The show must go on. Beyer High School senior Heather Hernandez learned as much this fall as she soared -- literally -- as Peter Pan in Modesto Performing Arts' version of the musical.
Heather first was cast as an Indian in the MPA production. However, in the final dress rehearsal, Randi Lineé, the actress playing Peter Pan, fractured her arm in a "flying" accident.
As unfortunate as this was, it turned out to be an opportunity for Heather. Director Paul Tischer took her aside just hours after the accident and asked her to take on the role of Peter Pan.
"He asked me if there was any way I could learn the role in five days," Heather said. "I asked, 'Is there any way you could get a professional actress?' He said, 'If you don't play (Peter Pan), we won't have a show.' So, I did it."
Heather is a seasoned performer. She's studied voice and dance, as well as musical theater. She's been in several school productions and community shows, and she has attended summer workshops on singing, dancing and acting.
Although Heather had auditioned for the part of Peter Pan, she had not been an understudy. From the audition and callbacks, she knew the music, but she had to memorize the lines and perfect the songs.
She took a break from school, went on independent study and learned the lines during the day. At night, she rehearsed with the rest of the cast.
Heather enlisted her drama teacher, Melanie Hildebrandt, to help her learn how to swagger, sit, stand and otherwise act like a boy. She also had to learn to "fly" across the stage supported by ropes.
MPA veteran Gini Vyborney explained that flying seemed to come naturally to Heather.
"She did it gracefully from the start," Vyborney said. "She is young, and she is fearless. She did it over and over without a hitch."
Heather also had to cut her long, blond hair.
"They had to ask me if I was really ready before they started cutting my hair off," Heather said. "It's just hair. It will grow back."
Heather's voice teacher, Sandra Rubalcava, said that Heather's biggest challenge was memorizing the lines in five days and staying calm. She credits Heather's determination for her success.
One MPA veteran said Heather is an incredibly hard worker and what she did with "Peter Pan" should make her a "legend among high school drama teachers for years to come."
Tischer agreed that this is similar to the classic Hollywood saga "where the leading lady breaks her leg and the ingenue steps in."
Besides starring in "Peter Pan," Heather played the lead role in "Brigadoon" at Beyer High last year. She has performed many other roles at Beyer and had another small part a year ago in MPA's "Beauty and the Beast."
Heather said she always has liked to sing. She has honed her skills by studying at the Boston Conservatory of Music's summer program and the summer program at Walnut Hill Performing Arts School. She has received many other honors and has performed many other parts.
Even though she is just 17, Heather knows she wants a career in musical theater. Her voice teacher, Rubalcava, said she has what it takes: determination and stamina.
Tischer said anyone interested in musical theater must be a "triple threat" -- actor, dancer and singer. He said young people interested in show business should try to get as much experience as possible.
"Everyone wants to play the lead, but you should take a part even if it has only two lines," he said. "Just get involved. Paint scenery or be part of the crew. It will help."
Heather had some suggestions for teens interested in theater. She said programs exclusively for young people, such as Modesto's Center Stage Kids, are especially good because they have classes where you can learn how to act.
"Go and audition for shows and get into as many dance, voice and theater classes as you can," she said. "Go for it! If you want to do it, do it!"
Katie Mussman is a senior at Davis High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom program.