(Diane L. Wilson)
Spring is always a hectic time of year for Mike Dumey and his seventh- and eighth-grade students, a season when their focus is almost singularly on creating the junior high musicals that have become a Cape Girardeau tradition. This year the challenges have been especially daunting.
In his role as director, Dumey has to make sure 135 cast members (in speaking parts and chorus lines) know their parts, as well as 25 crew members.
"It's a pretty mammoth undertaking in that regard," Dumey said Tuesday, taking a brief break from the action. "The kids are doing just great in that. The challenge becomes, all the kids that want to be involved, getting them involved."
The musical actually calls for a much, much smaller cast. But when auditions were held in January, 125 students showed up to try out for a part, and Dumey wanted to include them. He added extra chorus line members, many of them playing dinnerware, in several scenes to accommodate the glut of students wanting to be a part of a Dumey musical -- and some ego crises were averted.
"After just a few days, the dust all settles and everyone begins to understand the importance of what they bring to this part," Dumey said. "When you have 120 to 130 people in the cast, that's a lot of understanding. We're not concerned about who has got the biggest role, but how important everybody is in terms of stage time. It doesn't matter how great Belle is if the plates and the napkins aren't just as great in their part."
More challenges arose with the venue, the junior high auditorium, which had to be shared much of the semester with the Cape Girardeau Central High School's Red Dagger drama club as they worked on a spring play, Neil Simon's "Rumors." Dumey and crew didn't have full use of the auditorium until late March, when they had to build a stage extension to handle the massive, two-and-a-half hour musical production.
The students have met the challenge when some adults might not have, Dumey said.
The pressure can be great on students in the production, even Dumey's own 13-year-old daughter, Lauren, who plays the human-turned-teapot Mrs. Potts. Lauren has been around her father's musicals all her life, but said she didn't really know how much of her social life she'd have to give up -- hours and hours -- to be a part of her father's production.
Brodrick Twiggs, 14, has also had to sacrifice his time to play Gaston, a self-absorbed man's man seeking to wed the heroine Belle.
"He's really cocky," Twiggs said. "He's used to everyone telling him he's the best ... except for Belle, and he's not used to that."
Like most Central students, Twiggs knew about Dumey's musicals while in middle school, but never expected to take a starring role in one.
"I was too shy about my voice," Twiggs said. His friends persuaded him to try out for the musical. Now Twiggs said he wants to continue acting and singing and join the drama club when he gets into high school.
Parents have stepped up to match the students' time and effort, Dumey said, donating time and money to help with numerous aspects of the production. Without their help, Dumey estimated the musical's $15,000 (all acquired through fund raising) price tag would have been much, much higher.
Dumey always praises the community for its support, which should be strong in this 14th year. As of Monday, about 1,400 tickets had been sold for the show's three dates -- about halfway to a sell-out.
Central Junior High School assistant principal Alan Bruns is in his first year at the school, but he knew about Dumey's famous musicals well before that, having been a choir teacher at Jackson previously. Bruns said this year's production enjoys the same kind of buzz as previous years, with members of the public calling the junior high office with numerous inquiries about the coming Dumey musical.
"Because of what Mr. Dumey has done in the past, there's a high expectation," Bruns said.
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