More than 200 students from Idaho Falls School District 91 have auditioned, waited, rehearsed, sung and danced their hearts out in preparation for the district’s 41st annual musical.
The newest musical encapsulates a childhood favorite and is filled with fairies, mermaids, pirates, a crocodile and, oh yeah, Peter Pan.
“I am not going to lie,” Music Department Manager Sharon Cole said as the students prepared backstage Wednesday before a performance for the district’s sixth-graders. “There is blood, sweat and tears that go into these performances.
“It is so much work and I have watched them through every step. I know how hard it is but we have amazing staff and students who work harder than anyone I know and we have had so much support, year after year, whether it is time, talents or donations.”
The first musical Cole ever produced in 2013 had maybe 50 students audition. This year Cole had over 200 district students from seventh to 12th grade audition. She said many of the district’s students look forward to someday stepping on stage from the time they see their first district musical performance in the sixth grade.
“We always do our opening performance for the sixth-graders because it inspires them and they will be seventh-graders next year and can be in the musical if they want,” Cole said. “I have students who start in the seventh grade and do it all the way until they graduate.”
The music is provided by an orchestra, assembled by Orchestra Director Robert Dunmire who takes recommendations from the district’s band and orchestra teachers but ultimately takes “the best of the best” from Skyline High School, Idaho Falls High School and Compass Academy.
With auditions for the musical and orchestra beginning in October and rehearsals only beginning after the holidays, the cast has less than three months to perfect its performance and be ready for opening night.
The musical is extracurricular. Rehearsal is mostly done after school and on weekends.
Though approval must be given by the district’s superintendent, Director Cindy Benson and Co-Director Bonnee Taggart chose the musical in part because they have never been able to add flying to their previous shows and were looking for a new challenge.
“They have wanted to do ‘Peter Pan’ for a while now and even asked the Colonial Theater a couple years ago if we could get worked into the schedule and here we are,” Cole said. “The flying was 100% new to me. Our district does not have the auditorium space or capabilities to do things like that. We even had to get a company to come out and set it up and do it for us.”
Oakley Mecham, an Idaho Falls High School junior, was cast in the lead role, Peter Pan, and said that at first, the role was difficult for her to get a grasp on.
“I think it is just such an honor to play such a big role in a play that everyone talks about from the time you’re kids, but yeah, it was really difficult to get into character,” Mecham said, “I had to not only swap genders for a second but I had to act a lot younger than I actually am. I had to study my younger cousins, watch how they play and then become the character. It was really hard because it was a completely different person than who I am.”
This being only Mecham’s second role in a musical — the first being a role that only brought her on stage twice — she found the load here daunting.
“I can’t even begin to count how many times I am up on stage now,” Mecham said. “It is a very big and terrifying jump but I am so excited and grateful for the people that have been there for me along the way.”
Brayden Washburn, also an Idaho Falls High School junior, plays opposite of Mecham in most scenes as the story’s riveting villain, Captain Hook.
“I remember being a kid and watching Peter Pan and seeing Hook and thinking he was such a fun and interesting villain and such a cool character in general,” Washburn said. “Being able to play this role is such a privilege and I have had so much fun with it.”
Washburn seconded Mecham’s claim that his character, as well as hers, was harder than most that he has played previously, even after being in more than 20 previous theater productions.
“For getting into character, this has been one of the hardest shows ever for me,” Washburn said. “I only really found pride in the character I was playing in this last week. I have been practicing different interactions, different ways I could go with the character and I finally found my groove. I can’t wait to get out there and show everyone.”
Washburn said in addition to the countless hours it took to perfect the flying portion of the show, other aspects were also time- consuming and priceless in their importance.
“The fight scenes have been another part that has taken quite a bit of time,” Washburn said. “They have to be choreographed so precisely because if you mess up a sword slice and hit something wrong, it can mean the difference between a smooth performance or a broken leg.”
The sixth-graders filed in on Wednesday as the orchestra practiced in the pit and the actors put final touches on their makeup and costumes and worked to get out some last-minute jitters. Cole addressed the crowd of loud and excited students and asked them to sit back, relax and enjoy the long-awaited production of “Peter Pan.”
The students sat back, eyes wide, in awe of the theatrics, the flying, the music and the grandeur that was presented to them. The older students performed their show for the first time, only ever momentarily interrupted by scattered laughs and claps, ending in a standing ovation from the crowd.
“I don’t ever get nervous anymore but the director, my co-director, the kids, they will all be nervous and I just tell them that I know it will always work out,” Cole said. “ We can’t wait for the community to come and see the performance because the kids are always so nervous backstage but once they get out in front of that audience, they just shine. They absolutely shine.”
The cast will perform the show four more times for the community at the Colonial Theater in downtown Idaho Falls. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at the theater’s website, idahofallsarts.org/calendar/d91-music-department-presents-peter-pan/.
The show opens to the community on Friday at 7 p.m. and plays again Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.
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