Last week, the students at PRIED Middle School, which will become part of WMS this fall, staged "Never Forgotten," a musical the students imagined, wrote, scored, designed, choreographed and produced themselves, under the direction of PRIED's music teacher, Heather Wadler.
Loosely based on the Broadway musical "Anastasia," which the PRIED students saw earlier this year, "Never Forgotten" is set in present-day New York City. The lead character, Tessa (played by eighth-grader Ava Walsh), is the granddaughter of a Broadway star. After a series of mishaps and a bump on the head that leads to amnesia, Tessa lands in an orphanage. Hazy memories of singing with her grandmother ignite Tessa's determination to find her "lost" family member. The production culminates when Tessa and her grandmother are reunited and together sing the show's lead song, "Life Is Passing Like A Dream," composed by seventh-grader Addie Laster and sixth-grader Arynn Shweiki.
Producing "Never Forgotten" was a year-long project for PRIED's theater program. Last fall, the students each proposed storylines and spent several sessions discussing the many aspects of producing a musical. After agreeing on the general storyline, they worked in teams to write, compose, design and prepare the show.
"The kids managed this from the bottom up, in a hands-on way that required them to figure things out along the way," Heather said. "Of course, this involved music composition and theater, but also math and English because the production required creative writing skills, budgeting, marketing, costuming and so much more. It was a holistic experience and the students were fully immersed."
As WMS prepares to add its middle school program this fall, this kind of immersive, hands-on theater and music programming, under Heather's guidance, will be part of the arts curriculum. A certified K-12 teacher, Heather specializes in general music, choir and voice, and has an extensive background in the performing arts, specifically musical theater. She served as WMS's music teacher for two years before leaving to attend graduate school. She will return as WMS's middle school music teacher in September.
"Working on a project like 'Never Forgotten' keeps the students motivated and engaged for the entire school year," she said. "They study music, but they also learn self-confidence, poise and time management. Seeing their work come to life, and seeing how brave they are in front of the room, is so rewarding."