’s small cast may seem modest compared to the 2020 production of “Newsies!”

But for the company’s senior stars, the challenges of performing pale in comparison to the excitement of performing in front of a crowd again.

“You’re so driven by the audience,” Eaton said. The audience is what makes a show great, really.

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