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Hall Passages: Sentinel spring musical skewers corporate America

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Monday was a vacation day at Sentinel High School. But the cast and crew of its spring musical spent five hours onstage, polishing numbers with titles like “Coffee Break” and “A Secretary is Not a Toy.”

Both are part of the lineup in Sentinel’s production of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," Fred Loesser’s 1961 musical satirizing mid-century corporate America. The lead role, J. Pierrepont Finch, is played by senior Stephen Clements.

Smartly dressed in a gray suit and blue bow tie, Clements told the Missoulian before rehearsal that he’s been involved with every Sentinel show since his freshman year, and predicted that “this is going to be a great way to end my high school theater” career.

The show, which won both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize after its initial release, follows Finch’s journey from window washer to chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company — guided by a self-help book titled "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

“I really enjoy how bright and consistently positive he is,” Clements said of his character. “I feel he really does have that joy and positivity in his heart.”

A few years ago, English and drama teacher Katie Cassidy saw a Broadway production of the musical, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Finch, “and I have loved the show ever since.”

This year, she and vocal music teacher Jessica Franks decided it was time for a Sentinel version. The school now has some especially strong male actors, she said, and the show’s critique of office culture is as relevant as ever.

“There’s a very specific line between women as secretaries and men as businessmen,” she said, “and we talked about how it’s very suiting to the #metoo movement.”

The show drew a cast of about 30 and a crew of about 15. Since February, they’ve been busy building sets, designing costumes, choreographing dance numbers, and rehearsing every day after school.

Sentinel’s ongoing renovations added some challenges this year, said junior Peyton Smith, who heads the show’s costume department. With the school-owned costumes locked away in shipping containers, “it’s been a lot of borrowing from other schools, going to second-hand stores and working with what the actors own,” she said.

But Smith considers all of that time well spent. “I think I like musicals the most because they draw the biggest crowd to work on them,” she said. Cast member Mena Carrara-Ackermann also said it had been a bonding experience. “I like how it’s a very accepting community … we just have a lot of fun together, and we feel like what we’re doing is important, so we work hard.”

That, predicts Cassidy, will be clear to everyone in the audience.

“High school performing arts in Missoula are top-notch,” she said. “If people from the community come to the show, they are going to be absolutely blown away by the talent of these students.”

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" will be performed in the Sentinel High School auditorium at the following times: 7:30 p.m. on May 16, 17 and 18, and 1:30 p.m. on May 18. All tickets cost $10 and will be sold at the door.

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