By Dedra Cordle
Jim Speegle and John Weddendorf have been involved in the world of theater for more than 50 years combined so it is safe to say that they are familiar with the phrase ‘the show must go on.’ Yet nothing quite prepared the drama club advisers at Franklin Heights and Westland High Schools, respectively, for what happened last week.
It was shortly before the spring productions at their schools were scheduled to take place – Franklin Heights was set to perform “Beehive: The ‘60’s Musical” and Westland “Little Shop of Horrors” – when South-Western City officials ordered the district shut until mid-April to stop the spread of a global pandemic. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of the situation, there are no set dates for rescheduling their productions.
Before the schools closed for three weeks, the Westside Messenger was working on a double-feature of their productions to give the community a peek at their shows. We decided to go forward with the article despite the postponement for two reasons. The first reason was to give the community an opportunity to preview the musicals in case they are rescheduled this school year and the second reason was for the cast and crew of the drama clubs. The advisors said the students had put so much effort into putting together their musicals and we wanted to acknowledge that work and the pride they took in it. So, while the show may not go on as planned, here is a look at what went into the productions of “Beehive: A ‘60’s Musical’ and “Little Shop of Horrors” regardless.
Franklin Heights High School
Jim Speegle had a dilemma.
It was time to decide what the spring production would be at Franklin Heights High School and he had not a clue what to do.
There were too many girls, he said, and not enough boys so he had to rack his brain to decide what would work with this cast.
Having been involved in the Broadway and local theater scene for more than two decades, he remembered a hidden gem of a production called “Beehive: A ‘60’s Musical.”
Created by Larry Gallagher and adapted for a younger audience by Rachel Bryan, this musical revue tells the tale of a group of young women who find their voices through the music and lyrics of female artists of the decade.
“It really is a tale of women’s empowerment set alongside some of the most popular songs of the 1960s,” said the first-year club advisor.
He said when he told the small cast what they were doing, there was a mixture of confusion and elation.
“A lot of them didn’t know any of these songs but they were really excited that they got to be hippies,” he said with a laugh. “Then we had a small group who knew all of these songs and were also really excited that they got to be hippies.”
There is no true lead of the play – Speegle said if there is, it would likely be Kaye’ann Muetzel and Kyra Robinson as they are featured in the most performances – nor are there any named characters. Except the ones in “The Name Game” where the cast introduces themselves to the audience. And, of course, the real singers of this era.
“This musical goes through the wide-ranging sounds of this era,” said Speegle. “It starts with a sweeter sound with music from The Angels, The Shirelles, The Ronettes and then progresses to something different and harder and grittier with Aretha Franklin, Lulu, Tina Turner and Janis Joplin.
“This is also a look at some powerful moments in our history – the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Vietnam War and the assassination of President (John F.) Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King.”
He said the cast really took to the material and went above and beyond memorizing the dialogue, the lyrics and the choreography by Jennifer Evans.
“They would come up to me and tell me things that they had learned about the artists and the era,” he said.
Tatiana Sullivan, a junior, said it was interesting learning more about the decade and finding relation to the world of today.
“There is a lot of connectivity between our generations,” she said. “That is why I think this production is going to be for everyone.”
In addition to the great tunes, there was also the great fashion.
On March 6, the costumes Speegle had ordered arrived and the cast got their first look at the white Go-Go boots, the fringe vests, the colorful sunglasses and the tiered layer tassel dress.
“I have to wear that!,” said Robinson.
McKenzie Fee said she fell in love with the boots but quickly realized they were more for beauty than comfort.
“I feel 10 times more confident with these boots on,” she said, “but when I walk in them I feel a lot less confident because I know I am going to fall in them.”
Sophomore Kailey Kuhnheim said that while she does like the fashion, it is really the music that is the driving force of the show.
“Most of us know we cannot match the voices of these amazing artists,” she said, “but we have put our own spin on these classic songs and I think we do quite well at making it our own.”
Speegle said he believes the community would be as impressed as he is by their showcase of talent.
“These kids have just blown me away,” he said.
Westland High School
Eleven years ago, John Weddendorf drove more than two hours to Dayton to rent a carnivorous plant for Westland High School’s first production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
When he picked up the plant, well, he didn’t exactly pick it up.
“It was so heavy,” said the drama club advisor. “It took quite a few of us to maneuver it back to the car.”
He said as he looked at this heavy being in the vehicle, he came to the realization that he would have to outsource the part of Audrey II.
“We recruited a wrestler at our school to play the plant,” he said. “He did a good job and we had a good run but I didn’t want to put this musical on again anytime soon.”
Fast forward to 2020 and it was set to become their spring production. This time, however, they rented an eight-foot-tall puppet created by students at Big Walnut High School. He recruited assistant stage manager Mallory Merth to do the duties.
“It’s her first major role and I think she’s going to take to it well,” he said.
But “Little Shop of Horrors” isn’t just about a carnivorous plant with its sights set on world domination: it’s more of a human tale about two lonely people trying to make a connection with a side of carnivorous plant with its sights set on world domination.
“I have always enjoyed “Little Shop of Horrors,’” said junior Noah Brindley, who will be playing Seymour Krelborn. “It’s a quirky horror musical and you really don’t get to see too many of those.”
Brindley said he was drawn to the lead role of Seymour because of the “relatability factor.”
“I’m a pretty awkward guy naturally so I think I fit the role quite well,” he said.
Co-advisor Chris White said it had more to do with his vocal talents.
“This cast is great,” said White. “They have such a different range of vocals and they all harmonize well during their ensemble numbers.”
In addition to Brindley, the cast also includes Adriauna Cunningham (Audrey), Madison Pyles (Mr. Mushnik), TJ McNerlin (voice of Audrey II) and Ryan Falke (sadist dentist Orin Scrivello).
Falke said when he took the role, he didn’t realize how physically demanding it would be.
“I feel like I’ve been working out,” he lamented during rehearsal on March 11. “This has given me more of a workout than I have had in a while.”
Still, he said it was great fun. Brindley echoed a similar sentiment.
“It’s been a really great experience being a part of this cast and crew,” he said.
He added his belief that it would rub off on the audience as well.
“I think it’s going to be a great show and very entertaining for them,” he said. “I definitely think the music is the strongest part of this production and I think we sound awesome.”