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RCS prepares for full performing arts season

“It’s always show time with us. We stay busy. That’s the way we like it.”

This is how Patrice Smith thinks about the drama and music program in Russellville City Schools. She and choral directory Emily Rush are certainly busy this semester with a full slate of performances planned – including, unconventionally, a full spring musical for the high school.

First on the schedule will be Disney Dazzle, which will train the spotlight on sixth grade students Feb. 23.

“We’ve had a 6th grade program before, but this year we actually have a class for 6th grade,” Rush said. The centerpieces of the show are two ten-minute Disney medleys, and the program will feature solos as well as ensembles. “It’s all those classic Disney princess movies mashed together. It starts out with ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and it has some ‘Aladdin’ in it, it’s got ‘The Little Mermaid’ – but it’s not just the princess. It ends with the Genie’s song from ‘Aladdin,’ so it’s really fun.”

March 23-24 will be the spring high school musical, “Into the Woods Jr.” Smith said they wanted to choose something different from the fall production of “Mary Poppins.” Although RCS typically doesn’t take on a spring musical in addition to the fall music, Smith said it took about five minutes for her and Rush to decide to add the show, adding another opportunity to showcase their students’ talent.

“We were ready for a show that would let some of these students show their individual talents. ‘Into the Woods’ has 21 soloists,” Smith said. “It’s one of those shows you can’t find very often because it’s difficult to find such a large cast where they all have hefty parts.”

Smith said she and Rush were also attracted to the storyline, the way multiple fairytales are woven together in a fresh and unfamiliar way. “It’s going to be exciting for our audiences to figure out, as we go through, how the characters relate to each other and find their way in and out of the woods and in and out of their troubles with the help of each other.”

The beautiful, “infectious” music was also appealing, Smith said.

“The music is really great,” Rush agreed. “It’s a different pace of show than what we’ve done in the past. I love it – I love the characters, and I’ve loved the music for a really long time.”

Casting for “Into the Woods” began Friday.

In April audiences will be treated to the middle school spring musical, “Honk.” Smith said this show is probably one of the less-familiar titles RCS has brought to the stage, but it’s a good fit for their program and is a highly-awarded show in the U.K. She expects it to be well-received, the same way audiences loved when the students performed the lesser-known “Once on this Island.”

“Every now and then you have to have a little palate-cleanser – something fresh and new,” Smith said. The show is a musical re-telling of the classic “The Ugly Duckling” and shares some pertinent themes. “It lends itself so well to young audiences and young performers because the universal theme of the show is to be yourself and love who you are no matter what,” Smith said. “Our kids go through that. Middle school is such a time of change for them: they are looking for themselves and trying to figure things out, just like how the title character Ugly is trying to find his way.”

Sixty-two seventh and eighth grade students will perform in “Honk” April 27-28.

“I think it’s a perfect fit for our kids,” Rush agreed. She said she thinks the audience will enjoy the humor.

Summer Slam will be held May 18 or May 25 depending on whether the Russellville Golden Tigers baseball team returns to state.

“That’s our big, end-of-the-year fun concert,” Smith said. “This will be our ninth Summer Slam.”

The performs involves all performing arts students in 6-12th grades.

Smith said although she had Rush had reservations when the RCS Board of Education decided to expand performing arts offerings this year – uncertainties about how timing would pan out –Superintendent Heath Grimes and the school board have made every effort to meet challenges head-on and ensure the program’s success. “I don’t know how they made it work, but I am so thankful they did,” Smith said. “Mr. Grimes really had that vision. He wanted this to continue from the middle school level to the high school level, and he did whatever he needed to do for our kids, to make it happen.”