Musical production molds young actors

Cyrus Norcross | The Daily Wildcat Molly Gluzhinski, Assistant Costume Designer, helps Conner Taylor put on his costume during the rehearsal of Big Fish at Salpointe High School on June 9.

Arts Express, a performing arts education organization in Southern Arizona, works with students ages 14-24 in Tucson looking to further their acting experiences, meet new friends and produce a theater show at the end of the month-long Arts America Summer Stock program — a program filled with rehearsals, learnings sessions and group activities.  

Arts Express has been in service for over 30 years, and this summer the youth program ends with the production of the Broadway musical “Big Fish.”

“Big Fish” is a tale of adventure and romance that revolves around the relationship between Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, and his adult son Will, who looks for what is behind his father’s tall stories.

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Dana Milne, Director,  steps onto the stage to show her actors how she wants them to perform during a rehearsal of Big Fish at Salpointe High School on June 9.


According to the Arts Express website, “Big Fish” is “overflowing with heart, humor and spectacular stagecraft, [and] it is an extraordinary new Broadway musical that reminds us why we love going to the theatre.”

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With the Arts Express summer production of the musical, students in the program are excited to perform in musical numbers such as “Stranger,” “Be the Hero,” and “I Don’t Need a Roof,” according to cast members Samantha Adams, Luke Gaff, Anabelle Mali and Matt Milne.

The musical production is directed by Dana Milne, choreographed by Simone Jovelet- Manuel and vocally directed by Aj Lepore.

According to the Arts Express website, “the story has drawn comparisons to The Odyssey, The Music Man and The Wizard of Oz.”

University of Arizona students Gaff and Milne are excited for their growth as actors in the production. Gaff will play the role of Edward Bloom and Milne the role of Will Bloom. 

“I have grown so much, gaining experience with using different vocal ranges,” said Matt Milne, a junior majoring in Arts and Theater Arts. “The songs are in my upper register and the amazing directing staff makes the experience. 

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The costume room at Salpointe High School during the Big Fish rehearsal on June 9.

Matt Milne also says that his character goes through ranges of emotion, especially in his song “Stranger.”

In preparation for the show he says that “there is room for individual expression, you can take each role in a variety of ways. The musical has a total of 15 roles and a handful of extras.”

“There is a lot of different interpretations and in studying for the role I looked at a lot of other productions and saw how they portrayed their characters in collaboration with the show,” Matt Milne said. 

Gaff, a sophomore in the BFA Musical Theater program plays the role of Edward Bloom and is loving the show so far. Gaff said that “in every area I feel like I’ve gained a lot.” 

According to Gaff, relationships started to build in the first week, and he is learning a variety of techniques with his assigned character.

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“Having to play a role where my character goes from four different ages throughout the show and figuring out how to do that has been difficult but, everyone I am working with has taught me a lot,” Gaff said.

Samantha Adams and Anabelle Mali are high school students in the Tucson area looking to further their theatrical experiences through the upcoming production.

“I’ve learned a lot about teamwork, and when you have a role, you realize it’s about bonding with your cast,” said Adams, who plays the role of Sandra in the show.  

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Alizaa Knight, sound technician, controls the music during the Big Fish rehearsal at Salpointe High School on June 9.

Mali plays the role of Josephine and said that she has learned so much as she hasn’t had many big roles before this production. She believes that it is good to understand the goals and responsibility of a major role. 

Mali said she is “looking forward to performing in the show and growing relationships.” She also expressed how great of an opportunity it is working with the director Dana Milne. 

The directing staff, Dana Milne, Aj Lepore, and Simone Jovelet-Manuel are pleased to be collaborating together in the upcoming production. 

Aj Lepore, vocal director of the production, began his teaching of musical theater back in 2012, in the production of “Guys and Dolls” with Dana Milne and Simone Jovelet-Manuel who are working with him in this upcoming musical. 

Lepore said that Dana Milne and Jovelet-Manuel, are “some of the best at what they do which makes it fun to work with them.”

“Aj Lepore, Simone Jovelet-Manuel, and Dana Milne make you great,” said Matt Milne as he looks forward to continuing to work with each for the production. 

Performances are scheduled for June 29 through July 8 at the Stevie Eller Theater. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for students, military, 65 and over and $10 for children when purchased online. 

“The music is challenging but amazing,” Gaff said. “In every way I see myself growing.”

For more information and tickets visit the Arts Express Website at or call (520) 319-0400

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