Perry Community School District was recently recognized by the Iowa High School Musical Theatre Awards for their musical rendition of Peter Pan performed on March 31 and April 1 at the Performing Arts Center. In addition, four awards were given for Peter Pan: “Outstanding Performance in a Principal Role” for Breanna Penenger as “Peter Pan,” “Special Recognition for Performance as a Featured Dancer” for Anna Ridnour, “Distinguished Scene” awarded to the “Indian Dance,” and “Special Recognition for Community Engagement.”
In addition, Penenger will get the opportunity to perform a solo from the Peter Pan song, “I Gotta Crow,” along with a medley at the IHSMTA Showcase in Des Moines on Monday, June 5. Students Amani Al-Rashid, Karley Whelchel, Madison Mason, and Taylor Eppert perform with students from different schools in the opening medley of the Awards Showcase.
“I was just really excited for kids because they worked so hard,” Choir Director Jenn Nelson said.
Musicals typically occur at the high school every two years, with it’s more recent debut of High School Musical in 2014. Previously to the High School Musical, Perry schools had not performed a musical in nine years.
“We worked really hard to do a lot of things that would improve the quality of the show from the last two years; it felt really good to know the work had been recognized,” Nelson said.
Nelson received the news in two emails, the first containing feedback from Peter Pan, and the second, a congratulatory email to Penenger, detailing the opportunity her “triple threat” award brought her: entrance of the Triple Threat Award program, which could result in the chance to represent Iowa at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in New York City.
Nelson printed Penenger’s email, folded it up and put it in a Perry Schools envelope.
She called her down to the Choir room, knowing a majority of students who were in Peter Pan were also sitting in her class.
“I thought it was the best way to recognize her,” Nelson described.
Penenger said she was confused about getting called down and grew nervous when Nelson asked her to read from the envelope in front of the class.
“At this point I’m shaking,” Penenger describes. “I read the first little excerpt from it, and no words - I couldn’t speak.”
Nelson read off the rest of the letter to the class who instantly erupted in cheers.
Penenger’s parents, Brian and Michelle, say they support anything Penenger tries.
“We knew she could sing; we both did not know she could act and dance,” Michelle Penenger laughs.
Previous to Peter Pan, Penenger was just an audience member during the High School Musical. She didn’t try out because she wasn’t familiar with the script and later realized Peter Pan would be her last opportunity to participate in theatre.
“When I found out that it was Peter Pan, I did not go into auditions thinking, ‘Yes, I want to play the main role,’” Penenger said.
“I went in because I really enjoy music and I remember being in the audience and feeling the magic of theatre, and I wanted to share that with everyone.”
Michelle Penenger described instances of struggle as Penenger adjusted to her role as playing both a male in a play as well as the main role.
“She was a little bit discouraged when they were telling her to be more like a boy,” Michelle Penenger said. “I just kept telling her that it’ll come, keep working with it then it’ll come.”
It was an adjustment for Penenger, she details.
“It’s hard; its very hard,” Penenger said. “Especially when we got closer to performance time, there were nights where I’d end up crying after rehearsal just because everyone is trying to throw everything together at once and it really is hard.”
The family bought tickets for all of the shows and were stunned when they saw Penenger as Peter on opening night, describing her performance as “absolutely stunning.”
“We bought it; we were just like, ‘She’s Peter Pan,’” Michelle Penenger said.
All of her hard work paid off.
“Those three performances we gave for just a total of a few hours made everything worth it,” Penenger said.
“The months of rehearsal, the hours of stress, doing homework between the times you had to be on stage - I would do it all over again.”
In preparation for the Des Moines performance, Penenger has selected “Think of Me” from the Phantom of the Opera to be a potential showcase song if she is selected to move onto Nationals.
According to a press release submitted from Jenn Nelson: “One actor and one actress from Iowa will join student nominees from across the country to experience the opportunity of a lifetime and to perform on a Broadway stage. Students will take part in a rigorous, 9-day experience that features individual vocal and acting coaching by Broadway industry professionals, visits from special guests, discussion with working actors, a night out in Times Square for dinner and a Broadway show, and a session with a Broadway casting agency.”
Penenger practices singing in front of a mirror for twenty-minutes, a technique she learned about through a Masters Class.
“I’ve learned that you can never overdo anything - your facial expressions and acting,” Penenger said.
Penenger says if she makes it to New York, she looks forward to seeing a yellow taxi in person or attending a Broadway show, two pieces of city-life that Perry doesn’t have to offer.
“I know that even if it does not happen for me, I’ve learned so much, not just about performing in theatre, but so much about myself,” Penenger said.
Tickets for the Iowa High School Musical Theatre Awards Showcase can be purchased at the desmoinesperformingarts.org for $15.