by SARAH FARRELL
Special to the Hays Free Press
It may not be traditional theater, but the hillside at Zilker Park in Austin comes alive with the lyrical singing that can only be musical theater during summer evenings as it hosts the Zilker Summer Musical. This year, the Zilker Theatre Productions performed “The Sound of Music.”
The cast of 35 performers from Central Texas consists of two past graduates of Hays High School and a resident of the Plum Creek neighborhood. This is the first time that any of them have performed in a Zilker Summer Musical.
Tyler Cullen, a member of the chorus, graduated from Hays High School in May. The Hays CISD production of “Footloose” in 2012 was the first musical in which he performed.
Clay Cooper, a member of the chorus as well as Rolf’s understudy, graduated from Hays High School in 2011. Clay has been performing in plays since he was in elementary school. He has performed in “Annie” at Barton Middle School, as well as “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” and “Hairspray” in high school.
Michelle Haché plays the lead, Maria, and currently lives in Plum Creek. She is originally from Spokane, Wash., and she completed her graduate degree at the Julliard School in New York. Since moving to Kyle four years ago she has appeared in numerous productions with the Austin Lyric Opera.
The cast began rehearsals May 22 for opening night July 6. They spent weeks practicing outdoors in the summer sun, and in the heat of the Central Texas summer they grew together as not only a cast but as a family.
“People that I’ve met have been the best part of this experience,” Cooper said.
The director didn’t just look for people to fill individual roles; he built a cast. He looked to see how the cast would interact together, as well as how well they could perform individually.
“There is no weak link in the show,” Haché said.
“I don’t want to spend my summers doing anything else,” Cooper said.
Cullen works a full-time job on top of performing in the musical.
“Being in the musical is all consuming,” Cullen said. “I’m so busy that I haven’t had time to think about the stresses in my life.”
This show allows children who wouldn’t have been able to afford a Broadway show ticket the chance to see a show of equal quality and gain exposure to the arts.
“You can’t find anything like this anywhere else,” Haché said, “I’ve never seen anything close to this in all the places that I’ve been.”
The admission is pay what you can, and the donations from the audience provide about 50 percent of the revenue that the Zilker Theatre Productions use to fund the summer musical each year.
By the time closing night came around on Aug. 11, about 60,000 people had seen the musical this year.
“This is one of the longest lasting traditions in Austin,” Haché said. The Zilker Theatre has been producing summer musicals for 54 years.
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