Mehlich travels long road to leading role

Kate Crowley and Bianca Taraschi

Covered in gold make-up, a furry body suit, and a mane of wild, curly hair, senior Justin Mehlich took the stage. Performing as the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” Justin helped Dorothy reach the Emerald City in order to meet the Wizard. With an expressive face and animated voice, anyone who saw him would think that he was destined to be an actor. Surprisingly, this wasn’t always the case.

“As a kid I was very shy. At school I would often read a book rather than talk to the other kids, and when company came over that I wasn’t familiar with I hid under the table. I just figured that others seemed to be doing fine without my company so why bother trying to join them. Theater of course changed all that,” Mehlich said.

After realizing that he liked acting while doing some small elementary school plays, Justin has performed in a wide variety of shows since. Ranging from “The Music Man,” a show about a con man who poses as a boy’s band organizer to sell musical instruments, to “Greek Mythology Olympia Ganza,” a one-act Trojan War reenactment, Mehlich has assumed the role of many diverse characters. His favorite though, is a mysterious and dangerous hired hand on Aunt Elller’s ranch in the play “Oklahoma!”

“Jud Fry, I think, is my favorite role that I’ve played so far because I connected with him the most,” he said. “The character really grew on me. He seemed the most real to me, and it hardly felt like acting.”

His sister, Erin, has a different favorite though.

“I loved him as Luther Billis in South Pacific. I will never forget the image of my own brother dancing around in a coconut bra and a grass skirt with a mop on his head. It was just such a great character and I love how he played it up,” she said.

Although Erin is homeschooled, a special exception was made to allow her to take part in the West Shore drama department since Heritage, the school she is zoned for, doesn’t have a drama program. This weekend’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is the third play Erin will be a part of at West Shore with her brother.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to do something like theater with Justin,” she said. “He usually gets a lead role. It’s really amazing to see him in action in rehearsals and behind the scenes, not just when he’s on the stage for a performance. I love being able to share a common interest.”

As the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” Mehlich was required to wear a heavy body suit, and a full face of paint and make-up.

“The suit and makeup were amazing and even though I lost my voice for three of the shows people didn’t seem to notice, which made me feel pretty good about the part,” he said. “It gave me much more respect for the people who have to wear full body suits for things; it can get ridiculously hot in there. Plus it was another experience to bond with some of my closest friends who also played my friends in the musical.”

In “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” Mehlich will be playing leading man, Adam Pontipee, a backwoods man who sweeps Oregon town girl Millie off her feet.

“I am very excited to play Adam,” he said. “It’s my first lead male role. I’ve never really thought of myself as one to play a part like that so I’m a little nervous as to how it will turn out, but I have pretty good confidence in myself and the cast. We are all pretty much brothers anyway in real life and it’s already been fun singing and dancing with everyone.”

Playing leading lady Millie alongside Justin is Michaela Vine, who has been acting for as long as she can remember.

“We’ve [Justin and her] been doing shows since freshmen year together so it’s cool to play opposite of a friend. I’m so excited to be able to play such an amazing role, but I am mostly excited to perform with the same amazing group of friends that I have been with for six years now,” Vine said.

When thinking about the future, Mehlich is set on pursuing a career in entertainment.

“I’m not sure exactly what I want to be, all I’m sure of is that I want to entertain,” he said. “I do plan to pursue acting in college, and I want to go to FSU. I won’t be going for a bachelor of fine arts but I will be going for a Bachelor of Arts, with less focus on just acting, because I want to branch out a bit. Making a living as just an actor is very very tough, so I have no definites.”

By Keiran Sheridan