Sparkle productions at Mishler let kids shine

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Misera will take her final bow on the Sparkle stage this year, and the Bellwood-Antis senior has already predicted tears. From the rave review she gave the productions, it’s no wonder.

The original musical production from Altoona Community Theatre and Blair County Arts Foundation makes the children involved feel special, and she has made friendships that she sees lasting a lifetime, Hannah said.

“Oh, they’re fantastic on many levels,” particularly in how the production teaches the children such theater lessons as stage direction and what it is like to participate in a show, she said. “It’s just a wonderful overall experience.”

The shows have featured hundreds of children over the last decade. Hannah was in eight or nine of the Sparkle shows since her first one at age 8.

This year’s show, taking the Mishler stage Friday, is entitled, “It’s a Sparkle Life,” which show creator, writer and director Karen Volpe calls a cross between “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Volpe said this is the 10th show, but the 11th year since the production began.

This year’s production has 76 cast members in first through 12th grades from Altoona, Hollidaysburg, Loretto, Ebensburg, Lilly, Duncansville, Newry, Gallitzin, Everett, New Enterprise, Dysart and Cresson.

More than 25 years ago Volpe started ACT’s Summer Drama Workshop for Children and Teens, she said.

“During those first 10 years or so, I realized that these young people wanted more opportunities to perform in the area,” she said. “In 2002, I decided to write a musical play that included as many kids as possible. That musical, entitled, ‘Broadway Babies,’ was the first in a series of 10 productions we now refer to as the ‘Sparkle Shows.'”

The shows are set in the fictitious Sparkle School of the Arts. Each production is a new storyline, but a constant is Mr. Joe Sparkle, owner and operator of the school, played by Jonathan O’Harrow.

In this year’s production, the Sparkle School of Arts is in need of funding, and a new character is attempting to do away with the arts.

Mrs. Funderburg, played by Marlene Liszka, who is retired from the Penn State Altoona drama department, owns Funderburg Enterprises and is not a supporter of the arts, Volpe said. Johnny Angel, also played by O’Harrow, appears before Funderburg. He is trying to get a promotion, and jokes that he’s not powerful enough to steal the arts, an idea Funderburg thinks is great.

O’Harrow, who is also the show’s music director, said Mr. Sparkle takes a step back to his other character in this show.

“I find inspiration from the kids and Mr. Sparkle,” Volpe said. “I often think to myself, how can I include dozens of kids and how can I utilize Jonathan’s talents? It’s fun to develop new, ridiculous business for Jonathan on stage. He’s always willing to go for it. From that thought process, the story just evolves and unfolds.”

O’Harrow said in other shows he has become an alien and lost his memory when a sandbag hit him. He applauded Volpe’s dedication to the Sparkle productions.

“I’m the lucky one who gets to take a bow at the end of it, but she’s the one who makes it happen,” he said.

Every year, O’Harrow says the show is the best they have done, and wonders if they can top it, he said.

“During the past 11 years, the Sparkle Shows have taken on a life of their own,” Volpe said. “They bring kids together who share a like interest [in the performing arts]. I love to watch them feel a part of the arts community and develop long-lasting friendships.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.