Barry School students to stage ‘Shrek’

2/10/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: February

Nathan Barnard (center) and Carter Janik (right) play Shrek and Donkey.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

This March, the Bellamy Middle School auditorium will be transformed into a mystical realm filled with fairy tail creatures, a tiny ruler with big, kingly aspirations and, you guessed it, an ogre!

A cast of 19 fourth and fifth grade students from Barry Elementary School will welcome you to the swamp, the Lordship of Duloc, a high tower at the top of a castle and enchanted lands when they stage “Shrek the Musical Jr.,” directed by now retired longtime Chicopee music teacher Janet Maynard, March 9 and 10.

“We’re giving it a shot and so far, I’m pleased,” Maynard said at a recent rehearsal. “It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of love and they’re buying in to the idea that they can do something really great.”

As in the hit animated movie and the Broadway musical, the story focuses on Shrek, a misunderstood ogre played by Nathan Barnard, and his unlikely wisecracking pal Donkey, portrayed by Carter Janik, who must embark on a journey to save Princess Fiona – played at various ages by Ghadeer Jabbar as Young Fiona, Neyshalee Gonzalez as Teen Fiona, and Arianna Jimenez Laurent as the adult main character. It’s a task with which he’s charged by Lord Farquaad, played by Talia Jones, in exchange for the deed to his swamp, which has been overrun with fairytale creatures in a relocation ordered by Farquaad.

Barnard said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to bring something new to the Shrek character.

“In the [movie], Shrek is very grumpy, but our Shrek isn’t as grumpy. He’s very active,” he explained.

Jimenez Laurent and Janik are among the most experienced children to take the stage in this production.

“Arianna does have experience and her sister was with us for three years and her sister comes back and helps us with lights,” Debbie Sutherland, costume and set designer noted. “Carter is probably our most learned thespian. He’s terrific on stage. He’s one of our best actors.”

Jimenez Laurent said she’s been able to use her experience to help fellow cast members, who sometimes look to her for help with a song or with their lines. Janik has been in what he calls “entertainment situations” for quite a while and has taken acting, dancing and music classes for the past few years. He said he’s looking forward to offering a healthy dose of comic relief during the show.

“I get to do a bunch of fun stuff and I get to amaze the crowd,” he said. “I get to make the crowd laugh because of my fun personality.”

Jimenez Laurent added he was looking to bring out the humorous side in Fiona.

“I really like how funny she is,” she said.

Janet Maynard, who taught and put on shows in the district for nearly 28 years before retiring recently, sees it all coming together with an enthusiastic cast that has been hungry to learn.

Her husband Jim, who oversees the music and sound for the show, noted that the children at Barry don’t have any vocal music programs, which was an added challenge when putting on a musical, but the children have taken well to it through their hard work.

Janet concurred, “Their acting is pretty darn good. The singing, we’ve got some work to do, but it’s getting there. There are some who are outstanding and some that are still learning about pitch and things like that. But they’re all very enthusiastic.”

She added the expectations for their performance have been set very high because she believes in their abilities.

“I’m tough, but I love them and I set the bar high so I can tell them, ‘You know what? You’re going to be as good as Broadway,’” she said.

Some weeks the actors are working four nights a week to perfect the performance, rehearsing twice a week, while spending another night at a dance studio and at times working with Jim at the Maynard’s house on singing.

“It’s almost like being on a sports team because they’re working sometimes almost every night of the week on this,” Janet said.

While the work on the stage is ongoing, Sutherland has been busy behind the scenes preparing to turn the Bellamy stage into a fairytale land and a troupe of elementary school children into witches, little pigs, talking puppets, gingerbread men and other assorted creatures.

“This year is crazy. The Lion King [at Dupont Middle School in 2016] was my favorite because it had the most beautiful combination of material and dance,” she said. “This year, it’s a lot of the same, but the story has every fairy tale creature, so it’s a fun little show.”

Barnard admitted getting into character was maybe what he likes best about playing Shrek.

“My favorite part is probably the costume. It’s so real,” he said.

For some costumes, Sutherland has had to get creative. For Lord Farquaad’s character, Jones must walk around on her knees to illustrate the ruler’s diminutive stature, so Sutherland created kneepads with boots attached to them.

Gonzalez, who on top of Teen Fiona is playing multiple other roles, including Wicked Witch, will don several of Sutherland’s creations.

“Learning different parts is easy. You just have to practice,” she said. “But there’s a LOT of clothing.”

The cast also features Rose Abbott, Ruvim Arbuzov, Nathan Flathers, Julianna Giec, Halina Gonzalez, Dawid Jasinski, Michal Jasinski, Ashley Li, Merika Nieves, Rayza-Thaiz Nieves, Jenyvette Quezada, Charlotte Smith and Lilian Young.

Showtime for the March 9 and 10 shows is 6:30 p.m. with doors opening at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children of any age. Per Chicopee Public School restrictions, only cash is accepted. For an order form to request tickets in advance, contact Barry Elementary School at 594-3425.

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