A! Magazine for the Arts

James Nishida (Chef Louis) and Erik Morrell (Sebastian) rehearse Les Poissons.

James Nishida (Chef Louis) and Erik Morrell (Sebastian) rehearse Les Poissons.

Abingdon High School continues musical tradition

February 26, 2023

Abingdon High School, Abingdon, Virginia, has a nearly 40-year history of producing musicals. This year they’re hoping to capitalize on the success of last year’s musical by opting for another Disney musical, “The Little Mermaid.”

Becky Baxter, the music director, says, “We had tremendous success with our production of‘Beauty and the Beast’last year. For many audience members of all ages, it was the first live musical they attended, and they loved it. Both‘Beauty and the Beast’and this year’s production of‘The Little Mermaid’are based on the classic Disney movies that both parents and their children know. We are excited to bring another Disney classic to life on stage for audiences of all ages.

“With a school like ours, tradition plays a key role. We have staged musicals since at least 1985. Movies and TV shows about musicals and glee choirs have reinforced the fact that students want to have musicals and an outlet for their creativity. The popularity of musicals in mainstream media shows the community that musicals are still a viable and popular art form that students want to participate in.”

In the past the students have performed in “Oklahoma,” “Grease,” Anything Goes,” “The Addams Family” and more. This year 49 students are involved as cast, crew, lighting, audio, set design and construction, props and costumes. Participation in the musical is open to all AHS students.

This year’s leads include.

Quinn Price playing Ariel. She participated in the UVA Wise Theatre Arts Governor’s School. She is a member of the One Act Competitive Theater program and has played leading roles the past two years as well as received a Best Actor award at the regional competition in 2022.

John Godfrey is Prince Eric. He has participated in three productions prior to “The Little Mermaid.” He was a cast member of the AHS One Act Team in 2021 and 2022. He was also a crew member for last year’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Ben Elmore plays King Triton. He acted in last year’s performance of “Beauty and the Beast,” as well as competed in One Act Theatre for two years.

Bella Clark plays Ursula. Prior to this production she did a few junior productions at Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, and last year was in the Abingdon High School production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Erik Morrell portrays Sebastian. He performed in the Barter Youth Academy programs for three years, and he also performed for Highlands Ballet for more than seven years.

Caroline Casler plays Flounder. She has been involved in the school’s One Act Theatre program.

Elania Bakker plays Scuttle. She’s been performing in musicals every year since she was 10 years old, and says she’s loved every one of them.

In addition to acting, the students submitted designs for the sets and work with the director, Kathleen Buttolph, and their families and friends to build them. They spend 12 to 35 hours a week outside of regular school hours getting ready for their performance. Their teachers spend 24 to 40 hours a week outside of school hours.

Baxter says, “Students learn skills in collaboration and confidence in designing and creating something from scratch and how to pick up text and make it their own. They are taking something very familiar and making it something new and special from the classic 1989 ‘Little Mermaid’ film. They are learning to come out of their comfort zone and achieve things they may never have thought possible.

“We have wonderful student designers for props and costumes who have been able to collaborate with their family members, Theatre Bristol and West Ridge High School.

“Students have been given a lot of freedom regarding design and creation. Putting this production on has been a community effort with community members, current musical parents, alumni parents and more volunteering their time and expertise to make our dreams a reality.”

They receive support from the Abingdon High School Chorus Boosters who finance the musical through fundraisers and ad sales. They also have generous community support through many sponsors including Berry Home Center, Ballad Health, Emory & Henry College and Food City.

This support allows the students to fully realize their musical dreams.

Ben Elmore says, “I love the community and the act of performance. The pressure of being behind stage and knowing that there is an entire audience out there is exhilarating. But in parts of the show where you may have less to do, listening to the show and seeing the light peek in from under the curtain can be very calming.”

John Godfrey says, “I think that the musical experience is a fun time overall. The people make it what it is, and without that, I doubt it’d be as enjoyable otherwise. It can be stressful, yes, but I enjoy myself greatly.”

Erik Morrell says, “The thing I love most about the musical experience is definitely going to rehearsal and being with all of my friends and being able to be on stage and perform.”

Bella Clark says, “I love the people I get to work with while doing these productions, it allows me to form such nice relationships.”

Elaina Bakker says, “Some of my favorite things about performing in musicals arethe camaraderiethat I see in every cast, having the opportunity to act out different personalities than your own, dancing and being able to be dramatic and just let loose. I encourage everyoneI meet to be involved in theater. I believe there’s something for everyone.”

“The Little Mermaid” is directed by Kathleen Buttolph. Music Direction is by Brandy Baxter. Choreography and movement are led by Morgan Egan, Brittany Vicars and Khyra Lowe.

Performances are at Abingdon High School AuditoriumMarch 24 at 7 p.m., March 25 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., March 31 at 7 p.m., April 1 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

A Meet the Characters Party is held March 25 at 11 a.m. Each child gets a snack, makes a craft and meets Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian, Flounder and other characters from the musical. Bring your camera for pictures with the characters.$15 per child with accompanying adult.

Tickets can be purchased at the door or on the chorus website, abingdonchorus.square.site. The Meet the Characters party has limited seating.