Love transcends time on high school stage

ST. GEORGE – As the curtain rises on a new director, love is transcending time on the stage of Desert Hills High School Theater, pitting military might against matters of the heart in the highly-anticipated musical thriller “Aida.”

Set to music by Elton John with words by Tim Rice, magic will converge on stage in more ways than one as the production of “Aida,” a story about immortal love, debuts under the leadership of the school’s new theater director, Ani Rogers.

Ani Rogers playing Madame Thenardier in the 2004 Dixie High School production of “Les Miserables” directed by Russ Saxton her senior year, St. George, Utah | Photo courtesy of Ani Rogers, St. George News
Ani Rogers playing Madame Thenardier in the 2004 Dixie High School production of “Les Miserables” directed by Russ Saxton her senior year, St. George, Utah | Photo courtesy of Ani Rogers, St. George News

Bruce Bennett, executive director of St. George Musical Theater, said it’s exciting that students will be afforded the opportunity to work with Rogers. Bennett said he believes Rogers has the greatest potential to fill the educational theater shoes of Russ Saxton, who, after 30 years and more than 120 shows, drew the final curtain on his career as the theater director at Dixie High School earlier this month.

“Here in town, we just said goodbye to – farewell if you will – to Russ Saxton, who’s leaving as the drama teacher, leaving a great legacy at Dixie High,” Bennett said, and added:

If there’s anybody who has the potential to be the heir apparent to leaving that kind of impact and influence in educational theater, I think it would be Ani Rogers, a former student of Russ Saxton.

Last year, Bennett experienced Rogers’ work ethic firsthand when, after nearly a six-year hiatus, St. George Musical Theater made its triumphant return, opening with “The Sound of Music.” Rogers was asked to direct the show and Bennett said it was “a huge success.”

“She is a joy to work with, she is very serious about her craft, and she is extremely dedicated,” Bennett said of Rogers. “Theater, especially educational community theater, is very difficult. The most difficult responsibility in that is the director, and she is going to be really a great blessing and have a tremendous legacy, I think, of her own at Desert Hills High.”

While Rogers, born and raised in St. George, is new to Desert Hills, she is certainly not new to teaching and working with students.

After graduating from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and receiving a teaching certification at Utah Valley University, Rogers spent four years teaching theater to middle school students. From there, Rogers would have a successful three-year run as the theater director at Pine View High School before accepting her current position at Desert Hills.

An Egyptian love triangle

Love is transcending time on the stage of Desert Hills High School during the powerful musical production of “Aida,” a story about an Egyptian love triangle and enduring love, St. George, Utah, Nov. 11, 2015 | Photo by Michael Durrant, St. George News
Love is transcending time on the stage of Desert Hills High School during the powerful musical production of “Aida,” a story about an Egyptian love triangle and enduring love, St. George, Utah, Nov. 11, 2015 | Photo by Michael Durrant, St. George News

“If someone would have told me I would have left Pine View High School, I would’ve never believed it,” Rogers said, “and here I am in an amazing facility with a new group of colleagues (and) a new community that’s welcomed me nicely, so we’re off and running.”

With strength and vulnerability, Rogers will appropriately debut her career at Desert Hills with the Tony Award-winning Broadway play, “Aida,” a timeless story about immortal love, pitting duty and country against passion and matters of the heart.

Rogers said “Aida” has long been on her list of shows she wishes to accomplish as a director.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to do it and so, coming here, we knew we had a strong ensemble, we knew we had strong dancers, we knew we had a great orchestra and, when we had auditions, we had great singers – great young, young singers – and,” Rogers said, “all things considered, my colleagues appreciated the idea of ‘Aida,’ warmed up to it and it just kind of feels like a fresh risk – good risk – to take.”

Kimball Wastland plays the leading role in the Desert Hills High School production of “Aida,” a story about an Egyptian love triangle and enduring love, St. George, Utah, November 2015 | Photo courtesy of Desert Hills High School, St. George News
Kimball Wastland plays the leading role in the Desert Hills High School production of “Aida,” a story about an Egyptian love triangle and enduring love, St. George, Utah, November 2015 | Photo courtesy of Desert Hills High School, St. George News

Based on an Egyptian love triangle, Aida – played by Kimball Wastland – is enslaved by Egyptian prince Ramadas and his army, who are unaware she is the princess of their foe, Nubia. Aida soon captures the affection of Ramadas – played by Jayden Wright. However, Ramadas is betrothed to the daughter of the pharaoh Amneris – played by Cara Nickels.

As their love grows and transcends their disparate backgrounds, Ramadas soon must choose between his love for Aida or his loyalty to his country, while Aida is forced to weigh her love for Ramadas and her responsibility to lead her people.

The show goes on

Despite the challenges of having a new facility to get comfortable in and working with a new student body and faculty, Rogers is breathing new life into the production and said the collaboration has been a positive one.

“I feel like they have been surprised at my intensity and my work ethic and how I push them,” Rogers said, “but to their credit, I’m seeing the results of that pushing and the results of that intensity on our stages and I feel like they’re having a positive experience. And they’re having a new experience that they’ve probably never had before in their acting as I push them to go deeper, to be more truthful and to just become the characters that they’ve been casted for.”

Love is transcending time on the stage of Desert Hills High School during the powerful musical production of “Aida,” a story about an Egyptian love triangle and enduring love, St. George, Utah, Nov. 11, 2015 | Photo by Michael Durrant, St. George News
Love is transcending time on the stage of Desert Hills High School during the powerful musical production of “Aida,” a story about an Egyptian love triangle and enduring love, St. George, Utah, Nov. 11, 2015 | Photo by Michael Durrant, St. George News

It’s the truth which Rogers brings to the show that Wastland said has influenced and inspired her. As a sophomore, Wastland took a leap of faith auditioning for a lead role in the production.

“I was like, you know what, I’m gonna go for it even though I was a sophomore,” Wastland said, “and I was just like I’ll just go for it and see what happens and here I am and I’m so happy.’

Wastland said she had no plans of doing theater until last year when she said she randomly auditioned for a role in “Annie Junior” at Brigham’s Playhouse – where ultimately, she said, she fell in love with theater.

“I took voice lessons when I was 12 for about a year to two years, but I’ve just always grown up with singing in my house,” Wastland said. “Both of my parents love singing. They write songs together and they are really my inspiration for this entire thing. Without them and their support, I couldn’t do any of this. … I feel so much love for them and they – I can feel the love that they give me and that’s how I’m able to do these shows and it’s all because of them.”

Event details and ticket information

  • What: Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida”
  • Where: Desert Hills High School Auditorium, 828 E. Desert Hills Drive, St. George
  • When: Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 18-21, 7:30 p.m.
  • Cost: $10 for general admission | $8 for students and seniors
  • Online ticket reservations: Dixie Hills High School Theatre

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Email: kscott@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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