DURYEA — Ask the teenage thespians of Phoenix Theatrics about their first adventures onstage, and some can look back to oh-so-cute, little-kid roles.
“I was Nellie, a baby spider in ‘Charlotte’s Web,’” said Isabella Mehm, 16, of Kingston.
“I was a flower bud in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” said Brooke Manley, 15, of Old Forge.
Just as they’ve grown into more involved parts — singing, dancing and acting in the somewhat edgy musical “Fame” today through May 26 — the theater the young actors call home has blossomed too, in time for its 10th anniversary.
Thanks to a Leadership Wilkes-Barre committee known as Phoenix Rising, the Phoenix Performing Arts Centre has been renovated — with new paint, new wiring, new carpeting, a new concession area and a seating area doubled to allow 100 audience members to watch the show.
“People will be able to see better,” said Lee LaChette, the theater director, pointing with delight to the tiered seating. “We’re excited about our grand re-opening.”
A ribbon-cutting celebration with refreshments will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, at the center, which is located in a 100-year-old building on Duryea’s Main Street.
But ahead of the ceremony, the public can see the new digs today and Sunday if they attend the musical “Fame.”
In keeping with the anniversary celebration, Phoenix Theatrics is reprising the show, which was the first musical it produced, back in 2011. For three years before that, all of the productions had been straight plays.
Nowadays the schedule is full of musicals, with “Seussical, the musical” preceding “Fame” and “Avenue Q, the musical” and “Dracula, the musical” set to follow it within the next few months.
Cast members say they’ve enjoyed preparing for “Fame,” which focuses on the dreams and struggles of students at New York’s High School of Performing Arts, and they love working together.
“Everybody’s so supportive and friendly,” said Amanda Guziewicz, 16, of Scranton.
“It’s like a big family here,” said Abby Pecha, 16, of Wilkes-Barre.
During a recent rehearsal, the “big family” was busy portraying the ups and downs of the New York students’ lives.
Some of it was comical, as when dancer Mabel (Kat O’Boyle) decided to switch her major to acting so she would no longer have to struggle with her weight.
“As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again,” she proclaimed, seeming to channel Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone With the Wind” as she grabbed a container of pudding.
Other plot aspects were more serious, as when dancer Tyrone (Joey Morales) tried to hide his inability to read.
And some of the material covered potentially deadly topics, as when fame-hungry Carmen consorted with drug dealers in the street and announced her plan to quit school.
“She does drugs,” said Sarah Neel, 17, of Wyoming, who portrays Carmen. “It definitely ruins her life.”
On a happier note, one of the parents who sat down to watch the rehearsal listed all the benefits she’s seen her 13-year-old daughter, Rhiannon, derive from participating in the Phoenix shows.
“She’s made tons of friends,” said Jackie Legg, of Pittston, who is co-music director. “She gets all the benefits of being part of a team, just like with sports; she learns about music, she learns how to solve problems, and she gets exercise.”
Perhaps best of all, Legg said, “There’s nothing she’d rather be doing.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.