The Mesa actors and actresses in Limelight Performing Art’s production of “High School Musical 2 JR” includes Emma Kleniewski, Oliver Manwaring, Canon Williams, Scarlett Cullimore, Kynzli Parks, Jovie Pond, Elaenor Bovle, Edward Oster, Suzie Peifer, Zachary Orr, Lucy Peifer, Chase Wildung and Krysta Wildung. (David Minton/GetOut Staff Photographer)

As report cards begin to be filled out and children plot summer plans, nearly 30 East Valley thespians are winding up the school year by taking part in Limelight Performing Arts production of “High School Musical 2 JR.” 

The play follows a group of high schoolers preparing for some fun in the sun during summer break. Once the characters realize that they are low on cash, they end up getting jobs to pay for that fun. 

The plot thickens when one of the main characters, Troy Bolton, begins working at a ritzy resort owned by the family of the Sharpay Evans, who hires him with an ulterior motive in mind. 

When the Limelight cast first learned that the Gilbert theater company was presenting the second installment in the “High School Musical” trilogy, they leapt at the chance to audition.

“I’ve seen ‘High School Musical 2’ so many times … it’s about a bunch of friends who go through fights but are still like friends in the end and then there’s romance and then there’s singing and dancing and it’s just everything you could ever want,” said Daisy Cuddihy, 13, of Chandler, who plays the role of Zeke Baylor in the play. 

Some cast members, including Addison Roundy, 13, of Gilbert, had been begging director Emma England for years to put on the show.

Now, Addison not only is seeing her wish come true but also has landed her biggest role yet as  Gabriella Montez, Bolton’s love interest.

“I’ve been begging (England) to do ‘High School Musical’ and when she finally did it, I said ‘I’ve got to audition.’ And I wanted to get a bigger role this time. That was when I had to get realistic about my comfort zone,” Addison explained.

Others fit naturally into the cast, such as Mesa’s Cannon Williams, 12, who plays Bolton. 

Cannon had starred in the Limelight rendition of another hit Disney film, “The Lion King,” and got too caught up in that performance to realize that the nonprofit performing arts program had opened up casting for “High School Musical 2 JR.” 

Once he found out, show programmers realized he was perfect for the role of playing the popular, ultimate cool guy, when he nonchalantly responded “Oh, that’s cool” when he heard the news about the play. 

Cannon eventually auditioned for the role and after getting it, didn’t have much time to celebrate as he only had just over a handful of weeks to learn his lines, attend two rehearsals a week and juggle the other challenges, like school work, that the rest of the cast had to manage. 

Though the extracurricular activity of community theater can be time-consuming, the show has generate a tight bond among the cast.

Their camaraderie has created fond memories during the buildup to the show, which officially opened last Friday, May 5.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been so fun,” said Mesa’s Jovie Pond, 14, who is sharing the stage with Addison as the two will alternate playing the role of Montez. 

“It’s my first show here and I’ve made so many friends already and I just I love the environment that they create here,” Jovie said. 

This has been especially remarkable to England especially since the cast “has a very wide age range.”

“But we’ve seen the older kids and the younger kids supporting each other and the older ones are embracing them and helping out which is nice,” England added. 

The kids also see similarities between their characters and themselves as the rehearsals progressed. 

“It’s my first time ever playing a male character – and it’s actually one of my first times that I will actually be acting onstage since I’m usually  ensemble,” Daisy said. 

“Playing a male is not super different, because my personality matches (my characters).” 

Others have embraced the opportunity to escape reality by pretending to be someone else. 

“When you’re onstage, you’re kind of like a different person – literally,” Jovie added. “There are so many stresses of like school and other things that when I’m onstage it makes me happy and I like being able to show people what I love and hopefully it (positively) affects others.” 

In addition to putting on a fun and unforgettable performance during the show’s five remaining performances – which resume Tuesday, May 9 – England hopes to inspire a sense of confidence among her cast and audiences.

“I think my biggest thing is building confidence and being able to walk on that stage and walk off after performance feeling like you did amazing and you put your best foot forward,” she said. 

The cast also includes Canon Williams, Edward Oster, Oliver Manwaring, Rachel Buckwalter, Suzie Peifer, Elaenor Boyle, Maeli Kemp, Kaylee Forth, Kariah Thurston, Elianna Gonzalez, Eden Lee, Gabriela Montufar, Charli Stahlecker, Kynzli Parks, Chase Wildung, Dominic Montufar, Zachary Orr, Mackenna Grover, Emma Kleniewski, Piper Perea, Eva Orbegozo, Krysta Wildung, Kali Kappes, Lucy Peifer and Scarlett Cullimore.

If You Go...

Limelight Performing Arts presents: “High School Musical 2 Jr.”

When: 7 p.m. May 9; 7 p.m. May 12 and 19; 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., May 20

Where: Limelight Performing Arts is located at 511 W. Guadalupe Road, Suite 12, Gilbert

Cost: Tickets start at $15


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