With the first beat of the opening number from "Jukebox," the audience roars its approval, as it does for virtually everything that unfolds onstage when Marriotts Ridge High School puts on its zany music and dance revue every October.
At least that's what's happened each of the last six years that the original, student-produced extravaganza has been performed, ever since the Marriottsville school opened its doors in 2005.
The unconditional love that explodes from the crowd during the opening number flows freely all evening long, organizers say, making "Jukebox" one of the school's most highly anticipated shows.
The wildly enthusiastic reception the show generates year after year has everything to do with upholding a vaunted school tradition — even though that tradition, like the school, is only entering its seventh year.
But it's equally about the fact that students write the script, arrange the music and dance numbers, and operate the lights and sound equipment — making everybody, staff and audience alike, fiercely protective of the end result.
"The kids really feel they have ownership of it," said Terry Eberhardt, aka "Mr. E.," the school's choir director who works with vocalists and band members. "It's become part of their identity, which is really cool, and it makes our school unique."
"Jukebox" was conceived as a "mashup of songs that the kids would pull together to create their own identity," he said. While the musical selections are kept hush-hush, the production always centers on an actual jukebox and involves students being led down a quirky path of self-discovery.
Drama teacher Sally Livingston did give out one hint about this year's show: The theme pays homage to "The Breakfast Club," the 1985 film by writer-director John Hughes that's brimming with teen awakening and teen angst.
"Somehow or other, the kids always get sucked into a vortex," Livingston said of the familiar time-travel plot device that's infused into each production. And this year's script is riddled with "cute segues and cheesy jokes," just as it is every year, said the teacher who's been affectionately dubbed "Liv" by her students.
"For the students who are doing the show, it's such an accomplishment to be in it," said Sydney Morales, who choreographed this year's production with fellow senior Mandi James. "A lot of people try out, so making the cut makes you want to really work for it."
And work they do — all 100 members of the cast, crew and band that is assembled from all areas of the school's fine-arts department. Planning begins each spring and the work carries over into the summer, with students reconnecting daily two weeks before school so they can "hit the ground running the first day" of class, Eberhardt said.
There's so much talent at Marriotts Ridge that a self-guided production works well, said James Martinson, a senior who plays trumpet in the band and helps select the repertoire of "feel-good" songs, which are chosen from a variety of genres.
A number based on "Stomp," a live show that involves unique movements and unusual percussion instruments, is another non-negotiable element of the production, he said, and ladders, kitchen utensils and brooms have been pressed into service in past years. "Band Jam," an instrumental number that highlights the talents of the 15-member band, is also a given.
Taking part in "Jukebox" is considered such a lofty achievement within the student body that kids often voluntarily surrender the opportunity to play sports or take part in other extracurricular activities in order to join the cast and crew.
"I was on the freshman volleyball team, and I really regretted not being part of 'Jukebox' that year," Mandi James recalled. Junior Anna Wehr said she willingly gave up playing soccer.
Senior Ted Kuligowski said he somehow wasn't aware of the production when he was a freshman, but as soon as he saw it, he made it his "first priority" to join the cast in his sophomore year.
"You can't not smile when you're on stage," he said. And the audience is loud, in a good way, singing, screaming and clapping as if they were watching their favorite band performing live in concert, he added.
The rest of the show's student planning committee, which also includes Kendall Smith and Sarah Roberts, nodded in agreement.
"There's just this energy on stage and people get really amped," said Claire Fremuth, an actor and scriptwriter who helped contribute some of the "corny variations on a theme."
"We get this high off feeling the audience's energy, too," Morales chimed in.
Last year, an older couple drove out from Glen Burnie to check out the show and then took the time to congratulate the cast afterward and tell them they were planning to return the next night and watch it again, Fremuth said.
"It's just so different that everyone knows about it; even kids I baby-sit tell me they're coming to see 'Jukebox,'" Morales said.
While the theme and committee members change each year as students graduate, the production manages to retain its high quality and unique charm, Livingston said.
"It's campy and stupid and wonderful," she said. "We just put the pedal to the metal and go."
If you go
What: "Jukebox VII"
When: Oct. 13, 14 and 15 at 7 p.m.
Where: Marriotts Ridge High School, 12100 Woodford Lane, Marriottsville
Cost: Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased in advance by emailing email@example.com