Nov. 28, 2017 -- Heights High School’s singers, dancers and instrumental musicians weren’t the only ones to return to the stage at the corner of Cedar and Lee this fall. The elementary and middle school singers returned as well, rendering Shrek the Musical a true Tiger Nation production.
Nearly 55 Heights Middle School students and 155 fourth and fifth graders from all seven elementary buildings had the honor of singing on stage with members of the high school’s Vocal Music Department for the four-show run. This was the first musical to include middle and elementary students since Guys
and Dolls in the fall of 2014, before the high school moved to Wiley.
The show was a huge hit and an experience the youngest performers won’t soon forget. Tamar Gray, the vocal music teacher at Fairfax Elementary, said her students have been talking about the show for weeks. “Now they can’t wait to get to high school so they can have even bigger roles in the show.”
A few lucky elementary students already had that opportunity.
Two district fourth graders and one fifth grader were selected to play the
roles of Young Fiona and Young Shrek. Boulevard fourth grader Clara Walker,
whose voice and stage presence belie her diminutive stature, played the seven-year-old
Princess Fiona in all four shows. Gearity students Abigail Burkle and Jordan
Kilgo shared the role of the seven-year-old Shrek, with each girl performing
“Learning that I had to split the role was the hardest part,” admitted Abigail. “It was so fun, I wanted to be Shrek every time.” Aside from that – and being hot under gobs of ogre make-up, Abigail relished “the joy and excitement of theater and acting. And the amazement of the lights and all the action.”
Both Abigail and Clara were students at Noble from kindergarten through third grade, where they had Jenna Tucker as their music teacher. “Mrs. Tucker truly understands the role of music education in a young person’s life,” said Clara’s mother, Sharilee Walker. “She’s had a profound musical influence on all the Noble kids she’s touched.”
Tucker recommended Clara for the tryout, where she performed a song, beating out both elementary and middle school students vying for the role. Her big moment was a trio called “I Know It’s Today,” performed with the teen Fiona and the lead Fiona, both played by high schoolers. Young Clara’s voice rang clear and strong through the auditorium when she sang her solo segment, appearing much older than her eight years.
“This experience was beyond anything we thought it could be,” said her mom. Clara agreed, saying it was “fun and exciting. I felt nervous and confident at the same time.”
The rest of the elementary singers didn't have quite the nerves, but they did have the excitement as they joined the entire cast for three rousing songs. They were on the stage for the show’s anthem “Freak Flag” as well as the two final numbers, “This Is Our Story” and “I’m A Believer.”
Canterbury’s music teacher Karly Bowman’s students “loved watching the high schoolers and seeing all the pieces and parts it takes to put on such a large show,” from the
tech crew to stage crew to the makeup and elaborate sets. Many of the younger students
expressed their desire to continue performing through high school.
Abigail is certainly one of them. “I hope that I’ll be one of the star actors on that stage shining in the light in front of all the elementary kids who will be my age when I had this experience.”
Some singers don't want to wait that long. Mrs. Gray reports that one member of Fairfax’s Challenge Choir has been practicing all the songs with her younger sibling so they can perform the entire show for their Thanksgiving company.
There is something powerfully moving about witnessing hundreds of our community’s children, representing such a broad range of ages, singing, clapping and dancing in unison. As Ms. Bowman said, “Being able to see elementary, middle and high school students perform together really projected what it means to be a Tiger Nation.”