Forget watching make-believe high schoolers compete for best show choir on the Tuesday-night sitcom "Glee." This weekend, you can catch a razzle-dazzle performance by a group of Mesa teens hoping to sing and dance their way into a national competition.

Eighty Mesa High School students will present their award-winning production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" for the general public Friday and Saturday at Mesa Arts Center.

This past fall, the show was selected to entertain attendees at the Arizona State Thespian Conference in Phoenix, making it one of the two best high school theater productions in the state, as determined by critics on the Arizona State Thespian Board.

"Why is that a big deal? It's the third largest high school theater festival in the country," says Jenell Riordan, director of the Theatre Department at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa. Her students' production of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was also chosen for the festival.

For the MHS kids, the pressure will once again be on at this weekend's arts center performances. Out-of-state judges from the Educational Theatre Association, the group that oversees the state thespian competition, will be in the audience, watching to see if the production is good enough to make it to the group's June conference in Nebraska. There, the cast and crew would perform before 3,000-3,500 attendees, says Riordan.

"We are competing against the very best high school productions around the country (and in) Canada and Europe. Only four schools ... are invited to perform their full-length mainstage productions at this prestigious event," says Sandy Stones, artistic director of the production and director of MHS' Performing Arts Department.

Mesa High plays have been selected to perform at the state conference three times in the past six years. Last year's play, "Cash on Delivery," was invited to the national convention as a runner-up.

Stones says Mesa Arts Center's stately, professional stage will present as many challenges for her students as it does reasons to pinch themselves.

"We have to load in the scenery, set lighting and sound in a short period of time, figure out how to cross backstage without the audience in the balcony seeing the actors, figure out where to make costume changes, et cetera - but that just adds to the excitement of the show. And on the flip side, the kids are there to have a blast and perform. Whatever happens, it's been so much fun that to win would just be icing on the cake."

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