Heritage Hills goes 'Back to the 80s'

Kylie Schepers/The Herald
Heritage Hills High School senior Grace Gasaway leans on junior Derek Fortune during rehearsals of the musical "Back to the 80s" at the Lincoln Amphitheatre Wednesday night. Performances begin tonight at the amphitheater and will also be Saturday and Sunday evening and April 23-25, all starting at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the box office or online at https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/5688.


LINCOLN CITY — The students are gathered on stage in their costumes, running over lines about who will be the next student body president.

The three candidates are the popular jock Michael Feldman, a nerdy but lovable character Corey Palmer and Feargal McFerrin, who is referred to in the script as “the guy who never quite fit in.” At the candidates’ sides are their equally preppy, nerdy or weird friends in their distinct groups. It’s just how high school is shown in the movies.

Although the Heritage Hills High School students may be acting cliquey for their roles, underneath their stage personas, the theater department feels like a family, they said. It isn’t just made up of typical “theater” kids — many are athletes or part of other clubs and different friend groups. But all the students, especially the seniors, are dedicated to making this their best performance yet.

Heritage Hills High School will be presenting “Back to the 80s,” a jukebox musical, April 16-18 and April 23-25 at the Lincoln Amphitheatre. General admission tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the box office or online at https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/5688.

The musical features classic 80s looks, such as hair teased to the sky, stonewashed denim jackets and lots of neon, and a lineup of classic songs such as “Footloose,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).”

Director Sandi Fortune said this show is particularly meaningful considering last year’s production was halted by COVID-19 and caused lingering uncertainty. This year has also been challenging because it’s running later in the year, which means sports are already in full swing. Many of the students are coming straight from practices, games or meets to rehearsal, which can last four or five hours itself, on top of the regular schoolwork everyone is juggling.

“We’re just really excited that it’s happening and we’re making it work,” said Fortune, who is also an English and theater teacher at Heritage Hills.

Grace Gasaway, who plays female lead Tiffany Houston, said time management is always difficult in situations like this but that it’s also somewhat become second nature to her by now. She starred in her first show 12 years ago and has been in 36 productions since.

Most of the time, memorizing lines entails Grace sitting down with her Voice Memos app for hours at a time, reciting the lines in different voices as she goes.

But with this production, because it’s a musical, she also has to learn at least half a dozen dances. Although, the music and dancing is her favorite part, she said.

“It’s definitely fun doing a jukebox musical rather than a show when we’re all learning the songs for the first time,” Grace said. “It’s songs that you think about singing with friends in the car.”

All of the shows she’s been in have brought different experiences, but her high school productions have showcased the most unique group of students, she said.

“It’s such a close-knit little community, and (Fortune) is like a second mom to us,” Grace said. “It’s cool being able to be friends with people here that you might not have talked to otherwise. And after the shows, we all go to Denny’s, and it’s not like the leads sit in one spot or anything like that. We’re all just together.”

When Fortune first started directing years ago, there were no boys in the productions. Now, they’re able to fill all the male leads and extras with talented students who want to be there. Trenton Hill, who plays Corey Palmer, even managed to remain as one of the lead roles through almost a month of COVID-19 quarantine.

“Sandi (Fortune) won’t tell you this, but it’s all because of her,” said Amy Wilson, a parent helping with the production. “She recruits those boys and does a great job of it.”

As a senior, it’s just starting to sink in for Grace that this will be her last high school performance. Ever since she was in first grade, she’s thought about what it would be like to be a senior, she said.

Emily Forston, a fellow senior, said she’s excited to be in her first performance that she has lines in. She plays Kim Easton, a twin cheerleader and friend of Tiffany.

She’s been doing theater since she was a freshman, but feels a lot more confident in herself now and ready to show off her skills. She even does a certain famous lift — from a certain iconic 80s dancing movie — that still impresses her classmates.

“It’s really challenging,” Fortune said. “Everybody wishes they could do it.”

During rehearsal week especially, Fortune is being constantly bombarded with last-minute questions.

“If it gets too overwhelming, I always say, ‘It’s not my day to be the bride,’ you know like when they’re asking the bride 50,000 questions?” she said. “I’m just like, ‘I really don’t know all the answers, guys, but I’ll make one up if you want me to … We always make it work.”

When they’re not asking questions, the students are always greeting her, making jokes and giving high fives and hugs.

“I always tell them that they might not be my people in regular school,” Fortune said, “but when we’re here, they’re all my people.”

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