Students at Julius E. Sprauve School, Guy Benjamin School, Gifft Hill School and St. John School of the Arts will have 15 hours to learn choreographed dances, Broadway tunes and puppetry before taking the stage on Friday, February 18, to perform the original musical “Dream, Wish, Believe” at the Westin Resort and Villas.
While it might sound like a tall order, the students will be learning from some of the best talent seen on the Broadway and beyond. The program will also raise much-needed funds for the St. John School of the Arts through a special donors performance and raffle.
The program was the brainchild of the vice president of St. John School of the Arts’ board of directors Ronnie Lee who approached John Tartaglia after seeing his off-Broadway original show “ImaginOcean.”
Tartaglia, who fallen in love with the island during previous visits, enlisted a group of equally talented friends and created an original musical for St. John students.
Tartaglia, one of the youngest ever Sesame Street cast members, will be teaching puppetry, both helping students to make their own puppets and to then perform with their creations.
“Learning puppetry from John Tartaglia is like learning painting from Michelangelo,” said the St. John School of the Arts board of directors vice president.
Michael Shawn Lewis, who has numerous cast credits to his name from touring productions of Les Miserables to Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, will be heading up the vocal portion of the program along with long-time friends Laura Barnao.
The two will be teaching choir and melodies and have great hopes for the students, explained Barnao.
“We’re kind of just hoping for the best, but we know that all kids love to sing,” said Barnao. “Most kids do perform in some way and it’s just a matter of training their ear.”
While discovering the next Michael Buble is a distinct possibility, Barnao is hoping to spark something within each child.
“I really hope kids go away with a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “I hope they get a sense of being able to try something new and different. We’re trying to bring them a taste of something new and give them the confidence that they can really do anything.”
What the students learn on the stage will also come in handy in other parts of their lives, Barnao explained.
“I think this will translate into other parts of their lives too,” she said. “Once you try something new and you know you can do it, you can do that with other things in your life too. Anything is possible if you work for it and I hope this program gives them a glimpse of that.”
Donna Drake and Rhonda Miller will be leading the choreography end of the program and the students are in for a treat. Students will learn three different choreographed numbers encompassing popular jazz, contemporary modern and even a bit of hip-hop elements, according to Miller.
“I think most people will think of it as pop jazz,” said Miller. “There will be a little bit of hip-hop, which I’m sure the students will enjoy and then we’re also putting in a little contemporary modern feeling too. There is a nice combination of lyrical dance and a little bit of everything so the kids will have a lot of fun with it.”
A seasoned dance instructor, Miller is hoping the students walk away with a sense of what they are capable of accomplishing.
“I want them to feel empowered,” she said. “I want them to believe in themselves and to trust their own strength and just see what they can do. I have been teaching dance to young children for a lot of years and one of my favorite things in the world is to try to inspire greatness in children.”
“We need to spend time with children and to really cultivate what they have and point them in the direction to achieve their dreams,” Miller said.
Growing up in a small Southern town, Drake dreamed big and has been living that dream her entire life. She wants St. John students to have that same opportunity.
“Why can’t you do whatever you want,” said Drake. “I am a small town little Southern girl and it just never occurred to be that I couldn’t have my dream. Why can’t children anywhere do it?”
“If you can dream it, and you are willing to put the work in, you can certainly do it,” said Drake.
While mastering dance steps and learning a variety of styles, Drake hopes her students also walk off the stage with more self-confidence.
“I hope the students come away with a sense of appreciation, not just of the art forms we are bringing down, but also of themselves,” said Drake. “This is about them and when you achieve something that is gives you confidence. Standing on stage in front of people and performing isn’t easy.”
“I hope they walk away with knowing something about themselves and with a sense of pride,” said Drake.
After studying with these talented professionals, students will perform Tartaglia’s original “Dream, Wish, Believe,” in two shows on February 18 at the Westin.
The first show, at 6 p.m., will be a special St. John School of the Arts sponsorship show for $200 a ticket, which also gets audience members a champagne reception and dinner at one of Love City’s finest restaurants.
A second performance will be at 8 p.m. and will be open to the entire community for any donation. St. John School of the Arts officials expect standing room only for this performance. For more information call the arts school at 779-4322.