North students up to ‘Below Sea Level’ creative challenge

Teacher Peg Sorensen and the Northern Lights Show Choir movements are reflected in the choir room mirror during class. (photos by Linda Baumeister/Review)

North High’s Brandon Cayefano, left, and Jack Bonko wrote the script and are directing the acting in the Northern Lights Show Choir Extravaganza “Below Sea Level.”

Your assignment: to come up with a plot for a musical revue.

Sound easy? Well, consider you have to work in songs as diverse as “Matchmaker” from “Fiddler on the Roof;” “SOS,” the 1970s ABBA hit; the ‘80s rocker “Holdin’ Out for a Hero” and even a Beyoncé medley, just to name a few.

Fortunately for audiences, North High Show Choir performers Jack Bonko and Brandon Cayetano were up to the challenge.

Students in charge

The 16th annual Show Choir Extravaganza is again being coordinated with students at the helm, from the “book” to direction, scenery and lighting.

Peg Sorensen, longtime director of the award-winning show choir program, chose soloists and groups from auditions.

The performers could choose whatever songs they felt they presented best, which is why Jack and Brandon’s list includes selections from a rhythmic “stomp” number to a Katy Perry tune. From there, though, the amateur scriptwriters took the helm.

Sorensen says she’s glad to hand off the brainstorming to her talented students each year. “I wrote the scripts the first three years and then thought ‘These guys are the creative ones; why not give them that job?’” she says. “I’m like the producer, so I have final say, but I know they’re very capable and very willing to put their all into it.”

Jack and Brandon’s script, “Below Sea Level,” centers on a couple who take a honeymoon cruise to China, only to have the cruise ship’s engine fail -- not so farfetched a notion, as we now know. The couple and a cast of zany crew members and passengers are stranded on a desert island.

“It’s pretty much about their survival and the quirky people in the group,” Jack explains.

It took a little over a months for the pair to work out a script and flesh out characters. Last week, they began directing and guiding rehearsals.

“Writing it was a challenge. It took a while,” Brandon admits.

Jack says he caught the performance bug early; he’s participated in every play and musical he could sign up for since fifth grade and was eager to join North High’s program.

“I just enjoy the ability to express yourself in multiple different ways -- music, dance and acting,” he says.

In contrast, this is only Brandon’s second year in a choir program.

“I just tried a bunch of different clubs freshman year, and this was the one I stuck with. Everyone was having fun and working together; other clubs could be really competitive.”

Brandon adds, “I was already a ‘Glee’ fan, so that was part of it.”

Both agree that as well as honing their performance skills they’ve developed poise that carries into everyday life.

“Confidence and charisma” is how Jack describes it. “Choir swagger,” Brandon adds.

Jack, as a sophomore, isn’t too set on college plans yet, but hopes to include the creative arts.

Brandon hopes to double-major in pre-law and math “and do theater on the side.” 

Both have trips planned to Broadway after school lets out for the summer, and both are already walking on air. “I can’t wait,” Jack says. 

Audience members may want to plan to compare notes with friends and family who attend on alternate nights; as if coming up with the script itself wasn’t enough, the young authors have supplied the plot with two endings.

Holly Wenzel can be reached at or at 651-748-7811.

“Below Sea Level will be performed at 7 p.m. May 2, 3 and 4 at the North High Auditorium, 2416 11th Ave. E., North St. Paul. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors; they can be purchased at the door or reserved by calling the choir office at 651-748-6060.

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