Marriotts Ridge High musical becomes local draw

Marriotts Ridge High School students have grown up at a time when youngsters get entertainment from such devices as iPods, iPhones or iPads. If you asked many from their generation about a jukebox, you would probably hear a tireless refrain: I dunno.

But for six years running, fine-arts students at Marriotts Ridge have offered stirring performances centered around the colorfully illuminated, coin-operated phonograph from yesterday. They combine music, dance and drama in the high-energy, student-produced show titled "Jukebox" that has become a school tradition and an annual draw on the Howard County schools calendar.

This year's performance, "Jukebox VI," will commence with three nights of shows from Oct. 21-23 at the Marriottsville school. It has grown so popular that two days before the first show, the school had sold about 1,900 tickets.

"I know people who live completely on the other side of Howard County, like Wilde Lake students, who come up to me and say, 'When is "Jukebox"?'" said Marriott Ridge senior Madelyn Zins, scriptwriter and cast member. "Parents of [Marriotts Ridge] kids who aren't even in theater come up to me and say, 'When is "Jukebox?" Are you in it? What are you doing in it?'"

The performance is a fusion of a bygone era and contemporary pop culture, created almost exclusively by students, including some seniors who have been associated with the production since freshman year. Some students say that sometimes they pick songs for the show that they had never heard before but enjoy once they play them.

"We play older songs, songs my dad knew, and when I tell him we're playing the songs, he's like, 'Oh, that's a great song,'" said senior drummer Colin Morse. "People come for the music, the dancing, the acting. There are so many things all in one show."

Marriotts Ridge fine-arts director Terry Eberhardt said that "Jukebox" was launched shortly after the school opened as a signature event with which many in the community could identify. He said that initially, teachers opted for a production other than a musical, but students insisted on one.

"It always revolves around this jukebox that comes to life and talks and takes the characters on a musical adventure," said Eberhardt, who added that the production, which has a video games theme, involves more than 100 students. He said that the school has rented a sound system that helps make the students feel as if they're performing at Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion.

"We have had amazing instrumentalists from the day the school opened, so it kind of defined us in the community in being kind of a fine-arts school," said Eberhardt. "Students write the script. We incorporate dance, and our visual artists are involved with the set. Our tech kids built our stage. They feel invested in it because it's theirs."

Students say that the production has become so popular that auditions for every facet of it are competitive. Because the show is held in the early part of the school year, production planning begins in spring of the previous year. That's also when the band is selected.

Auditions are held within the first few weeks of school, lasting about one week and ending with a posting of cast members on a Friday. The first cast meeting is the following Monday.

"It's a very hard audition process," said Kelly Laynor, senior dance member and choreographer. "When the list goes up and you see people who didn't make it, you always have to encourage them to try out for the next show. You can't take everyone."

The play can take its toll on students from a school whose profile states that some of its alumni have gone on to such schools as Brown, Yale and Duke universities. Students say that some rehearsals go well into the evening, adding more challenges to a schedule that can include rigorous Advanced Placement courses and other activities.

Yet the thrill of performing on stage and putting a top-notch production together with fellow students makes the show worth it, and some say it helps them learn to organize their time.

"For me, personally, I feel like it tends to be difficult, but you have to know your limits," Zins said. "A lot of my friends are taking five Advanced Placement college-level courses. If I were to do that, I would have to give up theater and 'Jukebox' and everything that I really love about school. I do take AP courses, but I manage to weigh it out with theater."

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