Owen performers look to break a leg with spring musical

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Gabriel Coll-Bettencourt and Josie Davis rehearse their roles as Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash in the musical "She Loves Me" on April 30.

Few thrills rival the feeling of performing in front of a live audience. Delivering a perfectly timed line or hitting the right note on a show tune, followed by a round of applause, are the payoffs for months of hard work.

It’s a feeling the students in the performing arts program at Owen High School will experience for themselves on the opening night of their spring musical at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 9.

“She Loves Me,” based on the 1937 play “Parfumerie” by Hungarian playwright Miklós László, will run May 9-11, in the Owen auditorium. The musical, set in Budapest in 1934, centers around perfume shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash. 

The protagonists of the play, coworkers in Maraczek's Parfumerie, are contemptuous toward one another at work. However, unbeknownst to both of them, they have been communicating as pen pals as "dear friends" through a connection made through a lonely-hearts ad.

Owen's production of the musical, a collaboration between the school's theater department and band, features senior Josie Davis as Balash and sophomore Gabriel Coll-Bettencourt in the role of Nowack. Performing arts students have been working with Owen theater teacher and director Lyn Nihart, since the beginning of March. 

Owen High School theater director Lyn Nihart gives instructions to performers in the auditorium at the school a few days before the opening night of "She Loves Me," the performing arts department's annual spring musical.

"We do a musical every year, generally in the spring," Nihart said. "This is a huge commitment for the students and it's very time consuming. This kind of work takes repetition; you can't just do it once and get it, you have to do it again and again."

"This is my first time doing a big musical," Coll-Bettencourt said. "One of the toughest things for me in the beginning was memorizing the lines, because I've never had to memorize anything at this level. At one point I was on a four-hour car ride and that's when I was really able to memorize most of my lines."

More importantly, he added, is the need for each of the 10 performers to get to know their characters.

"I spent a lot of late nights thinking about my character, who he is and how I can best represent that," Coll-Bettencourt said. 

That was a slow process for Davis. 

"I mean we read through the script initially and go over the plot of the story," she said. "We start looking at the music and certain scenes here and there and you really start to see how your character relates to others in the show."

Owen theater director Lyn Nihart and senior Josie Davis work on a scene in "She Loves Me," which will debut in the auditorium of the school on May 9.

Junior Bethany Lanning, who plays the role of store owner Mr. Maraczek, utilized personality traits from people she knew to shape her character. 

"Playing a man was something different for me," Lanning said. "I read the script, and wondered if I knew anyone like this in real life. I took inspiration from my boss and he's a very passionate man, who still acts like he's in his prime. That's how I saw Maraczek, so I've really tried to be that way."

Lanning appeared in "Nunsense," the Owen musical production in 2018. 

"The moment you put your costume on and see the crowd, you instantly become the character," she said. "There are some days I find it hard to embody Mr. Maraczek, but when you're performing for someone it's like 'wow, I'm not Bethany anymore, I'm a 60-year-old man who owns a parfumerie.'"

Like Lanning, Ava Miller is testing her acting chops by playing a character, 15-year-old Arpad Laszlo, with whom she has little in common.

"He's kind of the opposite of me," she said. "The fact that he's a guy, he's very energetic and really wants to be taken more seriously. Personally, I'm more of an introvert so it's kind of hard for me to get out there. I'm tired all the time."

Ava Miller belts out a tune during rehearsals for "She Loves Me," the annual spring production by the Owen High School performing arts students.

However, stepping in that role helped Miller discover some things about herself. 

"It's interesting the similarities I share with Arpad," she said. "There are some traits I share with him that I didn't realize."

Davis watched other actresses take on the role of Amalia Balash to help her get into character. 

"You can learn a lot about the character by the emotions the people playing her put out on the stage," she said. "I learned a lot about what Amalia was thinking or feeling in certain scenes from watching how other people portrayed her."

Hannah Vangorder plays Ilona Ritter, a clerk at the shop who is "kind of messed up," she said with a smile.

"As far as romance is concerned, she's kind of thrown around," the senior said. "She has a little thing with (coworker Steven Kodaly) but she really wants to be taken seriously and respected by somebody."

Kodaly is played by Trevor Nail, who described his character as "really flaky towards his love interests."

"He's supposed to be this suave womanizer who acts like so much more than he is," Nail said. 

Understanding how to play that character wasn't easy, the sophomore added. 

"It's been really weird playing Kodaly, because I am very much not a super-confident womanizer," he said. "Having to play that character has been one of the biggest acting challenges I've had."

Like many of the cast members, Davis has grown fond of her character through the process.

"I've fallen in love with Amalia as a character and the show itself.

The actors and actresses worked with voice coach Timothy Wild to prepare for their musical performances. Davis found the time extremely helpful.

"It's definitely not a pop musical," she said. "Amalia is more of a soprano operatic singer and I've never done that before."

The entire production is run by the students, who do everything from selling tickets to lighting and sound. 

"Having the Owen band be part of this makes it really cool too," Lanning said. 

While the cast anxiously awaits opening night, the majority of them are less nervous than they are excited. 

"When we perform those three nights, every night we're on stage our hearts and souls go into that moment," Davis said. "When it's all done we can take a deep breath, but everything we have goes into that one moment to create that live theater experience and that's the beauty of it."

Want to go?

“She Loves Me” will be shown on May 9-11 in the auditorium at Owen High School. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door on the night of the show or in advance at