Joy! Glee! Cheer! Seasonal feelings produced by attending three whirling musicals in nine days: “Annie”, “Shrek” and “The Tailor of Gloucester.” And then, on the tenth day, to be enraptured, enthralled, captivated by middle schoolers rehearsing a dozen numbers from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr.” seemed unworldly. And yet, the cast of twenty-five fascinated us with song and dance during a two-hour rehearsal.
Almost as entertaining, The Community Voice photographer, Jane Peleti, could not contain her pleasure as she moved in delight around the theater to capture these young and talented actors in action. Jane, more than once said, “I love to watch these middle schoolers perform! “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is my favorite musical. I cannot wait until next week to come back and take pictures of dress rehearsal!” And everyone will share her delight and satisfaction, and ours, when the show opens Dec. 7, 6:30 p.m. at Lawrence Jones Middle School Theater. Two performances follow the next day at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The story follows an eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts (played by Chase Thompson) and his children, Jeremy (Isabella Arends) and Jemima (Ava Sanchez), who discover an old race car that has magical properties. Truly Scrumptious (Savannah Steffen), concerned about the children, finds herself involved with their father. Everyone has some high-flying adventures with “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
More pleasing than the story is the singing and dancing performed by more than two dozen middle school students. Director Jill Zschach partnered with song and dance veteran, Nafe Nafe, and musical director, Kay Hawkins, to produce this enchanting performance. Zschach invested well over one hundred hours in working with these students since late August and Nafe logged more than eighty hours helping these young players develop dance routines for each musical number. Ken Zschach once again applied his creative powers to developing the set and something special that will be known on opening night.
Jill Zschach speaks highly about everyone involved, but what excites her most is the work done by the entire ensemble. She reports proudly, “No one is turned away.” She and the cast buy into the line from the song “Teamwork”: “Teamwork” can make the dream work if you got the will to win.” Zschach loves so much student participation, not just with the performers but also with former students like Kayla and Kyla who help with dance numbers and make up.
She has a special thank you to Nafe Nafe: “Nafe was a sixth grader when I began directing plays and he was one of my original eight actors. He helped grow this program, acting in every subsequent performance and helping with choreography and teaching the dances.” Nafe developed every one of the dance sequences as he borrowed, adapted and created so many unique moves for the students.
Watching the dancers move and highlight songs with gestures and props provides much of the entertainment. These students take pride in their steps, their moves and their coordinated efforts. Hector Cota Guerrero and Lalitha Sundari set the tone for the ensemble as they move from opposite sides of the room to smoothly pull the routine together. These dance routines display syncopation in the complimentary sense.
What can be more wonderful than to watch students succeed? “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr.” delivers much more than a student musical. It is the product of so many people putting time, talent and effort together to create something memorable and meaningful. This standard of success will be on display Dec. 7 at 6:30 and Dec. 8 at 1 and 6:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Jones Theater. $5 is a suggested donation which will contribute to future performances since the theater department is self-funded.