Bits 'n' Pieces: Stage star doubles up theater gigs

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Musicals are Ashlee Waldbauer's "sweet spot."

She will soon star as not only a lead in Oregon Children's Theatre's production of "Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans," but also in Prairie High School's production of "Oliver!" The 16-year-old must memorize 30 to 40 songs between the two productions.

Luckily, Waldbauer said her English accent for "Oliver!" has only slipped out once during rehearsals for "Magic Tree House." "They said, 'Oh Annie's from England now?'" she said with a laugh.

"The Magic Tree House" series of children's books features the adventures of Jack and Annie as they travel to different times and places. The Oregon Children's Theater production follows the duo as they head to New Orleans to find a young Louis Armstrong and help him on his path to become a music legend. It's also a story that Waldbauer enjoys. "I use to read 'Magic Tree House' books all the time when I was little."

"Oliver!" is a musical based on Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," which follows an orphan who must endure life in the workhouse only to escape and become part of a gang of pickpockets, led by the miser Fagin. Waldbauer plays Nancy, an older girl in Fagin's gang who tries to watch out for Oliver.

"There's always a little bit of pressure (in playing a lead character)," Waldbauer said. "With Annie, a lot of people look up to her, so I want to play her right and play her honest. Nancy, she's not likeable in the end, so there's more of a challenge to make her fun and show all of her sides."

"They're so different; Annie is energetic and straightforward," she said, "Nancy is drawn back. She has a good outlook on life, but she knows she's in a bad spot."

The differences in characters reflect the differences in the two productions. "I love my high school show, it's with all my friends who I love dearly and we get to perform together." The high school performance will even include Waldbauer's younger brother, who will be part of the gang of pickpockets played by children ages 8 to 14.

"Magic Tree House" will feature a live band performing on stage at Portland's Newmark Theatre, another professional stage production that Oregon Children's Theater is known for.

"OCT is great, they're super professional and with a let's-get-down-to-business attitude," she said. "In most shows, you are working together alongside adult professional actors. They hold you to professional standards," Waldbauer wrote in an email. "It is because of their support and training that I am able to go out into other professional auditions and feel confident in what I am doing!"

"Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans" will run Oct. 19 to Nov. 10, with performances at 2 and 5 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland. Tickets are $18 to $30; $15 to $26 for children. Call 503-228-9571 or visit octc.org.

The musical "Oliver!" will be performed at 7 p.m. Nov. 7-9 and 14-16 at Prairie High School Auditorium, 11500 N.E. 117th Ave. Tickets are $10, $8 for seniors, $5 for students. Visit prairiehighschool.org for more information.-- Ashley Swanson


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