Back in the 2004 – 2005 school year, I decided that I wanted to start producing an annual school musical. Our Upper School chorus program had started just one year prior and I hadn’t even begun teaching dance as part of the school’s curriculum, but I wanted to increase the number of students participating in drama. I wanted the die-hard drama kid, the athletes, and especially the secret shower singers. I needed them all. Historically, there had only been three musicals at Walker: Fiddler on the Roof (1987)The Man of la Mancha (1988), and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1990). The cast consisted of not only Upper School students, but also parents and faculty members. If I was going to make this work, I was going to have to choose the right fit to set this new tradition in motion.
So, what musical did I choose? There is not a better or more accessible musical for high school students than Grease. It would certainly generate excitement and interest. I cast almost every student who tried out and those that didn’t make it were on the technical crew. I had two chorus groups: the select chorus which was in a few group numbers because they were participating in cheerleading, swimming, wrestling , and soccer and the main chorus which was in every choral number. I ended up with 33 students in the cast and 12 on the crew, and Mr. Gerace, who began our band program in 2002, had a pit orchestra of six students and faculty. Most of the kids had never even set foot on a stage, let alone sung and danced in front of an audience. What is even crazier is that we only rehearsed for five weeks, which may seem like a long time to some; however, to learn choreography and music for 18 songs, build a set, learn to use a new microphone system, block scenes, learn lines, and create 30 – 40 costumes is unbelievable to me, especially when it is a new experience. I almost have a panic attack now when I think about it. When opening night came, it was exhilarating. Walker audiences were very gracious and enthusiastic, and we had almost 300 people a night at the shows. Those students had the time of their lives on that stage; you could see it on their faces. A new Walker tradition had begun. I promised the students that when we did the tenth musical I would do Grease again and invite them all back, and I stuck to my word.
Throughout the last 10 years the one thing that has stayed constant is the fact that the musical is a community event. It is not just an arts event, but a community event. As a matter of fact, as I write this, the cast is preparing to perform for a sold out show. It’s the first time we have sold out the auditorium for the musical. The musical has definitely changed and grown since our first curtain in February of 2005. One quarter of the Upper School population is involved in the production. This time around we rehearsed 10 weeks, had 24 students in the cast, 31 students in a stagecraft class constructing the set, 23 students on the crew, 20 scenic painters, 14 in the pit orchestra, and one amazing senior, Travis King, running our new electronic box office. Some of the original cast is returning to see the show, and I am so excited to show them how far we have come since that first production. It’s hard to believe 10 years have already come and gone, but one thing is for certain the musical is here to stay. Hope you didn’t miss this one!