Skyline drama students benefit from university experience

By Josette Keelor

Students at Skyline High School in Front Royal have had a rare chance this spring to work with theater professionals on a production of the musical “Little Women.”

Responding to a request from the show’s musical director Pam Dyke, current and former students from Shenandoah University volunteered to help the high school put on the best show they could on a small budget.

Dyke said the university put her in touch with Emilie Bachmann, a recent graduate who was majoring in theater for youth with an emphasis on directing. Bachmann agreed to direct the show and brought along a few friends to fill other roles, like lighting director Alec Sparks and vocal coach Melissa Chavez, a doctoral student at S.U.

“We’ve learned so much from them,” Dyke said.

Anytime the students get to learn from a different director is a unique experience, but she said working with university students and alumni has been particularly helpful for those who have an interest in pursuing higher education in theater.

Productions begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Warren County Middle School, 240 Luray Ave., Front Royal.

Based on the book of the same name by Louisa May Alcott, the story follows a few years in the lives of the four March sisters and their mother, discovering romance and handling life’s trials while their father serves as a chaplain for Civil War Union troops. The story was published in 1869 and takes place in 1860s Massachusetts. The musical debuted in 2005 on Broadway and uses music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and the book by Allan Knee.

High school students Reno Vaughan, Katie Wells, Natalie Dyke and Valencia Lombardi-Chisholm star as four sisters Jo, Amy, Meg and Beth, respectively. Amber Shayeb plays their mother Marmee, and S.U. student Sam Fairley plays Professor Bhaer.

“When he sings,” Dyke said, “the first time the kids were like, ‘Oh my gosh, wow.'”

“He’s in the show with high school kids, but he’s taking the role completely seriously. He’s just a part of the cast,” she said.

Skyline has previously performed “Cinderella,” “The Sound of Music” and last fall’s “White Christmas,” but despite thriving student interest, Dyke said each show’s success is dependent on money the school can raise through ticket sales.

Although money is tight, the department so far has had a lot of community help. One of two volunteer costume designers has design training from London, and Dyke — volunteer orchestra and vocal director for the high school production — is band director at Warren County Middle School.

“Everybody pretty much is working on a voluntary basis which is great, but it’s a lot to expect of people,” she said. “We’re so lucky.”

Acknowledging the upcoming holiday weekend, she said she hopes the community will come out anyway to a show that will resonate with audiences.

“All generations would enjoy it, and I just think it’s a really family friendly show.”

The musical “Little Women,” performed by Skyline High School’s drama department, will show at Warren County Middle School in Front Roya at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for senior citizens and $5 for students.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or

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