In March, thousands of adults and children will gather in one room to tap the beat, clap along, and most important, sing show tunes.
The Woodrow Wilson High School fine arts department will present the musical Guys and Dolls on March 9th through 12th, and if the performances, costumes, lighting, and sets are anything like years past, the event will be spectacular.
“It knocked my socks off,” says Kathy Daume, publicity and public relations volunteer, of her first Woodrow musical experience. “I was floored.”
Under the leadership of Marca Lee Bircher, celebrating her 25th production anniversary this time around, Guys and Dolls will feature a cast of approximately 150 students – a significant increase over the 30-member cast of most professional productions. And to add to the challenge, Bircher says there will be two times during the show when the entire cast will be on stage. “I use all of my kids (choir students) and we just expand it into a really large production,” she explains.
So how has Bircher learned to handle the students in all those years since 1976?
According to lead actor Alexa Cromeens, Bircher has incredible patience. “She really knows how to work with the kids, and she has a lot of respect for everyone up there.”
The Woodrow musicals have a reputation for being more than just an outlet for teenage artistic talent. The sellout shows are a conglomeration of community genius, from a professional choreographer to a Disney graphic artist’s program design.
“It’s amazing thing – the community involvement here,” says Bircher. “It’s a tightly knit unified effort.”
And what an effort it is. In years past, volunteers have contributed to the spectacle by creating a two-story ship (Anything Goes), flying monkeys and witch (The Wizard of Oz), and two minutes of stage rain (Singing in the Rain).
Volunteers for this year’s production have been at work for months. Since last September they’ve been hammering nails, sewing costumes, and locating props. There are volunteers for refreshments, set design, and even for the end-of-show cast parties.
Chris McDonald, volunteer coordinator, says part of the reason for Lakewood’s community closeness is because the area enjoys less of a transitory population than other cities. “There’s a real identification with the neighborhood in a positive way,” she says.
Whatever the reasons families have for migrating to the Lakewood area, the flavor of the neighborhood and the “uniqueness of some of the people” keeps residents from leaving, says Jane Pedigo, former volunteer.
One of the most telling things about the Lakewood area is that the community enthusiasm towards the Woodrow productions doesn’t simply come from proud parents excited to see their children perform. “Some (volunteers) don’t have any direct ties to the school,” says Bircher.
There are those who volunteer to move sets in between show scenes, and every year, local restaurants and individuals donate food and refreshments to the cast and crew members, who sometimes spend the entire day rehearsing. Community support also stares back from the show’s program pages, which are filled with ads for local businesses. “They’re the easiest ads to sell,” says Marion Richmond, prop committee volunteer.
Daume agrees. “They like supporting positive things.”
For a production as elaborate as Guys and Dolls, it stands to reason that the cast and crew must adhere to a rigorous schedule. In addition to doing schoolwork, sports, and social activities, students spend hours each day in rehearsals, which take place every night, including weekends. But the cast members don’t seem to mind the commitment. “(A Woodrow production) gets you ready for the real world,” Cromeens says. “It makes you want to go out there and do more.”
The cast and volunteers are also committed to helping one another. According to Richmond, the volunteers pull together to help any cast member who needs financial or artistic help with costumes and props. And at the end of the last show, volunteers stick around to help strike the intricate sets.
The Woodrow musicals are a combination of talent and fellowship, and although each year’s show is costly to produce, the end justifies the means.
“I love to do these shows,” says Bircher. “I love to do them because everybody loves them.”
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