WESTERLY — Eighth-grader Kelsey Gabrielle is dealing with a doubly difficult challenge.
But the 13-year-old Westerly Middle schooler is more than up to the task.
Gabrielle, who has performed in more local plays than she can remember, is tackling the role of Nazi soldier Rolf Gruber in Theatre Scrapbook's upcoming production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's beloved musical, "The Sound of Music."
"It's kind of interesting," said Gabrielle about playing the role of a male Nazi soldier. "I'm playing the part of someone history has looked down upon."
Gabrielle's friend Kendall Gaccione, on the other hand, said it feels natural to play the part of Louisa von Trapp, the 13-year-old with a rebellious streak.
"It's a lot of fun," said Gaccione, who is also on stage in the Granite Theatre's production of "Annie." "She's sort of mischievous."
"I can relate," Gaccione added with a laugh.
The students were gathered outside the Westerly Middle School auditorium one afternoon earlier this week, on a short break from the first of the week's dress rehearsals.
Moments before, they were on stage, in costume, with the rest of the 35-member cast.
Surrounded by children dressed in nuns' habits, lederhosen and sailor outfits, 14-year-old Dominick Lombard, who plays the role of Capt. Georg von Trapp, stood at the top of a set of stairs, and led the youngsters in a round of “Edelweiss,” as he played a small guitar.
Lombard, also a veteran of many a Theatre Scrapbook production, said rehearsals are "going great."
In the play, he explained, his character, the captain, banished music after the death of his wife. But then, when Maria becomes part of the family, music returns.
Natalie Gray, a 13-year-old seventh grader, plays Maria Rainer, who eventually becomes the stepmother and matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers. Gray said she is enjoying playing the role famously played by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film version of the play.
"I grew up watching the movie," said Gray. "I love Julie Andrews."
Nearby, Aly Travis, an eighth-grader playing the role of Liesl von Trapp, and Camden Kelly, a 13-year-old seventh grader playing her brother, Kurt von Trapp, weighed in on the rehearsal process.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Kelly. "A lot of my friends are in the play so it's fun hanging out with them."
"It was a little bit of a challenge at first," admitted Travis, "but now it's really fun."
"The Sound of Music," which will run tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., marks the seventh season for the theater company and the fourth fall musical with Westerly Middle School.
"I am thrilled to be doing such an iconic show," said the show's director, Antonella DeAngelis of Westerly. "This is one of the most beloved musicals and musical films of all time."
The collaboration between Rodgers & Hammerstein was destined to become the world's most beloved musical, said DeAngelis, describing the story that features Maria, the high-spirited postulant who proves too for the religious life, so is dispatched to serve as governess for the seven children of a widowed naval captain. Maria's growing rapport with the youngsters, coupled with her generosity of spirit, gradually captures the heart of the stern captain.
The family's narrow escape over the mountains to Switzerland on the eve of World War II provides one of the most thrilling and inspirational finales ever presented in the theater, DeAngelis said.
DeAngelis promised the production "will thrill with its Tony, Grammy and Academy Award-winning 'Best Score.'" Songs include "My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss” and the title song, "The Sound of Music."
DeAngelis, a graduate of the University of Rhode Island, and Drexel University — where she recently earned a Master of Science in Arts — is the owner and director of the company. She is assisted by Abrianna Julie and Jalisa Burdick, who work with her on every show as assistant directors.
"The shows could not happen without them," DeAngelis said in an email.
“The students have been working very hard putting this show together the past 11 weeks," DeAngelis added. "They have all done a wonderful job interpreting the material and putting their own unique flair to it."
The show is designed to be performed by and for young audiences, DeAngelis added, "which makes it a great introduction and provides the classic musical theater experience for all."
The young actors are all students in grades five through eight, she said.
"Plus," she added, "the incredible songs are standards at any time of year ... especially the holidays."