Columbus North High School student actors note that there’s a new ceiling for them at newly renovated Judson Erne Auditorium. And it sounds as if they are discussing more than the literal, replaced upper interior at the now-1,000-seat facility.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it pressure (to do better),” cast member Joe Robinson said. “I would call it motivation.”

What initially seemed like a kind of kiss of death for the production of “Kiss Me Kate,” opening Friday at the auditorium, has become an opportunity to make the Columbus North show “one of the best productions ever,” leading lady Emily Sipes said.

And she swears she’s not saying that just because she also doubles as the musical’s marketing team leader.

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A Dec. 5 fire at the venue caused $1.6 million in damage, and kept the thespians off its stage for 10 weeks. But now the classic Cole Porter presentation features expansive, rented, professional sets and rented professional costuming. Not to mention new, LED lighting to spotlight all the polish.

For the musical adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew,” actor Ciaran Hill tossed out a baseball analogy to describe the situation.

“When you get thrown a curveball (in theater), you have to learn to deal with it,” said Hill, suggesting that the adjustment process over the past few weeks for the cast and crew ultimately will make them and the musical even better.

Sipes, who plays the dual role of Lilli and Katherine, has been so focused on the production that she has been listening to the soundtrack in her car. In her bedroom. In the shower.

And she’s feeling the adrenaline rush.

“This is definitely a different role for me,” she said. “I scream. I slap people. I throw things. I guess you could say that kind of gets me out of my shell.”

Sounds like “the shrew” to us.

One lighthearted outtake clip on the North Drama Facebook page features enough of Sipes’ aggressive antics — slaps, kicks and more — with leading man Sam Heichelbech during rehearsals that it plays almost like a colorful, WWE highlight reel.

Then there are performers such as Nathan Patton, playing Man No. 2, who loves the jazzy sounds of composer Porter, and artists from the 1940s and 1950s ranging from Frank Sinatra to Bing Crosby to Dean Martin.

“This is beautiful music,” Patton said. “But there also is a lot of good humor, and that just broadens the stereotypical, classic culture of that 1940s time period” which the theatrical production represents.

Grace Terry, who plays the characters of Lois and Bianca, acknowledged that she feels more pressure in a bigger-budget show. For her, the North auditorium is like a second home, given that she has performed there since age 6 in drama camps and Mill Race Theatre Company shows.

Plus, she gets her first big solo in “Always True to You (in My Fashion).”

“The professional set may even make us a little more confident in presenting a professional-caliber show,” Terry said. “And I am excited.”

Terry relates to the small-town character still climbing the performance ranks, since she herself is still learning and growing on the high school stage. And several cast members mentioned that the theater’s December fire, which occurred when the venue was unoccupied and resulted in no injuries, relates at least some way to the upcoming show.

They acknowledged that the best-known tune’s title, “Too Darn Hot,” will seem oddly appropriate — especially for a show figuratively rising from the ashes.

Too Darn Hot?

What: Columbus North High School’s production of Hoosier native Cole Porter’s musical, “Kiss Me Kate,” directed by John Johnson.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: The reopened Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.

Principal cast: Fred Graham (Sam Heichelbech); Lilli Vanessi (Emily Sipes); Lois Lane (Grace Terry); Bill Calhoun (Ciaran Hill); Man No. 1 (Joe Robinson); Man No. 2 (Nathan Patton); Hattie (Brittany Davis); Paul (Sam Beggs); Gremio (Josh Johnson); Hortensio (Grant Jackson); General Harrison Howell (Mark Salle-Tabor); Harry Trevor/Baptista (Sam Lay): Ralph The Stage Manager (Steven Walters).

Tickets: $6, available online at, then click “seat yourself.” Also available at the door.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.