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Over the Rainbow

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Musical involves 140 students

By Special to The Banner

“Come on, guys!  We’ve only got a week here!  From the top of the scene!”

Drama Sponsor Jon Graham implores his Musical Theater class to do it again. And again.  And again.  

“I want this to be something the community will remember for years,” he says.

There’s certainly cast enough for it to be memorable. Forty-five students are in the elective class at the high school with parts that range from Dorothy’s two-hour stage time to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Munchkin #3. Forty band members belt out music arranged by Band Director and co-Drama teacher Matt Leedy, or, more often, songs actually composed by Mr. Leedy for the performance.  Then there’s five middle school students trying to keep 35 elementary school students on track.

Just another day at the office.  

While actors reshuffle on-stage, others, under the watchful eyes of Stage Manager Nick Kleinhenz and Student Director Breanna Bell assemble a castle set late in coming.

“That goes down here and that folds over, I think,” says freshman Blake Abel. “They didn’t do them right before.”

The castle turrets get done in the 42-minute class. Barely.

“I don’t think we’ve been able to get through four scenes total yet,” grumbles Graham, as sophomore Juliann Dunlap sings Judy Garland’s classic, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” onstage.  “Good, Juliann. That’ll do for today.  Let’s go on to the next scene!”

“It’s hard work,” says Sydney Brewer, TCHS senior playing the Tin Man. “I didn’t know how hard it would be. My costume’s crazy hot, and I’ll probably pass out in the middle of the play. If not, it’ll be great.”  

Senior Miranda Beitel agrees.  In her three years on the TCHS stage, Miranda has played leads in everything from a vampire parody to Cinderella. But this is the most scared she’s been.

“It’s such a large undertaking that we haven’t been able to thoroughly go through every part making it difficult to piece everything together. On top of knowing my lines, I feel like I have to know everyone else’s line too. Because they’re lost on stage.”

 “This one’s been difficult,” says senior Bethany Mejean. “There are so many people involved. My part (Glinda the Good Witch) is small—it’s easy to remember, but I have to play off other people who don’t always know their lines.”

Still, if it all works out, this will be a play for the ages.

“It’s by far the largest cast I’ve ever dealt with,” says Graham. “The logistics of 80 people on-stage, not to mention the band immediately below that is… daunting.”

The plan started early enough. TCHS students began monologues and song auditions as soon as they returned to school in January. Juliann Dunlap was, as expected, remarkable, but the highlight of the first month was the revelatory ability of freshman, Cade Thornsberry.  His rendition of Frank Sinatra’s classic, “Fly Me to the Moon” brought down the house.

From February forward, actors have been working on blocking, sets, memorizing lines, and perfecting pitches.  

“I have one line, but we work on it at least once per week,” said freshman Chris Goodin. “The choreography… I should know. We’ve gone over it enough.”  

Other scenes haven’t worked out as well.

“The kids have to deal with imaginary trees, imaginary props, and, when someone’s absent, imaginary cast mates,” says Graham. “It’s not easy, especially considering they have six other classes, homework, prom, graduation, jobs, and athletics. It takes a special person to take this on.”

Band members had even less time to devote to the production.  

Band director Leedy handed out “Oz” music shortly after March arrived, and, piece by piece, created the backbone for the production. Band members excelled under his expert tutelage.  

Much of the music was written especially for the production by Leedy. “It’s one of my favorite things to do,” he says, of writing original music. His rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” for example, had to be arranged where Dunlap could belt out the classic.  

No problem for Trimble County’s band director.

Add in incidental music—all his own this time—for every time the witch shows up, the tornado, and the flying monkeys, and Leedy is juggling two full-time jobs—one as director and one as composer.

But the students never see him complain. “Mr. Leedy is cool,” says Brewer.

The elementary school kids came last. The first practice—mid-March—began with 21 little ones.

“There’s no way that would have been done without Mrs. Melissa Staley. After I sent the letter, she called me and helped me organize it, got the interested kids taken care of, answered their questions, and worked out all the little details that go with it—all while putting on her own production,” says Graham. “She’s been phenomenal throughout this and is really deserving of credit.”

Wednesday after-school practices with elementary school and middle school students brought the cast to full force.  

And what a force it is.

“There could be 140 kids in this production. How much luck would it take for everything to go just exactly right?” muses Graham.

Regardless, Drama has been a great experience for Beitel and Mejean. “It’s been my favorite part of high school. I love acting, so it’s just been the highlight of my career.”

The production will be staged at 7 p.m. at the TCHS Gym on Thursday, May 10, Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12. Cost is $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for students, and those four and under are free.