The students’ enthusiasm was palpable at a rehearsal last Monday afternoon for the program’s upcoming show, the “Oliver Twist”-based musical “Oliver!” At 3:20 p.m., the auditorium of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District’s Brookside School — which is much larger than that of any school in the North Merrick School District — began quickly filling up with students whose parents brought them there after the regular school day ended. When Kelley announced a last-second change to the rehearsal’s agenda, calling for her students to run through a number they had not planned on performing that day, they jumped into action, recreating Dickensian London with, ironically, exuberance.
Students from all three North Merrick schools end up together at Merrick Avenue Middle School in seventh grade, and several at the “Oliver!” rehearsal said they signed up for the theatre arts program last fall in hopes of making some new friends for middle school.
Charlotte D’Alessandro, who plays Nancy, said rehearsals are fun because she gets to “hang out every day” with friends. Marco Hanna, who plays Bill Sikes, reported that he “never knew he had this talent” before he wound up in a starring role in “Oliver!”
The district’s theatre arts program began in 1998-99. Kelley, who had previously taught drama and dance in Rockville Centre, Oceanside, Lawrence and elsewhere, approached Gail Appel, a North Merrick music teacher, about putting together a school musical.
“I immediately chatted up the music teacher, because I knew I’d need her support,” Kelley said.
Appel and Kelley recruited 18 students to take part in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” that spring. They are still working together today, having led students through productions of “Annie,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The King and I,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and more. The program has ballooned from its start: 122 students comprise the cast and crew for “Oliver!”