It’s a story of friendship, dreams and finding yourself in an unfamiliar place — but this musical was written and performed entirely by local students.
“City of Lights,” a story about a Los Angeleno who enters a cooking contest and is thrown into a fight to earn a restaurant in Paris, debuted Feb. 2 and 3 at the Federal Way Public Academy, with more than 100 people attending the second night.
It was written by ninth-grader and fledgling songwriter Alinea Kirshenbaum, who said the performances went better than she could have hoped for.
“It kind of felt like a fever dream,” Alinea said. “It didn’t feel real until I looked back at it. … I almost feel like I didn’t write it. It feels like, ‘Oh, somebody else wrote that.’”
“City of Lights” is a story about looking out for your friends, and the value of taking a leap of faith, Alinea said. It’s also inspired by her fondness of Parisian culture.
“I’d always dreamed of going to Paris,” Alinea said. “I got the opportunity to go for my 15th birthday in October. I learned a little about the culture … I knew I wanted to write a musical, and I realized, this is where it needed to be.”
Derek Olsen, an English and drama teacher at FWPA, said that Alinea is the kind of student who wants to learn, work hard and create beautiful things, he said, and who could think deeply about the mechanics of her musical.
When he tested her work on “City of Lights” with questions like “What’s the function of this song?,” she’d always have an answer or be able to develop one, he said.
“What Would I Do,” a song by the play’s antagonist, is one of Alinea’s favorites — but of course, villains are always the most fun to write.
And Olsen still finds lyrics from her songs getting caught in his head, like: “You may not know if you can possibly do this — your roots are in so deep. … That’s why you should finally take the leap.”
Alinea has now been with the school’s drama program for four years.
She’s been involved of productions of “Neon Mountain,” “Scatterbrains” and other school performances like the school’s “Not So Open Mic,” where she performed some original songs. But this is her first original, full-scale musical performance.
Alinea’s songwriting passion started in preschool from listening to English singer-songwriter Adele, and these days, Taylor Swift is another big influence.
“Seeing strong powerful women in the music industry, processing their emotions in such a unique and interesting way, made me realize that I could do that too,” she said.
Alinea said she started taking her lifelong love of songwriting more seriously at 12. “Hamilton” and “Moulin Rouge” were foundational musicals that helped shape her interests and storytelling style in “City of Lights.”
“City of Lights” is her first musical, but don’t expect it to be her last.
“The biggest dream I’ve had since I was really little was to write songs, to be a singer, to do something creative that makes me happy,” Alinea said. “Having this amazing opportunity made me realize how much I want that, and I’m going to take that as far as I can take it.”