The High School Musical craze that has swept the nation has found its way to Running Brook Elementary School.
This month, 50 fourth- and fifth-graders at the school performed the stage production of the Emmy Award-winning television movie.
The performances topped off an eight-week drama class at the school. The class was subsidized - students had to pay $25 instead of the usual $185 fee - with money from the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, BRIDGES Over Howard County, Target and Howard Bank.
The students leapt at the chance to bring the characters of Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay, Ryan, Chad and Taylor to life for two 45-minute performances.
Initially, the class was set up to accommodate 25 students, but an overwhelming response from students expanded the cast to 50.
"They loved it," said Melissa Woodring Rosenberg, director of development for the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. "They came in wearing their High School Musical T-shirts. They knew all the words. It was exciting to see all those kids be so excited about theater."
The students were fast learners, Rosenberg said.
"They learned the whole show in six hours," she said.
The students performed 16 scenes.
"They did every song that was in the movie," Rosenberg said. "They even learned some of the original choreography for it. It was a big challenge for them, but they were up for it."
Parker Drown, an employee of Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts who served as the production's co-director, said the popularity of the show enabled the students to hit the ground running.
"It took us five minutes to teach them the [audition] song," said Drown. "We didn't have to go over and over songs. The kids who got the bigger audition parts were those who were really familiar with the songs."
Drown was helped by co-director Beth Leader, programs director of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts; music director Cedric Lyles, another employee with the group; and Amy Mason, a Title I teacher at Running Brook.
The adults broke the students into smaller groups to maximize the quick turnaround.
Mason said that the production fits in with the school's focus of providing arts integration in the classroom.
"As a result of offering some of the clubs after school, some of the students were able to showcase the performing arts," she said. "Students began to come out of their shell. It helped with their public speaking."
The students performed a play that was a mix of the movie and the stage performance that is touring nationally, Drown said.
The group used a special feature on the High School Musical DVD that helped the students learn the choreography.
"They pulled it together," Drown said. "They did great. It was really well-received."
More than 200 people showed up for a parents-night performance. The group gave an encore during a schoolwide assembly four days later.
The Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts also offered classes on character development through poetry at Swansfield and Guilford elementaries. In addition, the group offered a four-week theater makeup class at Phelps Luck Elementary.
Rosenberg said she hopes to continue working at Running Brook and to expand the offerings at the other schools so that at least one can complete a stage production.
Running Brook is on board for another production next school year, Mason said.
"They really blew us away with their ability to learn the lines, the music and the choreography," she said. "The response was overwhelming."