Fourth grade students attending all three schools on St. John are busy this week memorizing song lyrics, polishing dance routines and learning to overcome their stage fright.
It’s all part of the experience of participating in “Broadway Comes to St. John,” a three-week program in musical theater sponsored by the St. John School of the Arts.
The program serves as a major fundraiser for the school, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2020. Tickets to the gala performance at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24, are $75; admission includes a champagne reception, appetizers, a voucher for free parking, and a complimentary drink at any of five participating restaurants when reservations are made through the school.
One general admission performance will be held at 6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25. Tickets are $20 for adults and $5 for children. All performances will take place at the School of the Arts located adjacent to the Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay.
The program gives the children a chance to learn vocal technique, choreography and staging from three Broadway professionals who volunteer their time: director Donna Drake, choreographer Rhonda Miller and musical director Jason Wetzel.
“The kids are incredible in terms of their growth and understanding of what this is all about,” said Wetzel, who is participating in the program for the first time.
“I do a lot of this sort of thing – teaching in Broadway camps for children of all ages. In New York, when the children arrive, they can all sing ‘Tomorrow’ from ‘Annie.’ What’s different here is that most of the kids have no real foundation in musical theater, so for many it’s their first time memorizing lyrics and combining them with dance steps; now we’re adding props and costumes.”
In the final week, the 35 fourth-graders will take to the stage at the School of the Arts. As part of its 40th anniversary, the school has been making improvements, including the installation of a new floor, stage curtains and a new coat of white paint to brighten the space.
Fundraising is important to the St. John School of the Arts as it works towards a plan to install an elevator and become completely accessible. (The school was built on a hillside property donated before compliance with the American Disabilities Act was mandated for public buildings.)
It was the school’s dedication to providing arts education that prompted Drake and Miller to commit their time to develop the program that began in 2011.
Drake and Miller were part of a group that visited St. John regularly for holidays. One year, they were put in touch with St. John resident Ronnie Lee, a former Broadway performer who served as a board member of the school. “When we saw what the school was doing for the island, we wanted to give back,” said Miller.
“Every year we do a different theme,” Drake said. “We’re all Broadway performers, so we’re finally doing a Broadway-themed show, with 14 different shows represented.”
“Because it’s the School of the Arts’ 40th anniversary, we’re also doing a tribute to the school to the song ‘What I Did for Love’ from ‘A Chorus Line,’ with a video compilation of greatest hits from our previous performances on the island,” Miller said.
Prior to Hurricane Irma in 2017, performances of “Broadway Comes to St. John” were held at the Westin Resort, which had space large enough to accommodate dinner and a show, but that facility has not been available since the storm.
Drake said she hoped they might move back there in the future, but added, “There comes a point where you have to do it where you can – in the street, at the Westin, at the St. John School of the Arts or Broadway; it’s a joy.”
Tickets to all shows are available online at http://stjohnschoolofthearts.org/broadway-comes-to-st-john/. Raffle tickets, with a prize of two tickets to a Broadway show in New York of one’s choice and dinner for two at Etcetera Etcetera, are also available for $50.