(March 11, 2008)

Cleared for Takeoff

Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News

Alia Munsch, a senior at Fox Lane High School, started out in ballet and just got into musical theater with last year's "Fifty Million Frenchmen," for which she was dance captain and had some ballet solos.

This weekend, her musical-theater career takes off, literally, as she plays the title role in "Peter Pan" at Fox Lane.

How can a ballerina be a boy?

She found her character, she says, when she found her stance: arms on hips, feet out and shoulders back. That's Peter Pan.

As a dancer, she understands how her body conveys an image, although she's more graceful in ballet than as a middle-school-age boy.

For research, she followed her little brother, Niles, around. He's a fifth-grader.

"I just watch him do crazy things, being silly," she says.

Living in the age of YouTube, she didn't have to wonder how others tackled the role: She could see for herself. She watched clips of Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby, whose Pans were boyish, while Mary Martin's was more girly, she says.

Munsch admires the little way Sandy Duncan pointed at people with a boyish jerk of her thumb. That little detail might just find its way onto the stage at Fox Lane.

What about her crow? How is her crow?

"It's a little girly," she admits sheepishly. "But I'm working on it."

Munsch can take everything she's learned about being a boy and forget about it a little in the "Mysterious Lady" scene in which Peter pretends to be a lady, teasing Hook, played by senior Michael Knowles.

"It's pretty confusing, because I'm a girl playing a boy pretending to be a girl," she says with a giggle.

For his part, Knowles is playing the Jolly Roger's captain as a foppish fellow, more feminine.

"It's a fun choice," he says.

He'll still snarl and he's still formidable, Knowles says, but in one of the silliest, over-the-top outfits he's ever seen.

The costume goes a long way to finding his character. The hook changes his bearing and so do the boots.

And what color is his costume?

"What color is it not?" he wonders. "It's got shades of red that I didn't know existed."

But his coat won't help Hook in his battle against Pan, who gets the upper hand in their duel - literally. Pan flies; Hook is earthbound.

Munsch will have the same team helping her to fly as helped Martin, Duncan and Rigby: Flying by Foy.

"(Learning to fly) was so much fun, but the harness is very tight and uncomfortable," she says. "It cuts off the circulation in your legs.

"I didn't realize that there was so much that went along with flying," she adds. "Like I have to point my feet a certain way and turn my head a certain way to make sure I stay facing forward or go a certain direction."

She flew into a wall on her first flight and jokes that she's glad it was a canvas flat and not a real wall.

"It always looked so easy when other people did it, but it's a challenge," she says.

That's something you can't learn from YouTube.