When director Chase Kniffen was casting the two adult roles in Disney’s High School Musical, he decided to keep it all in the family. All in the Mame family, that is. Chase played grown-up Patrick in Mame last winter, and his character’s surrogate parents were Auntie Mame herself (Kathy Halenda) and her new husband, Uncle Beau (Michael Hawke). Starting tonight, Halenda and Hawke join the rehearsals for DHSM, playing the supporting roles of Mrs. Darbus, the over-the-top high school drama teacher, and Coach Jack Bolton, the “keep your head in the game” basketball coach and dad of leading guy Troy.
This is a textbook example of type casting in both cases. No one ever accused either Mrs. Darbus or Kathy Halenda of being restrained and demure. And both Coach Bolton and Michael Hawk are somewhat gym obsessed.
Bringing Halenda back to town was not cheap, but Chase convinced me she’d be worth every penny. It didn’t take much convincing. Not only is Kathy perfect for the part. More importantly, she’s perfect for keeping the cast’s spirits at a constant high and providing our 38 high school actors with a first-hand example of what true theatre professionalism looks like.
Kathy has been working in the theatre nonstop for the last 30 years. Immediately prior to Mame, she was the first Singing Ringmaster in the history of New York’s prestigious Big Apple Circus. Immediately following Disney’s High School Musical, she’ll be off to star as Mama Rose in the national tour of Gypsy—a 12 month gig.
Many actors with Kathy’s national credentials let it be known by their behavior and attitude that they expect to be treated like a star. Kathy’s not cut from that cloth. When you’re looking for someone to work hard, stay up late, come in on time, keep everything ahead of schedule, and respond to every up-and-down of the rehearsal process with nothing but positive energy—Kathy’s your gal. She held the Mame cast together like glue during a really difficult tech rehearsal period, with never a harsh word for the process or anyone involved.
Leads always set an example that other cast members emulate. The example set by Kathy in Mame guaranteed that we’d have a happy and healthy cast throughout the 11-week run. And indeed we did.
We can’t wait for our high school theatre students to get a taste of Kathy’s moxie and charm. If providing these kids with examples of true professionalism is part of our responsibility—and it is—then Chase scored a hundred when casting Halenda.
And as for Michael Hawk, you couldn’t find a nicer guy. He has talent to spare, and a coach-like physique to boot. He’s another one who moves easily from one show to the next. While performing in Disney’s High School Musical, he’ll also be in rehearsals for Urinetown at Swift Creek Mill Theatre.
So don’t miss Disney’s High School Musical. And if you notice two actors on stage whom everyone else seems to be looking up to, know that we’ve cast two of our nation’s finest troopers to set the perfect example for the 38 students who comprise the rest of the cast.