By Marci Narum
Photos by Susan Kvas
It had been many years since singers and dancers graced the stage inside the auditorium at Bismarck’s Simle Middle School. But then the vivacious Jacy Walker showed up in 2016 for her first job as a music teacher; her time split between Legacy High School and Simle.
“I just walked up to the [Simle] administrator, Russ Riehl, and I said, ‘Hey, can I do a musical with the kids here?’ And he just said, ‘Yes.’”
50 kids performed in “Seussical the Musical Jr.” that first year. Last season, around 65 were on stage for “Lion King Jr.” Now, Jacy is having to turn kids away.
“Just under 100 auditioned,” Jacy explains. “There’s no way we can fit that many on stage. We have 75 performers on stage and 12 working behind the scenes doing the tech.”
The students have been rehearsing “Guys and Dolls Junior,” which Jacy explains is a 60-minute cut from the original musical — taking out any scenes deemed unquestionable or inappropriate for middle school students. It’s a shorter version, but the students are long on their musical theater experience. Jacy is immersing them in it.
“When we added costumes, they were like, ‘What?’ And [I told them] ‘Yes, even the boys wear makeup. Yes, you have to put on eyeliner,’” Jacy recalls. “I was surprised at how many of them were surprised about what is involved with musical theater.
“They really understand the stage now. How to move, how to stay in character, how to be accountable. That’s a huge learning curve. They’ve learned you’re going to get placed into a spot and everyone is going to depend on you. This is your line. This is your solo. They are learning accountability skills as well as the self-confidence and joy that comes with musical theater, and they are having a blast. And, we haven’t even gotten to the fun part yet, which is the validation and the appreciation from the audience. It’s their show now and they’re going to carry it.”
Jacy shares the credit with her choreographer, parent volunteers, teachers, and her husband, Keaton. She deserves her own curtain call, though, for re-lighting the musical theater spark at Simle Middle School.
The performance of “Guys and Dolls Junior” is March 15-17, at 7:00 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., at the Simle Middle School auditorium. Admission is a free-will offering.
More information is available on the performance event on Facebook.