Donna Drake and Rhonda Miller, at far left, teach Julius E. Spruave students the dance portion of “Dream, Wish, Believe” at the St. Johh School of the Arts. Photo by Jim Furneaux
Fourth graders at all three island schools and the St. John School of the Arts practiced like mad last week to master original dance steps, musical numbers and narration as they prepared for opening night of “Dream, Wish, Believe.”
A fundraiser for SJSA, the program has brought down four Broadway talents to share their skills with students, who will collaborate on the final production on February 18 at the Westin Resort and Villas.
John Tartaglia, Michael Shawn Lewis, Rhonda Miller, Laura Barnoa and Donna Drake arrived on Love City the weekend of February 5 and have a total of two weeks to teach students Tartaglia’s original musical “Dream, Wish, Believe.”
The actors, dancers and singers hit the ground running; wasting no time working on voice, choreography, puppetry and narration at Gifft Hill School, Julius E. Sprauve School, SJSA and Guy Benjamin School.
Tartaglia is teaching puppetry and narration at GHS, Lewis and Barnoa are teaching the singing numbers at GBS while Miller and Drake are instructing JESS and SJSA students in the dance numbers.
Many of the students were nervous to meet the professionals and a bit daunted by the task ahead, explained one SJSA dance student.
“Before they came, I was so nervous to meet them,” said Tiareh Schaub, one of five SJSA dance students working on the production. “But being around such great people has made it so exciting to learn from them. They are so nice and they make you feel super comfortable.”
Schaub and her fellow SJSA dance students are learning jazz and pop steps and working at least two hours a day to master the numbers. While no easy task, the Broadway talents are adept at playing up students’ strengths, according to Schaub.
“They are great at choreographing with your strong points and working around your weak areas,” said Schaub. “It’s all coming together and it’s really fun. I am super excited about the show.”
Students at GBS are just getting more and more excited as they begin to master the lyrics of the original songs, explained the school’s principal Dionne Wells.
“It’s going really great,” said Wells. “The kids are enjoying it and they are getting much more excited as they learn the lyrics to the songs and actually mastering the different chords.”
While having fun with Lewis and Barnoa, the students are working hard to master the five songs they’ll be responsible for performing, Wells explained.
“It’s quite extensive in terms of the limited time they have and what they are learning,” said Wells. “But they are doing a great job and really having fun. I know they are going to be great; that is not a question.”
“We are all looking forward to the day of the production,” said the GBS principal.
The actors’ level of professionalism and experience working with children has been evident at GHS, explained lower school head Beth Knight.
“It is unbelievable; just fantastic,” Knight said. “The people who are doing this are such professionals and they have obviously worked a lot with children and just know how to bring out their creativity. They are delightful to be around.”
The program is a unique opportunity to for the three island schools to work collaboratively instead of competitively, which is often the case, Knight explained.
“I think working all together to put this production on is wonderful,” GHS lower school head. “We’re all working toward a common goal and that is so much better than being in competition with each other.”
At JESS, SJSA assistant director Kim Wild has watched the students’ excitement bloom, she explained.
“I’ve been watching the enthusiasm build with JESS students,” said Wild. “They are learning a group dance for the production. It was told to me that they didn’t want to go to an after school party because they wanted to come back to the arts school to dance some more.”
Awaking a love of dance, music, puppetry and creativity, while having fun in a collaborative environment, is exactly what the program was designed for, explained SJSA executive director Jan Kinder.
“The children are being encouraged to express and challenge themselves with song, dance, acting and puppetry,” said Kinder. “It’s beautiful to watch some of the student’s talents blossom. Everyone involved in this joint endeavor is thrilled — it is a very exciting project.”
“The fourth grade children from JESS, GBS, and GHS and five SJSA dance students will be coming together in one shared and combined production,” said the SJSA executive director. “I believe this is the first collaborative creative effort of this kind on St. John where the efforts of four schools are culminating in one major theatrical production.”
Don’t miss the performance of “Dream, Wish, Believe,” on Friday evening, February 18, at the Westin Resort and Villas. “Angel” tickets for the first show, at 6 p.m., are $200 and include a champagne reception and dinner at one of Cruz Bay’s top restaurants; either Zozo’s, Waterfront Bistro, Ocean Grill, La Tapa, Rhumb Lines, The Lime Inn and Morgan’s Mango. There are only eight Angel tickets left and they are available at Chelsea Drug Store or Connections.
A second performance at 8 p.m. will be open to the entire community for only a donation to SJSA. Raffle tickets for an amazing Broadway weekend in New York City are still available as well.
Tickets are $100 and are available at Chelsea Drug Store and Connections. One lucky winner will receive round-trip airfare for two to the Big Apple, three nights at the W Hotel in Times Square, tickets to three Broadway shows including backstage passes to one and dinner at two Theater District restaurants.