When director Jacki Mangan saw Brenden Van Bruwaene’s audition for “High School Musical,” she turned to her partners and said, “You know he’s going to be in the show, right?”

It was partly the 14-year-old’s enthusiasm and winning smile. But Mangan was also impressed that a child with Down Syndrome — a genetic condition shared by some 400,000 Americans and associated with some cognitive impairment — was so eager to be on the stage that he’d prepared a song and a monologue.

“He’s not the first special needs kid we’ve had in a show,” said Mangan, who’s been involved with the Front Range Theatre Company (formerly the Castle Rock Players) for eight years. Now Van Bruwaene has woven himself into the cast with his energy, enthusiasm, and his motivational speeches at the ends of rehearsals. (“This will be the funnest thing ever!”)

“He’s always loved to sing and dance,” said his mother, Carrie Van Bruwaene. “He’s acted in school productions and attended Castle Rock Kid’s Stage” (a theater camp for children).

But “High School Musical” took Brenden to another level of excitement, because it’s been his favorite musical ever since he saw the movie on the Disney Channel. “I love this show a lot,” he said.

Mangan said it shows at rehearsals.

 “He always has the energy,” said Mangan. “He’s figured out he doesn’t have to pose in front of everyone.”

Disney’s romance about a high school production of “Romeo and Juliet” — with brainy kids and jocks acting as real-life Capulets and Montagues — has become a cult phenomenon and spawned several sequels. But even Mangan was surprised when over 100 people from all along the front range showed up for the audition.

Even with a huge cast (45 performers), Mangan had to call 60 kids to tell them they hadn’t been chosen.

Van Bruwaene plays Mongo, one of the show’s four “skater dudes.” “He’s the mystery guy,” said Van Bruwaene. “He’s a rascal.”

But he’s not necessarily going to remain content with being a skater dude. When asked what roles he’d most like to perform, Van Bruwaene doesn’t hesitate: “Troy in this show, and Usnavi in ‘In the Heights,’” the rap- and salsa-flavored piece that won the 2008 Tony award for best musical.



“High School Musical” by Front Range Theatre Company

When: Runs 7 p.m. today and Aug. 27, 2 and 7 p.m. Aug. 28 and 2 p.m. Aug. 29

Where:  Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts, 304 Colorado 105, Palmer Lake

Tickets: $12-$15; 481-0475.