A! Magazine for the Arts

Lilly Wright and Kyler Roberts (Ellie Blake and Adam)

Lilly Wright and Kyler Roberts (Ellie Blake and Adam)

It gets 'Freaky' at John S. Battle High School

February 26, 2023

Hundreds of hours from teachers, students and the community culminate in John S. Battle High School’s spring musical, “Freaky Friday.”

“We really were hoping to do a Disney musical this year, and we were looking for a script that would fit well with the talent we have at our school and in the choral program,” Monica Alderman, choral director, says.

“Freaky Friday” is about a mother and daughter who accidentally change bodies. This year, Shannon Dunning, who has performed as Cogsworth in “Beauty and the Beast,” as well as Paulette in “Legally Blonde,” is portraying the mother, Katherine Blake. Dunnings is a senior this year.

A newcomer to the musical is junior Lilly Wright, who plays the daughter, Ellie Blake. Fletcher Blake, Ellie’s brother, is played by Allen Sweeney, a sophomore, who also appeared as a freshman in 2022’s “Legally Blonde,” as Kyle. And Mike, Katherine’sfiancé, is played by Adam Mabry, who, also as a freshman, played Professor Callahan in last year’s “Legally Blonde.” All four of these students come with extensive backgrounds in JSB’s choral program.

Alderman has been at Battle since 2014 and knows that both choral teachers prior to her presented musicals during their time there. The only year she missed having a spring musical, was 2021 during COVID. Some of those musicals were “The Addams Family,” “The Little Mermaid, “Grease,” “Into the Woods,” “Mamma Mia” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Legally Blond.”

“Sometimes, depending on our need for artwork, our art department will step in and help out. My ‘partner in crime’ is Dr. Melissa Buckles from the English department. We work well together. She works with blocking, set design and tech crew; and I work with music, choreography (though recently we have had student choreographers), sound technicians and all the behind-the-scenes paperwork. We also have support from our business department and more recently from the Design Department at the Washington County Career and Technical Education Center.

Buckles designs the sets, and she and her husband, Bobby, turn the designs into reality. Parents of the students help. The cast and crew consists of 35 to 40 students. Alderman estimates that she and Buckles spend between 150 and 200 hours on this labor of love, while students invest at least 100 hours. She has had student choreographers over the years. This year, Shannon Dunning is choreographing “Freaky Friday.”

“I think that students who are involved in the fine arts naturally gravitate towards musical productions. It’s the perfect vehicle for combining music and singing with the craft of acting as well as dancing. We also attract students who are interested in the technical aspect of theater. I do think runaway hits like ‘Glee’ and ‘High School Musical’ have renewed student interest in musical productions, but I also think it’s been there all along.

“When I was in high school 30 years ago . . . before ‘Glee’ and ‘High School Musical’ . . . we begged our choir teacher to do a musical. He didn’t, but I was able to perform in them with our local theater guild. As long as the arts are alive and well in high schools, there will be interest in performing musicals.

“It is life-changing for many of our students. We become a family and support system for each other. We spend so much time together, that this naturally occurs. It’s hard work, yes, but it is one of the most rewarding endeavors a student can experience,” Alderman says.

Her students echo her love of musicals.

“Being a part of the musical means you help to create your own community. Everyone knows each other and it’s fun to wave in the hallway or reference a song from rehearsal,” says Shannon Dunning.

“I love the musical experience because it allows me to be able to have a good time while doing something I love,” Lilly Wright says.

“I love the musical because not only is it a fun experience, I get to grow in my love for theater with others who love it too,” says Kendall Jarvis.

“I love being in the musical because it gives me a sense of purpose, and it’s like we are all a big family,” Addison Robinson says.

“I love being in the musical because it creates a fun environment where we all get to express our shared love for music and acting,” says Hollyn Mullins.

“I love the musical because I’ve always loved theater; I love the family that’s formed throughout the whole experience,” says Janie Gayle.

The choral department funds the musical productions. They also sell ads and seek sponsorships to help with the financial burden. The budget is usually $5,000-$6,000. This year, they added a new group to help raise funds for the musical and the choral department.

“We just launched the John S. Battle High School Choral Boosters Association. We also just received our 501c3 status, which has already proved to be beneficial in raising money for the show. Our big goal this year was to provide updated wireless mics, so that our students could perform without worrying if their microphones were going to pick up and work. We have been piecemealing a system together since I’ve been teaching here. Every year it has been an ordeal to try and patch together an outdated system that would work for us. This year, thanks to the vision of our officers and association membership, we have raised enough money to purchase new monitors and a new rack system with eight wireless headsets. This is just the first phase in updating as we hope to raise enough money in the future to purchase a new digital mixer, as well as update the speakers in the auditorium and the lighting itself. These are massive undertakings, but we have a great support system. The board has been wonderful,” Alderman says.

Performances are March 31 and April 1 at 7 p.m. and April 2 at 3 p.m. Ticket prices are $5 for students and $8 for adults.