The season of school musicals has come back around as teens throughout the county are performing. Here, the cast and crew finished production of the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” presented April 21 through April 23.
This year’s musical was co-directed by drama teacher Sarah Leary, who has directed the last two spring shows, art teacher Ben Clark, who has co-directed for one year and painted for seven, and choral director Aleisa Baker. Baker has been directing at Roberson for 20 years and has directed 21 musicals.
“The creation of the storyline through song is what makes it very different, especially whenever the story is emotional or funny or moving, the music just accentuates that even more,” Baker said.
The Richard E. Greene Performing Arts Center, Roberson’s theatre, was opened in 1996 and debuted with the musical “West Side Story.”
The production of the musical “Spamalot,” which was performed in 2013, made Roberson the first amateur theatre in the Southeast to perform the then newly-released show. The only production to be performed more than once in the Greene Theatre has been “Guys and Dolls,” which was performed in 2000 and 2012.
According to NPR.org, musicals weren’t as culturally prevalent until the 1960’s, with shows such as “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Oklahoma!” Both shows have performed by Roberson in the past. Typically, new shows that debut on Broadway do not get released for community and amateur theaters for a number of years.
“I think that there’s the ‘tried and true’ that everybody does. Everybody does the ‘Sound of Music,’ and everybody does Rodgers and Hammerstein because they’re vocally acceptable to high school kids and they’re big crowd pleaser’s,” said Baker.
While Baker doesn’t release details about future productions, she did say that factors such as the talent that is there or the talent that is coming up make a difference. Sometimes they do take a “leap of faith” and hope for the best, such as this year with the “Bee.”
Baker didn’t have a for sure idea on who would play Mitch Mahoney, which is a lead role, going into the auditions. But she was pleased when freshmen Zion Morgan tried out for the roll.
Morgan got his start in theatre while at Koontz with the productions of “Annie” and “Music Man.”
“I was ecstatic when I got the part [of Mahoney], and I didn’t know I was good enough to be able to hit that role as a freshman. It 100 percent boosted my confidence,” Morgan said.
According to Baker, the reputation that the theatre department has in comparison to other high schools is very high. She said the students know that each performance is about being the very best it can be.
More recently, schools around the nation have been creating flash mobs to promote their shows. At Roberson, the “Bee” flash mob in the cafeteria was the fifth show they have organized an event for. Starting with the musical “Sweeney Todd” in 2011, mobs were organized up until last year, due to the size of the cast and the costumes required for “The Music Man.”
Erwin High also produced the “Putnam County Spelling Bee” this year, other musicals held around Buncombe County this 2016 musical season included Koontz doing the “The Little Mermaid” and Cane Creek performing “Beauty and the Beast.” A.C. Reynolds produced “The Dining Room,” and Enka High performed “The Addams Family.”
“[Musicals] are close to my heart, and I love everything Broadway. I’m a bit of a nerd about it, so it’s fun to see these Broadway shows and to think ‘okay, how can we do that’ and try to do it just as well even though we’re a high school,” Baker said.