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Teacher's challenge accepted by Ellis High School singers

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- Ashley Lopez said she quit singing lessons when she was "really young because I was too shy to sing in front of anyone."

You would never know it now.

A senior at Ellis High School, Lopez will be a soloist for the EHS dinner theater Friday, presenting "The King of Pop," featuring songs by Michael Jackson.

"I love Michael Jackson," Lopez said. "So (classmate Alicia Kroeger) and I decided to have the whole show revolve around him."

When Lopez and Kroeger learned before their senior year they would be getting a new vocal teacher for the fourth time in as many years, they weren't sure what to expect.

Were they ever surprised when Portia Harris told the two seniors who had been in choir all four years to take charge of the dinner theater, a challenge they welcomed.

"This year, it was put in our hands, and I feel more of the students are happy with what's going on," Lopez said.

"I want it to be about them; it's their time to shine," Harris said of her veterans taking charge.

The senior duo came up with the idea to put the dinner back in the dinner theater. They brought back a full meal, rather than dessert only that was served the past few years.

Foremost in Lopez' mind, though, was the theme of this year's dinner show.

"Ashley is obsessed with Michael Jackson," said Regan Krause, a junior.

Once she had everyone on board with the theme, Lopez successfully auditioned to sing her favored Michael Jackson song, "This is It," in the show. There will be six other solos, along with a trio and ensembles by the high school choir. Even the junior high choir will help out, as backup for "Man in the Mirror" and "Thriller."

Lopez will use her experience of helping plan the dinner show as a springboard to a much bigger stage.

She plans to major in music theater in college, although she has yet to decide which university she will attend next year. And she has been accepted to attend an intensive month-long training workshop for film and theater this summer at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.

While a lot of people and experiences have influenced her career plans along the way since she was the shy, little girl in grade school, Lopez gives a lot of credit for her recent success to Harris.

"(Harris) is so passionate about what she does; I love her," Lopez said.

Lopez takes voice lessons from Ivalah Allen in the music and theater department at Fort Hays State University.

She also has found a good instructor right in her own high school.

"She has helped me so much this year with my acting," Lopez said of Harris. "I take vocal lessons from her, too, that actually turned into acting lessons."

Teaching others how to sing and perform comes easy for Harris, whose first love is performing.

A 2010 graduate of Wichita State University with a degree in music education, Harris performed in the Fort Hays Opera earlier this month and also sings with Smoky Hill Chorale, a community vocal group in Hays.

"I love performing," Harris said. "And it's rewarding to see students passionate about it, too."

She said her students "have put a lot into this. I think the audience will love it."