Mr. Dumey adopts an orphan

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Mike Dumey has a secret. He has one every year around the start of school, but this year is even more exciting than usual.

From the first day of classes on, students and co-workers alike pester him with the same question: What musical are we doing this year, Mr. Dumey?

But Mr. Dumey isn't telling. Not yet.

There is nothing quite like a junior high musical.

In high school, the students are more mature and focused. In junior high, the boundaries between jock, egghead and drama-type are less defined. The musicals are truly schoolwide.

Mr. Dumey likes the jack-in-the-box quality of junior high. You never quite know what the students are capable of until you expect greatness.

In the spring of 1992, the first Dumey musical production -- Disney's "The Little Mermaid" -- was presented in the library of Schultz School.

The sets were cardboard and most of the actors wore jeans and Little Mermaid T-shirts. In 2002, Schultz closed and Dumey moved to Central Junior High with seventh- and eighth-graders.

This is lucky No. 13 in a long line of Dumey musicals that have grown bigger and better each year. This year, for the first time, the junior high is not doing a Disney musical. For the first time, they will attempt Broadway.

Mr. Dumey usually has an idea what his spring production will be long before he makes the announcement. He enjoys the excitement and mystery that build up around the project.

During the summer of 2004, he attended a musical at the Muny Opera in St. Louis.

On the Muny stage, a little orphan girl sang about tomorrow.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow! ...

Mr. Dumey has always dismissed "Annie" as a possibility for his spring musical, mainly because the majority of the characters are female.

But the Muny performance reminds him that there are four major male roles -- principal roles, as Mr. Dumey calls them. Even so, "Annie" is more complicated than any other junior high production he's attempted. Are 13- and 14-year-olds ready for that kind of responsibility?

In class, he teases his choir students about wanting to produce a musical based on Disney's "Dumbo."

"We can do 'Dumbo Rocks.' We'll put sunglasses on him. You can put sunglasses on anything and make it cool," he says.

His students are not impressed.

Mr. Dumey makes them wait until the school Christmas concert before revealing his selection for the 2005 spring musical. After the students' performance of "Messiah" at a local church, he turns to the audience and makes the announcement.

"I really wanted to do 'Dumbo' this year," he says.

Behind him on the stage, eighth-grader Sami Gross is confused. A musical with only animals in it?

"But something tells me this is just not the year," Mr. Dumey continues. "So instead, we're gonna let an orphan sing about the sun coming out tomorrow."

Sami is enthralled. She's watched the movie version of "Annie" with her grandmother many times.

It's one of her favorites. The 14-year-old is small with a sweetheart voice and bright eyes -- she can already see herself playing the vivacious redheaded orphan.

But on that same church stage, another girl with a sweetheart voice and bright eyes can also envision herself in that role. "Annie" is one of seventh-grader Emily Meyers' favorite musicals too.

The two girls don't really know each other yet. But they will.

Producing a musical, even a junior-high version, costs money. Mr. Dumey raises money for his musicals by holding a special, one-night concert featuring former students.

Last year, the group sang and danced through "Disney Dazzle," a conglomeration of more than a decade's worth of Disney musicals.

It's Jan. 18, and around 600 people attend this year's fund raiser, "Broadway Tonight." The show consisted of songs from hit musicals like "Grease," "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music."

"Broadway Tonight" raises over $2,100. It's a start toward the estimated $10,000 that "Annie" will cost to produce. None of that comes from the school budget. Mr. Dumey has to raise all of the funds himself through donations and admission fees.

The 2005 musical will be more challenging than any other production Dumey has attempted. There will be more songs, more costume changes, and 50 more pages of script. And the performance is scheduled a week earlier than last year, which means less time to rehearse.

Some 2,000 students have tried out for parts in a Dumey musical over the past 13 years. Only a small percentage actually land principal roles. Most are relegated to spots in the choir or take on secondary roles such as the orphans and hobos in "Annie."

Auditions for the 2005 spring production began in February. Mr. Dumey does not choose students for the roles. He finagles outsiders into doing the dirty work.

The casting of parts is nearly as dramatic as the actual performance. There's almost always a few tears.

For Mr. Dumey, it's the worst day of the entire year.

Auditions Feb. 8 and 9 in the school's choir room attract about 150 students, who are anxiously awaiting their shot at one of the 38 speaking parts available. Thirty girls try out for the part of Annie.

Sami Gross is one of them. So is Emily Meyers. Another Emily -- Emily Gerlach -- also has also decided to audition for the starring role. She's an eighth-grader, but unlike Sami has never acted before in a school production.

Emily G. is a singer. When Mr. Dumey announced his choice for the spring musical back in December, she didn't really give it too much thought.

A friend coaxed her into trying out for the part of Annie, and she reluctantly added her name to the sign-up sheet taped outside Mr. Dumey's classroom.

All three of the girls can sing, a talent very necessary to a role that includes four songs.

Sami and Emily M. sign up for the first night of auditions. Emily G. takes the second night.

Mr. Dumey tapes black construction paper over the doors of his classroom so that students waiting for their turns in the hallway can't peek in. Three volunteer judges are spaced around the room, taking notes on each student.

Emily Meyers didn't sign up for the part of Molly, but after she's read from Annie's script, Mr. Dumey asks her to read some of the littlest orphan's lines too.

By the time she's through, Emily M. realizes that's the part she's most likely to get. It doesn't bother her too much. She's only a seventh-grader. There's always next year.

Not so for Emily Gerlach and Sami. Next year they'll be in high school, up against three grades' worth of older students vying for the best roles in any production.

They're among five girls who are called back for a second audition for the part of Annie on Feb. 10. Emily M. is called back for the part of Molly.

Callbacks are held in Mr. Dumey's room after school. Unlike auditions, the students are grouped together based on what part they've been called back for. All of the Annies try out one after the other.

Emily G. waits 30 minutes outside the classroom for her turn. She has a cold today. Her throat hurts. She gargles salt water before going through the double doors for her final chance at landing the role of Annie.

She performs the opening scene of the play for the three judges but doesn't sing as well as she did the day before. Singing is what she's best at, but her throat hurts. But kids get colds from time to time, and they get over them. The judges take that sort of thing into consideration, and Emily G. feels good about her callback.

But so does Sami. She didn't project her voice enough during her original audition for Annie, but during callbacks she nails the song "Tomorrow."

Tomorrow, Mr. Dumey will announce the cast for his spring musical. Tomorrow, he'll crush some students' hopes and send some students' starlit dreams soaring.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow! ...

335-6611, extension 128

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