Surprisingly professional Greenbrier High School students gear up for first musical

By the polish of the students practicing a tap number on stage, it would be hard to tell that the Greenbrier High School musical theater curriculum hasn’t even reached kindergarten.

“We started a musical theater class two years ago and started training some dancers, so we’re really excited about that. The kids have been learning tap and ’20s jazz and dances from different periods, and it’s been a lot of fun,” said teacher Steven Hansen.

The high school students will debut their first musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” in just one week. But Hansen isn’t worried about the show.

The students were “off book” two weeks before the show’s debut, meaning that they had already committed their parts to memory, and the cast and crew were well into blocking the performance and getting set changes, technical requirements and scene transitions firmly in place.

“They love dancing, they love singing — it’s one of my hardest-working classes,” Hansen said, as he watched the teenagers with a broad grin on his face. “We look for good people with good attitudes.”

At a recent rehearsal, they battled normal mishaps, like when a window being lowered almost landed in the lap of Katie Blanchard. Blanchard was rehearsing the lead role of Millie Dillmount.

But in high spirits, the students on stage laughed off each mistake or missed note while other members of the cast rehearsed lines, worked through dance steps or practiced songs in the hallways around the school’s auditorium.

Despite demanding rehearsals and months of preparation for what Greenbrier intends to be an annual production, the school encountered so much interest from their student body in hosting a spring musical presentation that they split the musical into two casts — with some students playing lead roles in one and supporting roles in the other.

The musical takes place in New York City in 1922, and follows young Kansas transplant Millie Dillmount as she searches for the perfect mate. It’s a time of jazz and intrigue, when women were just entering the workforce and society’s rules were undergoing a permanent revolution.

“We try to explain it to our friends,” laughed Michael J. Ryan, who plays Jimmy Smith, the young paper clip salesman who woos Millie. Ryan said that he was singing for the role of Millie’s boss, Trevor Graydon, which is considered a secondary role. Instead, he won the lead role.

Blanchard said that she wasn’t even being considered for the lead role, but she asked to sing for it anyway. It’s her first performance in a musical, despite being in the school’s advanced drama class.

In the second cast, Mary Venuti plays the title role opposite Luke Amerson’s portrayal of the young paper clip salesman who steals Millie’s heart. And the musical employs a large cast of talented young singers, dancers and actors who cannot all be named.

But Blanchard and Ryan made sure to mention the work of a fellow student who Hansen enlisted help with the show. Blake Clendenin began dancing with Martinez-
Evans Dance Studio at the age of 10, and now teaches jazz classes at the studio.

He choreographed the entire musical for the production.

“We’re always looking for shows that will develop our students — a large group of students, I should say — on the stage, as well as have a number of lead and supporting lead roles.

‘Millie’ certainly fits that bill very nicely. It’s a lot of set changes and things like that, and it’s a little crazy, but it works well for us,” Hansen said.

It’s a fulfilling position to be in for Hansen, since he started at Harlem High School as a music teacher in 1991. He began driving back and forth between Harlem and Greenbrier when the high school opened in 1996.

He didn’t have a full-time, permanent position at either school until three years later. The drama and music programs have grown exponentially since then.

Greenbrier High School also boasts the largest theater in Columbia County, and that makes it prime performance space for shows like this. It allows for all of the cast’s friends and families to attend the shows. But Hansen actually wants to draw as many local students as possible.

“Spring musical is part of the culture of high school,” he explained as the rehearsal came to a close and the theater emptied of what seemed like hundreds of students all running lines, rehearsing dance steps and bursting sporadically into song. “We want to expose students to theater performance as participants and audience members.”

‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’
Greenbrier High School
March 13-15; 20-22
7 p.m.
$5 students; $8 adults (at door)
706-799-5849

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