SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Spotswood High School was bustling with activity and excitement last night as students, teachers and musicians prepared for one of the final rehearsals before Thursday's opening night performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein's endearing musical, "South Pacific." The performers were taking turns having their hair and makeup done by fellow castmates and Director Annie Raczko in a small room just off of the cafetorium where they will take center stage later in the week. Raczko teaches both English and Drama at Spotswood High School.

Inside the cafetorium, musicians tuned their instruments in preparation for the evening's rehearsal, which would be the first with the actors in full costume, including hair and makeup. The group of professional musicians playing the toe-tapping score will be under the direction of Musical Director Sarah Carino-Koza. Carino-Koza is the Band Director at Spotswood High School.

Sophomore Adi Zacks is handling the challenging vocal and acting demands of the cock-eyed optimist, Ensign Nellie Forbush. It's the Milltown's native's first leading role since coming to Spotswood High School. Last year, she portrayed teenage Fiona in "Shrek the Musical."

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"I'm really excited because I just love performing," Zacks said in an interview prior to last night's rehearsal. "It's my passion. I want to study musical theater in college. I'm also scared because it's the biggest part I ever had. I feel like it's a big position to carry and a lot of pressure."

Zacks' last large role was as Millie in the Joyce Kilmer School's production of "Throughly Modern Millie" when she was in eighth grade. Currently, Zacks' schedule is packed with play preparations and school work. She also is a member of the spring track and field team and serves as the treasurer for the class council.

The 15-year-old recently completed a demanding course of study at the Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy. Zacks had to audition to become a part of the program that culminated with a showcase performance in January.

The teenager has found her English and drama director to be an encouraging and inspirational force during the entire "South Pacific" experience.

"She knows how serious I am about performing," Zacks said of Raczko. "She's very supportive and understanding."

Sophomore Rawad Sayah will be portraying Commander William Harbison. "It's exciting and also nerve-wracking because you never know what is going to happen," the teenager explained about the upcoming opening night as a group of castmates passed by singing a tune from the show.

Senior Jason Biss is a Spotswood High School theater veteran, participating in drama for all four of his years at the school. Emile de Becque is his third major role at SHS. In addition to his stage work, Biss is "heavily involved" in the school's music program, playing saxophone in the Pep Band and the Jazz Band. He is also a member of the program's Honors Wind Ensemble, which students must audition to become a part of.

The Milltown native plans to pursue a career in theater and is taking his studies and training to Wagner College in New York City in the fall. He has also studied extensively at the Rutgers High School Musical Theater Academy for two years. The program is an extension of the Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts. Biss described the program as "intense."

When the curtain rises on Thursday, the opening night of "South Pacific" will signal Biss' final performances on a Spotswood High School stage.

"It's kind of bittersweet," Biss said of the upcoming run. "It's my last show. It's so fun doing this every year. It's going to be tough, but it will also be a lot of fun."

The students will perform their final dress rehearsal on Wednesday, March 16 for area seniors before taking the stage for their four performance run. Evening performances of "South Pacific" will begin at 7 p.m. at the Spotswood High School Cafetorium on March 17, March 18 and March 19. There will be a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 20.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for seniors, students and children. They can be purchased by telephoning 732-723-2204 or by emailing Barbara Furman at bfurman@spsd.us. Tickets are also available at the door prior to each performance.