Can you feel the Force tonight?

COSTA MESA — In a galaxy not so far, far away, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker will overcome the dark side of the Force while singing and dancing this weekend in a musical parody of "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi."

The children's play based on the hit 1983 sci-fi movie shouldn't disappoint even the most rigid Star Wars fans, whether you are a Jedi Knight or the most ardent follower of Emperor Palpatine.

"I think [the audience] should picture the regular 'Star Wars' and then add some songs to it," said 9-year-old Max Sehechter, who plays Emperor Palpatine. "Probably the biggest 'Star Wars' fans are going to feel OK with it, even though it isn't exactly like the movie."

Max and his fellow thespians in the Arts & Learning Conservatory will take the stage Friday and Saturday to raise money for after-school youth theater programs in Newport-Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Tustin.

The conservatory, based at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, is a nonprofit dedicated to giving children ages 5 to 17 an opportunity to participate in theater and performing arts.

Students in the program learn life skills like memorization, public speaking, socialization and dedication through the arts, said Debora Wondercheck, the founder and executive director.

"Our focus isn't just art for art's sake … but what we can do to set them up to be successful in life," she said.

The conservatory is the only children's production to be given permission by playwright Rogue Shindler to put on his plays, Wondercheck said.

The organization has already produced "Star Wars: A New Hope" and "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," the first two films in George Lucas' original trilogy, with "Jedi" being the third.

The play incorporates many lines from the movies, said Michael Kriesel, 11.

But the play puts lines from the movie to song using melodies from iconic musicals and movies like "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Lion King," said Brittany Isabell, 15, who plays Princess Leia.

"Me and Chewbacca do a little dance," she said. "It's pretty cute."

If You Go

What: "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi"

When: 7 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Newport Mesa Church Auditorium, 2599 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa

Cost: $10 to $15 per person or $35 for a family four-pack. Advanced ticket purchase is recommended.

Information: or call (714) 728-7100.

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