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'Miracle Worker' opens March 23

Pictured in a rehearsal scene are, left to right, Sophia Whitley (Helen Keller) of Amery and Tara Lucchino (Annie Sullivan) of Minneapolis. Submitted photo

"The Miracle Worker," an inspirational drama by William Gibson, will be performed March 23 - April 15 at The Phipps Center for the Arts. The center is pleased to announce an American Sign Language (ASL)-interpreted performance on April 15.

"The Miracle Worker" is based on "The Story of My Life," the 1902 autobiography of Helen Keller. The play captures the relationship between Annie Sullivan and Keller. Sullivan is hired by Keller's parents to tutor Helen, who became blind and deaf in infancy, due to a severe case of scarlet fever. Keller is frustrated by her inability to communicate and subject to frequent violent and uncontrollable outbursts as a result. Sullivan's attempts to reach Keller result in a fierce battle of wills. The clash between the two is both physical and emotional. Through persistence, love, and sheer stubbornness, Sullivan breaks down Keller's walls of silence and darkness. She is not only able to teach Helen language through the use of her fingers, but also helps Keller become more disciplined. The effect on the entire family and the friendship that develops between Sullivan and Keller releases Helen in part from her lonely, dark world.

The play is directed by Rebecca Rizzio of Woodbury, who feels the script by Gibson "is the ultimate story of faith, hope and perseverance. It is about a person who achieves the unachievable." Because the play became the basis for the very successful1962 film of the same name, Rizzio has the additional challenge of meeting audience expectations. Both Anne Bancroft and Patti Duke won Oscars for their performances as Sullivan and Keller, respectively, in the movie. As a result, Rizzio feels "people will come in with an idea of what they want to see. I want the show to remain true to the classic and yet retell the story in a fresh way."

Cast in the role of Helen is Sophia Whitley, a 9-year-old girl from Amery. Sullivan is portrayed by Tara Lucchino of Minneapolis. Marc Paez from Inver Grove Heights, Minn., plays Captain Keller, Kate Wodele of St. Paul portrays Kate Keller, Erik Olson of Hudson is cast as James Keller, and Denise Baker of Hudson is Aunt Ev. The cast is rounded out with Michael Norman of River Falls (Anagnos); Bernie Drevnick (Doctor) and Lauren Johnson (blind girl) from Hudson; Braden Hanafee-Major (Percy) and Kinsey Novotne (blind girl) from New Richmond; Carolyn Morris (Martha) from Roberts; Lucy Langmack (blind girl) from Stillwater; and Denise Silva (Viney) from Plymouth, Minn. "This cast is very committed to the production and developing each of their respective roles. I hope the audience will see that in each of their performances," comments Rizzio.

The production staff includes stage manager Jeff Baker; scenic designer Jay Ganz; lighting designer Mark C. Koski, who is also The Phipps technical director; costume designer Fred Rogers; sound designer Tom Dahle; and production coordinators Kasey Jean Tunell and Patti O'Meara.

"The Miracle Worker" will be performed March 23 through April 15 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., as well as Sundays, April 1 and 15 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $22 for adults and $15 for students of all ages, with a $2 discount for the opening weekend, and a $2 discount for seniors on the Sunday matinee. Reservations may be made by contacting The Phipps ticket office at 715.386.8409 or online at

There will be an ASL-interpreted performance on Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m. Deaf or hard of hearing patrons wishing to reserve tickets in the interpreted seating area at a cost of $20 for adults and $13 for students of all ages should do so by calling (715) 386-2305 (voice only) or by going online.