Each fall, Appel begins learning the music for the next semester’s musical so she can teach it to students. Auditions take place in December, and many children will spend time during winter recess memorizing lines and taking in professional versions of the musical on CD and in YouTube clips. Afterschool rehearsals begin in January and take place two to three times per week. Cast members eventually grow in their knowledge of theatre terminology and stage direction, Kelley said, and the crew acquires technical skills. North Merrick’s Donald Davidson supervises the sound and the lighting, but he lets students actually handle both under his watchful eye. Many other North Merrick staffers play essential assisting roles.
For all the time and effort it takes to create a successful musical, Kelley described the challenge each year as “easy.”
“They’re highly motivated kids,” Kelley said. “The parents are extremely supportive, and so is the whole district … [Superintendent] David Feller is very supportive.”
Kelley estimated that at least three-quarters of the program’s students continue their theatre involvement in Calhoun High School’s “On-Tour” program. Some even go on to starring roles in their colleges’ theatre productions. She gets satisfaction from the feedback students and parents give her, such as students emailing her in future years to ask if they can return to Brookside and help with the musicals, and parents telling her they see their children gain self-confidence.
Carolyn Mulholland is the mother of five children who participated in the theatre arts program. Her youngest, Mikaela Tucker, will close out the family tradition with her turn onstage in “Oliver!” this weekend.
“It’s incredible, these women get these boys to participate and sing and dance and do things boys would never do,” Mulholland said. “And all the kids — they love it. It’s a great afterschool activity.”