Even though she has starred in Broadway productions, Maya Goldman, 14, was thrilled to get a leading role in the Atholton High School performance of "The Wedding Singer," playing the character of Holly.
Maya, a freshman at Atholton, starred as Cindy Lou Hoo in a national tour of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" when she was in fifth grade, and played Young Fiona in "Shrek the Musical" on Broadway the following year.
She said being in the high school spring musical is "a little bit different" than a Broadway show, but "it's still really fun," giving her the opportunity to hang out with friends and perform in her community.
"I love performing," she said, taking a break from rehearsals in the school auditorium. "Singing, acting and dancing. I love it all."
This time of year, high school auditoriums throughout Howard County are bustling with frenetic rehearsals as opening day draws close for the annual spring musicals. Stage crews are finalizing the sets, actors are getting fitted for costumes and choreographers are asking students to run through that big dance scene one more time.
In fact, productions at Oakland Mills and Howard begin Thursday, Feb. 28, and Friday, March 1, respectively.
Certain classics seem to return again and again. This year, Centennial High School is traveling to Emerald City for "The Wizard of Oz," Mt. Hebron High School is swooning for Conrad in "Bye Bye Birdie" and River Hill High School is practicing "Steam Heat" for "The Pajama Game."
But theater directors are creative people, and they like trying new things. For the Reservoir High School production of "Singing in the Rain," the student stage crew is working to bring rain to the stage. The Oakland Mills High School production of "Music Man" includes 22 students from elementary and middle schools that feed into the high school, some as young as first-graders.
"Working with elementary and middle school students presents a wide range of challenges but it's also been very exciting, very rewarding," said Steven Fleming, director of theatre arts at Oakland Mills. "I think the high school students can learn a little something from the creative freedom of the elementary school students."
The Wilde Lake High School production of "Godspell" imagines the show's events taking place at the Columbia lakefront, with iconic structures such as The People Tree on the stage.
About 80 students are taking part in the show, said Wilde Lake drama teacher Tracy Adler, with about half on stage and the other half in the crew. Though she's been drama director since 1990, she's never staged "Godspell" before, she said. She chose it because it has a substantial number of important roles and "I had more solo-type people," she said.
Adler said improvisation is an important part of the creative process.
"I share my blocking and vision," she said. "And then the kids riff off that and I riff on their stuff, and sometimes I walk away from rehearsal saying, 'Wow, that's not what I originally planned.'"
At Atholton, students rehearsed well into the evening on President's Day, even though schools were closed, preparing for the March 7 opening day.
"Intellectually, I always know it's going to work out by the end, but in the middle period, I sometimes wonder," said theater director Nathan Rosen.
About 70 students are in the cast, he said, including 24 elementary and middle-school students. He watched closely as students ran through a big song-and-dance number, "Saturday Night in the City," at the end of Act I for the play, which is based on the 1998 movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.
"It's starting to come together," said Robbie Babbitt, who is married to Rosen and for the past six years has been co-choreographer of Atholton productions with Stephanie Gurwitz Zurier. Though she's nearly lost her voice, she shouts instructions as the students dance.
"Semi circles," she says, at one point. "Go," she commands a few seconds later.
Courtney Clutts, 18, a senior, is providing some choreography, and hopes to open a dance studio one day after getting a business degree. "It's coming along really well," said Courtney, who also is in the cast. "We're all working together really well. It's a lot of fun. A great opportunity."
Lisa Satchell and Hallie Goldberg, both 17-year-old seniors, both hope to major in theater in college.
"We always get really nervous about this time, but it always comes together," said Hallie, sitting in the auditorium seats with her friend.
Since they also take a class that meets in the theater, "we spend a lot of time here," said Lisa, who is also assistant director.
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"We do it because we love it," Hallie chimed in.
Katlin Clemons and T.J. Smith, both seniors and 17, also sat together. While "The Wedding Singer" is the third production for Katlin, it is the first for T.J., a dancer.
"I wasn't expecting to dance so much," said T.J. "It's more of a workout than I thought."
His three sisters are also in the show — 11-year-old Gracie, 13-year-old Andie and 15-year-old Emily, a sophomore at Atholton, who has the role of Julia.
Spencer Franco, 17, a senior, is playing the lead role of Robbie, and plans to major in theater at Southern Virginia University.
"This is like my 12th show at Atholton," he said. "Not counting shows we do for class. Oh my gosh, I feel so old now!"
Spencer said he likes the show's message that it is important to do what you love, plus he is enjoying the music, which riffs on rock songs of the 1980s. "It sounds great," he said.