Masha Scheele Photo
Wild animals have been roaming around École Mountain View School preparing for their big stage debut in June.
Music and drama teacher Jessica Smeall has been working with students from grade four to seven since December on the junior play, ‘Madagascar – A Musical Adventure.’
Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo, Melman the Giraffe, Lemur King Julien, and the penguins make up some of the characters in the play that’s based on the movie, Madagascar.
Students chose the one-hour long play in September from Musical Theatre International.
“In this play you’ve got the cute and cuddly penguins that have kind of a sinister side, but then there’s also the main characters like Melman the giraffe who has this social anxiety and phobia of everything to Alex the Lion who is front and centre all day and that’s their gig. And the way that the students characterize that is probably my favourite part,” said Smeall.
The story starts at the New York Central Park Zoo and follows main character, Marty the Zebra, who wants to go to the wild after seeing it on a mural.
Thirty-five students take up various roles, including a chorus, solo speakers, and the main cast who have solo speaking and singing parts.
Hannah Jespersen, who is part of the school play for her third time, said her favourite part is playing Melman the giraffe.
“Melman is kind of scared of everything. He’s not sure he wants to be there and then in the end he’s like ‘oh this is fun,” she said.
“I thought it was going to be hard remembering all my dialogue but surprisingly it has been pretty easy,” commented Jespersen.
After auditions in the fall, Smeall gave each student their part and rehearsals were held during recess twice per week.
“I’ve had students in Grade 4 have main roles, I’ve had students in Grade 7 with that main role. Sometimes it’s their first time, sometimes it’s their third or fourth time,” said Smeall.
Some of the students with the main roles this year are also part of other music theatre groups in Hinton like Break-A-Leg Theatre Arts Society and have performed at The West Fraser Guild: Home of the Performing Arts Theatre of Hinton (PATH).
“Seeing students in grades four til seven, from different grades, different backgrounds, different socioeconomic statuses come together and enjoy the same thing and perform as a group.
That sense of that community that comes from theatre and music is really heart-warming, because I see these same students out on the playground talking to each other or interacting in the community environments where maybe before they wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” said Smeall.
Leading up to the performance date, students also have four after- school rehearsals, and a stage practice.
“I’ve seen huge growth in the last month of recess practices, I hope they’re enjoying it. I’ve seen lots of smiles, I think they’re realizing that they’re good,” stated Smeall, who has organized the play for the past five years with productions like Seussical, Alice in Wonderland, Annie, and the Little Mermaid.
“I’ve put my own spin on different parts of the music program, but I think that the drama program has pretty much stayed the same. The previous teacher who is now retired had a really strong music and theatre program as well, so I had big shoes to fill and I hope I’ve done it justice,” said Smeall.
Smeall calls herself a jock and a band geek, as she focused on music theatre, and arts, but also physical education throughout her time as a grade school student.
“Those two things really brought me joy, so in high school I was in choirs, I was in bands, I did musical theatre, I loved drama. Then in university I got into some local orchestral groups, so I played in bands and orchestras, different varieties of music,” she said.
Her goal at Mountain View is to enable the students to enjoy those things as well.
“My [favourite part] is working with Miss Smeall and all the other cast members and being King Julien. I mean, I’m the party king,” said Paige Taylor, another student who has been part of the play for multiple years.
The production will run three times this year, first in the morning on June 4 for the other students at École Mountain View, then a mini performance of a few songs for the pre-school and in the afternoon, students from Crescent Valley come to enjoy the second full show.
The third show and finale takes place on Thursday evening, June 6 for the public. Smeall said that all they ask is to bring a donation for the food bank if you can.