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FoCAL Center starts first-ever summer program with production of Broadway classic ‘Guys and Dolls’
FoCAL Center
The FoCAL Center. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

High school students from across the county are hitting the Forsyth County Arts and Living Center stage this summer for a full production of the classic Broadway musical, “Guys and Dolls.”

Running from June 23-26, the show will be the FoCAL Center’s first-ever summer production, bringing in students ranging from rising freshmen to high school graduates to put on a full-length show the community is sure to remember.

“Be prepared to be taken back to the 1920s depression era,” said Carly Berg, the show’s director and a theater teacher at Lambert High School. “They’re sticking true to the time period and follow some of the true characterizations of what guys and girls were like in their relationships with one another in that time period.”

Guys and Dolls
Traveling to the underground of a bustling New York City, Berg said the show is bright, colorful and high energy with songs and dancing that anyone would be familiar with.

But Berg said the real reason for community members to make it out to the show is for the incredible cast, crew and production team.

Alongside Berg, Cory Speakman, choir director at East Forsyth High School, is the show’s musical director; Kirk Grizzle, theater and chorus teacher at Denmark High School, is the tech director; and Joni Smithwick, drama teacher at South Forsyth High School, is helping to coach the students.

Berg said this is the first time the teachers and the students from different schools in the county have ever been able to work together on a production.

“That’s one of the things I wanted this to be,” FoCAL Center Director Dawn Phipps said. “Because all of these theater programs are all really good, but they compete against each other. And so I wanted them to have an experience where they came together, not in competition but in collaboration.”

And that collaboration, Berg agrees, definitely paid off. After just a week of rehearsals, she said she already knew the production would be amazing. From the cast of dedicated students, the leadership and even the FoCAL Center stage, Phipps said the production is turning out to be better than she could have imagined.

“I think the community will be blown away,” Phipps said. “They’re going to come in and see such amazing talent that they’re going to walk away thinking, ‘I can’t believe those were high school students.’ This can be a great night out for any couple. Go to dinner, come see the musical, and I guarantee that they’ll have as good of a time as if they had gone to Atlanta to see something.”

Many of the students working on the show, each with some experience in high school or community theater, said they cannot wait to debut the production for the community to see. They agree that it is unlike any high school production they have ever been a part of.

Mick Pereira, a recent Forsyth Central High School graduate, is starring in the show as Sky Masterson alongside Lambert rising senior Carly Candebat and Alliance Academy for Innovation rising sophomore Elizabeth Hall, who will play Sarah Brown; Forsyth Central rising sophomore Christian Rippe, who will play Nathan Detroit; and East Forsyth rising junior Brooke Robotham and Lambert graduate Maddie Ross, who will both play Miss Adelaide.

Pereira said he loves being part of the show and working with other students who may be younger or have less experience but still have a definite passion for theater.

“I feel like everyone here is putting in the same amount of effort into the show,” Pereira said. “They want to be in the show. I know that in school it’s usually more of an extracurricular or after-school thing, but here, everyone is so into it that it’s a completely different vibe. And in a theater like [the FoCAL Center], it’s definitely different.”

Several of the students said they don’t mind that the production is taking up part of their summer vacation. They are spending just three weeks in total to learn the full production and polish it before debuting it to the community, but for them, the time and stress is worth it.

They said they know just how amazing the production will be in the end.

“You can’t stress enough how special this is,” Rhobotham said.

Seeing how successful the FoCAL Center’s first summer program has been so far, Phipps said she plans to make it an annual event for students to take part in, and it will be included in the FoCAL Center’s full season. This means when the season begins in the fall, it will be included in season ticket packages available to the community.

For this year, however, guests can purchase tickets to the FoCAL Center production of “Guys and Dolls” through its website, www.thefocalcenter.com.

Each show will be held on the FoCAL Center’s main stage located at 1150 Dahlonega Highway in Cumming behind the Forsyth County Board of Education building.

“The set is going to be beautiful,” Rippe said. “The show is a classic. I think [this show] is just a great way to kick off the inaugural season.”