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Sanibel middle-schoolers prepare for production of ‘High School Musical Jr.’

By Staff | May 29, 2009

“Two minutes to places,” says Sanibel School Music Director Joe Angelo.

From behind the school’s cafetorium curtain, all you can hear are shuffling feet and excited whispers as students from Angelo’s performing arts class take their places for the opening scene of their spring production.

It’s only a dress rehearsal, but every chance these youngsters get to take the stage seems like a golden opportunity.

The Sanibel School’s performing arts class puts on two productions every school year, one in the fall and one in spring, and this year, Angelo is directing his class in a stage adaptation of the hugely popular original Disney movie, “High School Musical.”

“The first time I watched a production here at the school I was in the audience and I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is doing a great job with these kids!” and I wanted to be part of it,” said Sanibel School media specialist Arlene Dillon, who also acts as assistant director for the production.

“These kids are really dedicated and they love doing the shows,” Dillon said, noting that Angelo’s performing arts class is the most popular elective course at the school, so popular in fact that not all interested students get to take the class.

There are 37 students – from sixth, seventh and eighth-grades – in the class that make up the cast and crew for each production, but Angelo says that while the students may be young, their talent and dedication to the performance overshadow any backstage shenanigans.

“It’s a little challenging, but the best thing about it is that the students can be influenced so much, they can get so excited about things. It’s an age in their life where we can really catch hold of their interests. It’s kind of brand new to them, but they really just go with it and give it their all,” Angelo said.

The original Disney musical – which focuses on two high school students with a secret passion for singing who meet by chance on winter vacation and then discover each other attending the same school – has so far spawned two sequels, myriad merchandise and unbridled enthusiasm and enjoyment among young people – and even some adults – across the world.

“The students have been mentioning it for awhile, so I kind of take hints from them,” Angelo said, noting that this particular suggestion came from last year’s seventh-graders or, this year’s eighth-graders.

Because there are so many students in the group, after they audition, two casts are selected so that Angelo can maximize the amount of students that get a lead role.

“We have the kids do as much as possible, but we have a wonderful group of moms that help out,” Dillon said, noting that several of the students’ mothers have volunteered their time for making costumes, doing hair and make-up and much more.

But aside from the assistance of devoted parents, every aspect of the show comes down to the kids – even the Sanibel School art elective class got in on the fun and helped paint all of the set pieces for the show.

One particular eighth-grader, Hunter Blackburn, acts as sound and lighting technician for the whole show entirely on her own.

“She is so dedicated. It’s probably the toughest job in the whole show,” said Angelo.

“She’s the unsung hero of this show. It’s a lot of pressure, but she can handle it,” Dillon agreed.

But it seems that when the kids are truly challenged, they shine.

Taylor Strange plays Sharpay Evans in cast I. If you’re not familiar with “High School Musical,” Sharpay is the scheming diva extraordinaire – a polar opposite to Strange’s bubbly, charming demeanor.

But Strange says that’s what attracted her to the role.

“You really have to get into the character and practice a lot because when you have to play somebody that’s the complete opposite of you, it takes a lot of practice,” Strange said.

“But that’s why we like acting because you get to play a different person,” said cast II lead Andrew Congress. He plays Troy Bolton, the basketball star with a secret love of singing.

“It’s a lot of fun [and] it’s a lot of hard work, but it all pays off in the end,” he continued.

Congress says that so far, preparations for performance time have gone rather smoothly.

“Mr. Angelo is a really good director and we learn a lot from him.”

So what does Angelo’s class get up to when their not working on their seasonal shows?

Dillon laughs and says “It’s always a show here.” while Angelo noted that the kids also actively participate in performing for the community, including auditioning for the All County Honors Choir and performing at BIG ARTS, the Kiwanis Talent Show and Luminary Night.

Angelo is also in charge of the Sanibel School’s steel drum band and the junior performing arts program for fourth and fifth-graders.

The final performances of the Sanibel School’s “High School Musical Jr.” will take place tonight, Thursday, May 28 (cast II) and Friday, May 29 (cast I) in the Sanibel School Cafetorium from 6 to 9 p.m.