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Student stars again take to the Palace stage | TribLIVE.com
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Student stars again take to the Palace stage

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Scene from Hempfield Area High School's 'Beauty and the Beast.'
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A scene from Penn Trafford High School's 'Once Upon a Mattress'
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(From left) Margarita Douglas as the Artful Dodger, Zachary Gilkey (Oliver), Carissa O'Masta (Bet), Jack Kilkeary (Bill Sykes) in Greensburg Central Catholic's 'Oliver.'

By day, John Noble is a Greensburg mediation and arbitration attorney who, three weeks ago, was elected president of the Westmoreland Bar Association.

By night — especially in the springtime — he is the ultimate high-school musical fan.

“I can’t begin to count the hours attending each school’s shows over the past 20 years,” he said last week as he talked about the upcoming 20th anniversary edition of his popular Westmoreland Night of the Stars event at the Palace Theatre.

He had been to 14 shows so far this year and said three more musicals were still on his calendar to attend. Noble is certain that his support of local students is a large part of why his annual celebration of the region’s performing arts programs sells out every year — this year included.

“I don’t just invite the schools to the Palace,” he says. “I’m in the audience year after year with the families in their buzzing auditoriums cheering on the kids — I eat a lot of lobby bake-sale chocolate chip cookies.”

After two decades of watching high-school students singing and dancing their hearts out at his Night of the Stars extravaganza — and trying to stuff all their friends and relatives into the Palace Theatre before having to post the “sold out” notice after selling 1,300-plus tickets — the show’s emcee has decided that one night is not enough.

“I’m really past the tipping point as far as the length of the show, and there is only so much room at the Palace,” he says. “I’m going to try a two-night festival next year and see how it goes. It should give the schools more performance time, hopefully more money generated to give to the schools, and I won’t be turning anybody away.”

Noble says participation in Westmoreland Night of the Stars has grown from seven schools to its current 16 districts, featuring students from Burrell, Derry, Franklin Regional, Greater Latrobe, Greensburg Central Catholic, Greensburg-Salem, Hempfield, Jeannette, Kiski, Ligonier Valley, Monessen, Mt. Pleasant, Norwin, Penn Trafford, Valley and Yough, along with Arts for Homeschoolers. Burrell High School is new to the production this year.

He is dedicating this 20th anniversary show to all of the arts educators in the county who volunteer their time and talents helping students to shine in their high-school musicals.

One of them, Joette Salandro, has been involved in Night of the Stars since its start as musical sponsor of Greensburg Central Catholic High School. This year, her students will perform selections from “Oliver!”

“Thousands of students have participated in Night of the Stars both onstage and behind the scenes,” she says. “It is a wonderful non-competitive celebration of musical theater.”

As an educator, Salandro says it is exciting to observe the growth in students, both as performers and as people.

“Through participation in musical theater, students not only develop their performance skills, but they also learn many important life skills such as collaboration, team work, creativity and problem-solving,” she says. “Thanks to the efforts of John Noble and the support of the many business and personal sponsors, the arts are alive and well in Westmoreland County.”

Jen Haberberger, Penn Trafford’s co-musical sponsor with fellow teacher Amy Kelly and director Tom Bekavac, says their school performed at Westmoreland Mall for the original Night of the Stars 20 years ago. Their students will be performing scenes from “Once Upon a Mattress.”

“It’s truly magical to gather students from all over the county who have the same love of the arts and see each school’s favorite moments of their spring musicals,” Haberberger says. “The musical season is so very busy that it’s difficult to get out to see other districts’ shows. This gives us all an opportunity to get a little taste of all the talent in Westmoreland County. We are so thankful to John for continually giving everyone the venue to share our youth’s talents.”

Anthony Marino, artistic director for Stage Right professional theater company in Greensburg, directed Hempfield’s musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” this year and will be at his post backstage at Night of the Stars, keeping the musical numbers flowing and organizing the student volunteers.

“This is their all-star game,” he says. “They all get to see each other and support one another. It’s a positive experience for kids and their parents.”

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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