Payne Junior High students perform ‘Shrek JR’ SanTan Sun News

Payne Junior High students perform ‘Shrek JR’

April 26th, 2019 | by SanTan Sun News
Payne Junior High students perform ‘Shrek JR’
Arts
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By COLLEEN SPARKS
Managing Editor

Students at Payne Junior High School are bringing their imagination and humor to the stage in the beloved tale of an ogre and his fairytale misfit friends in “Shrek The Musical JR.”

The cast of about 30 students will bring the funny and romantic fairytale to life at 6:30 p.m. on April 26 in the cafeteria at Payne, 7655 S. Higley Road in Queen Creek.

Some students in the Drama Club are working back stage and helping with hair and makeup, costume changes, seating audience members, selling tickets and other tasks.

It is the first time in at least 10 years Payne Junior High has produced a musical.

Payne language arts teacher Kennedy Plumb is the director and Mackenzie Baker, who also teaches language arts, is the assistant director. Both sponsor the school’s Drama Club.

The musical follows Shrek’s journey as he has learned the hard way “people hate the things they cannot understand,” according to a line in the production. He lives as a recluse in order to protect himself from the hurtful behaviors of people who are scared of him.

The original Broadway musical started Brian d’Arcy James as Shrek and Sutton Foster as Fiona, and ran for a year. The show received 12 Drama Desk Awards, as well as eight Tony Award nominations.

Recently, Plumb led the cast through rehearsals in the cafeteria, while some students wore costumes that they put together themselves.

“We just started our Drama Club this year,” Plumb said. “We had so many people audition.”

Every child who auditioned got a part but she and Baker chose which roles would best fit them. Students told the teachers the three characters they would most like to play.

Plumb sang and acted in theater when she was in middle and high school while Baker performed as a cheerleader when she was in school.

“Shrek The Musical JR.” is the ideal musical for junior high school students, who are in seventh and eighth grades, Baker said.

“This age they’re really quirky and silly,” she said. “They can just be silly and have fun. We are very excited. We’re a little nervous. Of course we want it to be successful but most of all we want them to have fun. I’ve seen people just bloom.”

She said the young actors are working hard and “half the time” get to rehearsals before she and Plumb.

Because the Drama Club is new, the teachers had to ask parents if their children in the musical could come up with costumes.

“We’ve had very supportive kids and very supportive parents,” Baker said.

Students were given ideas for how to create costumes and they enjoyed coming up with fun creations. Some students stuffed things inside their shirts to give themselves the appearance of big bellies.

The students and teachers also held a fundraiser to raise money to buy materials for the sets and to buy the rights to perform the musical. A student’s father has donated microphones and speakers for the school to use in the show.

“It comes back to the humor,” Baker said. “They love it. They love that they’re going to be painted green.”

Eighth grader Jeremy Brower, 14, of Chandler, wore a dark, shaggy-haired wig and red, graduation-style gown as part of his costume while moving around the stage on his knees to play the part of Lord Farquaad.

A tall teen, Jeremy moved on his knees to appear short like the character. His grandmother is planning to sew his costume for him and his older sister is going to crochet a green hat for Jeremy for his other part in the musical as Papa Shrek.

Jeremy is on the autism spectrum and has trouble fitting in socially in some settings but he has found his niche and is thriving in the musical, according to his mother, Eileen Brower.

“I’m happy so much,” Jeremy said. “It’s created a whole lot of friendships with my peers here. I love to be myself. It really has helped me to become free of what has been holding me behind – my autism and understanding I’m a shy person.”

He said he likes wearing costumes and taking on different identities in the musical. Jeremy said playing the part of Lord Farquaad allows him to “express my emotions with my voice.”

“There’s a whole bunch of segments where he’ll say a funny line,” he said. “I’ve seen the movie. I’ve also seen the Broadway musical before.”

He also performed in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” musical at a Queen Creek library a few years ago.

Eileen is thrilled her son has discovered his love of theater.

“It’s made me such a happier mom,” she said. “This has been the greatest thing. We’ve only been here a year. All of a sudden he’s got friends. He just comes here and he loves it.”

Camille Taylor is enjoying watching her son, Zachary Taylor, 14, an eighth grader, play the title role.

Zachary began performing in theater when he was about 8 and has been in more than a dozen plays and musicals, mostly in Gilbert.

“He’s enjoying it,” Camille said. “I think it helps with a lot of different aspects in life. There’s always such a great camaraderie and teamwork. He’s always been loud. He’s pretty outgoing. He’s also in the band. He even takes some dance lessons.”

She said the musical is “fun” and she likes the “Freak Flag” song in it.

Zachary said he is having fun performing in the musical.

“It’s probably been the most hardest working musical I’ve been in,” he said. “I was in ‘Jungle Book’ and it was pretty fun and I haven’t stopped. I’ve never been a lead role before.”

Eighth grader Bethany Harkness plays another big role – Princess Fiona.

“It’s actually really cool because this is actually my first lead role,” Bethany said. “It’s easier than I thought it would be. I like that she’s not like most princesses. I think people are really going to think the songs are catchy.”

She said she likes playing the feisty Fiona because she can relate to her.

“I’m very sarcastic,” Bethany said.

She added the musical has a “pretty powerful story.”

Hannah Toth, 12, a seventh grader, likes playing fast-talking Donkey and mingling with eighth-graders.

“I think sometimes you can do embarrassing things but you realize it’s all towards the comedy,” Hannah said.

She said she used to live in Los Angeles, where she got into singing and dancing and often performed starting “at a very young age.”

Like her peers, Hannah also likes Shrek’s journey in the musical.

“I like the fact that before he was alone,” Hannah said.

“He realizes he doesn’t need to be perfect. I love the songs. The first time I listened to the soundtrack, I had gotten so many songs stuck in my head. It is really fun. There’s a lot of eighth graders I wouldn’t have known. Next year I’m definitely going to join Drama Club again,” she added.

Tickets are $3 for Payne students and $6 for everyone else and available at the door.

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