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Janesville summer musical lands award-winning actress

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Ann Fiore
May 7, 2014

JANESVILLE—The actors might sport blue suede shoes in Janesville's upcoming summer school musical, but Elvis won't be the idol who's getting them all shook up.

That would be Tony Award-winning actress Karen Olivo.

Organizers of the summer school musical scored a coup this year when director Jim Tropp persuaded Olivo to lead a three-day workshop for students in this year's show, the American jukebox musical “All Shook Up.”

“I keep pinching myself,” said Jan Knutson, a Parker High School music teacher who is co-directing the music with her husband, Brian. “We're just so thrilled about it.”

The musical is part of the Janesville School District's summer school program. Auditions are open to students in grades 7-11 from any school district. They'll be held Tuesday and Wednesday, May 13-14, at Parker.

Olivo lives in Madison but often works in New York City. She'll star in a production of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” at the New York City Center before heading to Janesville for the July 10-12 workshop.

Tropp met Olivo in Madison last year. The cast of last year's musical, “Les Miserables,” had been invited to perform at a private concert at Overture Center for the Arts, where Olivo was the headliner.

The cast was rehearsing when Olivo walked onstage and started talking to the students, Tropp recalled. She even let them hold her Tony Award, which she won in 2009 for her portrayal of Anita in the Broadway revival of “West Side Story.”

“She was so nice, so graceful, so responsive to them,” Tropp said.

During the concert, Olivo invited Beloit Memorial High School junior Kolten Bell to sing a duet from the musical “In the Heights.”

Tropp was amazed. “I said, 'These kids need to be around her.'”

Bell called the duet “life-changing.” He said it convinced him to pursue musical theater as a career.

All students in “All Shook Up” are eligible for Olivo's workshop, which will feature vocal production exercises, theater games and mock auditions. Olivo also will pick seven students for private one-hour coaching sessions.

A group of parents agreed to cover the workshop's cost, Tropp said.

Knutson called “All Shook Up” a “feel-good, fun show” with lots of singing and dancing. It takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, July 17-19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 20, at Parker. Tickets are $10 for the July 17 show and $10-$15 for the other shows.

The summer school musical is a special opportunity for teachers and students because they have more time to invest, Knutson said. Cast members are together five days a week and often form lasting friendships.

“The performance bonds get so strong, the friendships,” Knutson said. “That's one of the best parts of the summer for me.”

Bell said he's still deciding whether to audition.

“It's a huge time commitment,” he said, “but it's totally worth it for the friendships you make and the experience onstage.”



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