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Andrew Konopak

Starting theatre at BHS: Konopak and Three Disney Burros

By Bruce Auld News Review Staff Writer–  I very much looked forward to this article, as I knew The Burros Book was lacking in the arts. 2016 Tristan Kratz produced Les Misérables at Burroughs, a daring undertaking. 

“Brothers” Ala and Andy

Andrew Konopak and Ala Tiatia played two of the male leads. The performance was breathtaking. Andrew and Ala would reprise their respective roles a couple of years later at MiraCosta Community College.

Going out on a limb, I have a distant recollection that my classmate Jim Kline (BHS 1966) performed regularly at Disneyland as a member of a Barbershop Quartet. Jim also performed on the sitcoms Cheers and Night Court. His performance credits include appearances at the LA Music Center, Carnegie Hall, and on one of Neil Diamond’s Christmas albums. Jim was a dentist in private practice in Manhattan Beach, CA. Sadly, Jim recently passed.

If my recollection is not disputed, Jim and two additional Burros were a part of the Disneyland performing casts. Bob Malone (BHS 1973) was a trumpeter and went on to create world-class brass instruments. Ala Tiatia-Garaud (BHS 2017) was a member of the Disney cast, performing in numerous theme park productions.

“Brother” Andrew Konopak

I recruited Peter and Kathleen Konopak to Sierra Sands in the late 1980s. Although Peter began his career teaching English at James Monroe, he and Kathleen would work together for most of their careers side-by-side at Las Flores Elementary School, with no commute as they lived across the street on Sierra View. It is by their generosity that Andrew and Ala became “brothers.” With many musical performing credits at Burroughs, Andrew attended MiraCosta Community College in north county San Diego, quickly moving on to the Bob Cole Conservatory at California State University, Long Beach, where he earned his Bachelor’s in Music in opera performance. While at the Bob Cole Conservatory, Andrew was a member of the chamber choir that won the Choir of the World competition in Llangollen, Wales (2016) and went on to lead the bass section of that choir in winning the Spittal Chorwettbewerb in Austria a year later in 2017.

Andrew Konopak (BHS 2011) portrays Javert in the Burroughs production of Les Miserables. Andrew, a baritone, is a professional international opera performer. / Laura Austin Photo

“Starting theater at Burroughs really worked out for me and shaped the trajectory of my career in a way that I didn’t realize until you mentioned it in our interview. I’ve always been involved in music. I grew up learning how to play guitar and sing harmony from my dad and aunt. That upbringing was based heavily on folk music. We would have dinner and sing-along nights every weekend starting in elementary school. Because of this background, when Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash) was announced as the musical for the year, I knew I was made for it. Ring of Fire was my first full-on show, and of course, it hooked me into the theater department. When Les Misérables was announced the next year, Tristan (Katz) knew I had a voice and could sing a leading role (Javert).” The turntable was a unique feature of the Les Misérables production, which alternated the scene sets. Derick Hofer, a BHS football player, and his dad (Peter Konopak) manually pulled a rope system to make the one-ton table rotate on cue. (Interview with Andrew Konopak)

Andrew is also involved in education, returning to MiraCosta Community College to assist with choirs and coaching vocal students. Andrew recently was the diction coach for Tolkien’s languages (Quenya, Sindar, Adunaic, Khuzdul, and Black speech) in the San Diego performance of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings Symphony. Andrew performs with the San Diego Opera and the Bodhi Tree Concerts, and his other credits are encyclopedic and require foreign language dictionaries to decipher.

Andrew, a baritone, enjoys throwing axes and brewing beer in his garage. He probably shouldn’t combine the two.

“Brother” Ala Tiatia

“For most of my high school career, I was very green and went into every audition cold, and the production of Les Miserable was no different. I wanted to be Marius because I heard he was the male ingenue, an archetype I hadn’t played at the time and was very interested in portraying. When the cast list came out, I was shocked that I received the part of Valjean, the main protagonist, because I didn’t think I was capable of singing or acting such a large role, but everyone not only at school but also in our small theatre community, came to my aid. Our drama teacher, Tristan Kratz, explained all the acting beats in a simple way so that I felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable onstage, and local lead tenor Kevin Anderson gave me voice coaching to stretch my range and instill the confidence I needed when singing. I think everyone in our small town knew this musical was a huge undertaking. I believe this show would not have been as successful without everyone’s generous support and determination.”

Ala Tiatia performed a Johnny Cash song during the Burroughs “Ring of Fire” production in 2010.

“The production of Ring of Fire was another show that had a huge impact on our community. I remember auditioning for it on a whim and at the very last minute because auditions had already passed. This was my first lead role in the program during my sophomore year of high school, which eventually opened the door for Les Mis the following fall. Like Les Mis, this show had a lot of heart behind it; I didn’t know about Johnny Cash prior to this musical review, but I quickly learned that he was a legend in the country music genre and that the High Desert was thoroughly nostalgic. The accomplishments we were able to achieve with those two productions as mere high schoolers are bewildering, but those important experiences have helped set a strong foundation for the performing artist I am today. It’s all thanks to my wonderful teachers and the supportive town of Ridgecrest.” (Interview with Ala Tiatia-Garaud)

In December of Ala’s senior year at Burroughs, he was selected to perform at a California School Boards Association event in San Diego. I was privileged to be his escort to the event. He sang Bring Him Home from Les Miserables and Oh Holy Night to a resounding standing ovation. Ala was not compensated for performance that night, yet in May was honored with a scholarship to pursue studies in musical theater, which he did, first at MiraCosta College (North San Diego County) and California State University, Fullerton (BA).

Ann and I traveled to the Lawrence Welk Resort in 2017 to enjoy Ala playing the lead in Guys and Dolls. Great show, and we enjoyed lunch with Simon Austin and his family. Simon came to Burroughs in the mid-1990s, when the Burroughs band was merely a “saxophone quartet. In two short years under Simon Austin’s baton, the Burroughs band was too large for the Performing Arts Center stage. Although officially retired, Simon continues to work with musicians at both Burroughs and Cerro Coso. Recently, we met up while I was watering the newly planted Mike Philips (unofficial) Pepper Tree at Burroughs. Simon, an accomplished professional trumpet player, sang praises of living and performing in Ridgecrest.

Ala Tiatia performed as Prince Naveen in “A Christmas Fantasy Parade” at Disneyland 2017. / Courtesy Photo

My limited knowledge of Ala’s talent was that he was a vocalist, baritone, and tenor. Ala’s most recent credit is that of choreographer for Moonlight Stage Production’s Tarzan. Ala has performed extensively at the Disney Parks in numerous roles, national tours with Sesame Street Live and Evita and regional theater too many to mention.

“Brothers” Andrew and Ala reside and continue their professional performing and teaching careers in San Diego.