When eighth grader J.D. Oppermann watched the movie version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera “The Mikado,” he wasn’t very impressed. “Then I read the script and realized I wasn’t paying very much attention,” he said.
Oppermann was so impressed by the script that he tried out for the Hoover production of it, and got the part of Nanki-Poo, the male romantic lead.
“Before this I’d never even been to an operetta,” Opperman said. “I thought opera was for old people to dress up, sit there and listen to bad music.”
Now, he has a greater interest in the genre. Interest was never a problem for eighth grader Natalie Bamdad who plays Yum-Yum, the female romantic lead. “I’ve always liked classical music and opera,” Bamdad said.
Rehearsals for the production have been going on for a little over two months. In that time the students have memorized enough songs and scenes to fill a standard sized paperback book. “I’m starting to get nervous now,” Bamdad said. “We kind of finally realized its close.”
At a rehearsal just a few weeks before opening night, the teens seem to have much of the show well under control. The musical numbers and acting is done at a level that belies the age of the performers.
Costumes are being made specifically for the production.
“Nobody has that many kimonos,” said Pamela Leighton-Bilik, director of the production and a teacher at Hoover.
Oppermann and Bamdad are just two in a cast of about 85 middle school students who will be performing in the show. The vast majority of the performers will be in the large, musical numbers while the 10 principals will act as well as sing.
In addition there are about 20 students helping out in the “tech crew” with lighting and set building. There are also many parents helping with the production. “The parents are a great help, too,” said Leighton-Bilik. “Some of them don’t even have kids in the school anymore.”
Several of the musical numbers may be unfamiliar to those who have seen the production before. “Some of my lines have been slightly altered,” Bamdad said.
Some inappropriate language, racial stereotyping and references to suicide have been removed from the original. “There were things that were appropriate in Victorian theater that are not appropriate now,” said Leighton-Bilik.
The performers are not upset about the changes, believing that as times change is appropriate to alter works. “I think it’s right of us to take it out,” Oppermann said.
Other changes include updating lyrics to make them more topical. Including a song sung by the Mikado (the Emperor of Japan) referring to baseball strikes and hanging chads. “Very often it’s made topical,” Leighton-Bilik said.
This will be the final musical at Hoover for the eighth grade students, “It’s the last one, it’s kind of sad,” Bamdad said. Some the performers hope to appear in Churchill productions such as “Blast From the Past” in the years to come.
For now, they continue working on their lines, adjusting the pitch in their songs, and by appearances, enjoying it all. “It’s a very positive experience for the students and for me,” said Leighton-Bilik. “I think the lessons are beyond music and acting.”