Musical a first for Warren County Middle

By Josette Keelor

Everyone said he was crazy when Principal Alan Fox suggested Warren County Middle School offer a musical this fall.

“They told me I didn’t have any idea what I was talking about,” he said.

He could understand their hesitancy.

“We’ve never tried anything like this,” he said. The last show involving students was two years ago — a one-act play appropriately named “This is a Test,” which Wayside Theatre in Middletown organized and directed at the middle school thanks to a grant proposal written by former Wayside board member and middle school band director Pam Dyke.

But that was the work of a professional theater, he said.

“This is unmatched. I had no idea what a big production this would be.”

About 70 students auditioned for roles in “Broadway Beat,” a musical revue of well-known production numbers, and 36 made the cast, said Dyke, who organized the production with choir director Beth Whitney. Another six made the crew.

As Fox put it, one in 11 students at the school wanted to work on the production. So it wasn’t for lack of interest that the school never tried a musical before, he said.

“It wasn’t in our budget,” he said.

The money it would cost to secure the rights of a national production and the manpower required to hold auditions, prepare choreography and lead a group of 36 sixth and seventh graders was a hefty endeavor.

To raise money, the school held a dance, and Fox hopes to recoup the rest with ticket sales. Plus they’ve had a lot of donations of time. Once he announced the need for help, “they found us, honestly.”

English teacher Katie McNelly, who has several years dancing experience, joined with community member Jennifer Ontiveros to choreograph the production.

At a recent rehearsal, McNelly directed students through musical numbers from “Hairspray,” “Wicked,” “Rent,” “Grease” and “Annie” as well as a medley of patriotic music by George M. Cohan. It was the first time they ran through the entire show, but the performers were already practiced in song lyrics, dance moves, blocking and in some cases lines.

Because it’s a musical revue, “Broadway Beat” is heavy on the music and light on text, but some students have lines between the songs to help connect one to the next in a fluid almost-storyline that lasts about 45 minutes, Dyke said.

“We found that would be just right for us,” she said.

The school’s recent move into the old high school building also helped make the musical possible, Whitney said. In the old building, there wasn’t enough space.

But Dyke said a donation from Wayside also came at the perfect time.

“The majority of our costumes we got from Wayside,” she said. “We didn’t have anything.” Besides costumes, the school also accepted eyeglasses, accessories and ties.

“We don’t really have a budget for our theater department,” she said. “We don’t have a department, it’s just me and Beth.”

“[It’s] nice to have something to start with,” she said.

Fox was inspired to try this because of the singers he’s heard at the school over the years, particularly at the Warren County Middle School Idol singing competition each spring.

To put on a musical of this size, he said, “We knew that we had to have a number of very good singers.” But he didn’t expect this many.

“The total talent that we have this year is overwhelming,” he said. “People will cry on Thursday night.”

Performances of “Broadway Beat” will be at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Warren County Middle School auditorium, 240 Luray Ave., Front Royal. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students, and are available at the door. For more information, call 540-635-2194 or visit www.wcps.k12.va.us/wcms/.

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