Returning student: Dead man learns lesson in Craig's 'Winner'

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Nick Crow
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JANESVILLE—When picking a play for her directorial debut, Craig High School English teacher Lindsay Swanson wanted something the audience would find relatable.

She decided on “And the Winner Is…” by Mitch Albom.

“The way I've been describing it is 'It's a Wonderful Life' but not as sappy,” Swanson said. “It's something that's appealing to everyone. It's different than shows in the past.”

“And the Winner Is…” tells the story of Tyler Johnes, an egocentric movie star who dies the night before the Academy Awards and learns lessons about life and himself in the afterlife. Determined to know if he wins, the deceased Johnes bargains with a heavenly gatekeeper and returns to Earth for the ceremony, dragging his agent and others into the journey.

“I like that he's very self-absorbed but, in the end, sees things a little different,” said Angelo Villarreal, a Craig senior who plays Tyler. “He changes throughout the show.”

The morality of the production and its ability to show right from wrong in an entertaining way appealed to Villarreal.

“It's different,” he said. “It's not your typical love story. It's more about finding yourself rather than finding someone else.”

Swanson, who has co-directed other productions at Craig, said the students' work ethic makes the play look effortless.

“They're awesome,” she said. “They definitely put a lot of work in. Most, if not all, are involved in other things as well.”

Senior Celeste Furman, who plays Clare, has been involved in shows at Craig since she was a freshman. She likes plays because they help her express herself, and she particularly likes the humor in “Winner.”

“It's really funny,” Furman said. “Some of the things in it are small and simple, but people can't help but start laughing.”

The play is something high-schoolers will comprehend, unlike some older plays with the same message, said Madelynn Schultz, who plays Sheri.

“It's adult humor but without raunchiness,” Schultz said. “I think it's more relatable than Shakespeare is.”

Schultz's character is Tyler Johnes' ex-wife.

“I call him all the time trying to sort things out,” Schultz said. “It's fun to play someone bitter about how her relationship ended.”

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