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RHS returns to stage with ‘Guys and Dolls Jr.’

When the curtains closed after this past year’s performance of “Frozen Jr.,” the high school cast did not know that would be the last show to take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One year later, the curtain is finally rising again as this year’s cast will be stage the first live performance of the year.

“Guys and Dolls Jr.” will premiere March 12 for its first show at 5:30 p.m., followed by another show at 7:30 p.m. The next shows will be March 14 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., with no shows Saturday to allow student athletes in the show to participate in both.

“I can’t talk about it without tearing up,” said RHS drama teacher Patrice Smith. “It’s something you work so hard for that means so much to you, and then it is taken away from you, and you might never get it back. Now we have it back, and we are not taking it for granted.”

Smith said when the school year started, unknowns abounded as to whether there would be a musical in the spring at all, let alone if it would be in person.

“It’s moved from ‘I wish we could’ to ‘I think we can’ to ‘maybe we will,’ and now finally it is ‘we’re going to have it,'” Smith said. “COVID has touched every part of this show, except for the fact that we are going to have it.”

One student who is appreciative of the effort it took to make the show happen is senior Braden Bales, who has been performing in musicals for Russellville since sixth grade.

“There was a major fear in it,” Bales said. “It is great to be able to perform every year, and to have that thought in the back of your head that you might not get to do this, to work with your friends and work with your favorite teachers, hurts because you’ve done it for so long.

“There’s like this pain that sits there, knowing this is your senior year and you’re not ever going to get to do this again. I am very thankful for everything that went into making this show happen.”

RHS vocal teacher Emily Rush said she and Smith have found a way to make the show work no matter the obstacles.

“We have done crazier things,” Smith said. “We made it snow last year, and this year we are having a show during a pandemic.”

Two full casts have prepared for the show in case someone gets sick or is quarantined.

Ticket sales will be limited to allow the audience to social distance.

Smith said the show was pushed back to March instead of the usually February slot to increase the likelihood of the show happening.

“I just did not want to have something happen and us have to cancel,” Smith said. “I’d hate for our kids to go through all of this and then have something else taken away from them.”

Rush said although pushing the show back allowed for extra time, it also brought a new set of issues in having to “compete” with spring sports, in which many of the show’s cast members are involved.

“You start getting fearful because you see these different kids’ faces pop in your mind, and you think ‘Oh no, they’re going to have to choose,’ and we’ve never done that before,” Smith said.

Rush said she and Smith worried about the students having to choose between two hobbies, but they also worried about how it would affect the show quality.

“You can’t help but think about all of these students that make up a big part of our cast and how they are just as good on the stage as they are out on the athletic field,” Rush said. “To lose that would be devastating.”

After talking to the school coaches about the show, a decision was made to hold the show around sports schedules.

“I don’t know why we were shocked that it worked out because it always happens, and it has for years,” Smith said.

Brayden Heaps is one of the many students having to work the show around sports, having a lead role in the show while also playing varsity baseball.

“I’m very impressed with how we’ve been able to work around this to not have any confrontations involving having a play and maybe a game on the same day,” Heaps said.

Rush said everything has come together despite all of the obstacles to make the show happen, something which is not lost on her or the students.

“Last year we were about to have our performance in the middle school when everything began with the pandemic,” Rush said. “All of the students were ready with costumes, and we had signs and programs printed up that are still sitting in there. We thought we would get to come back and have the show, but it never happened.”

Smith said the teachers and students appreciated the show before, but it is a different feeling now after realizing how quickly it can be taken away.

“This one will be special because we have had to work really hard for this one,” Smith said. “We work hard for all of them, but this one was different. There was a lot that we went through to get here, and we are just glad we can finally see the end and that it was all worth it.”

Tickets for Guys and Dolls Jr. will be available for pre-sale beginning March 5 in the high school office. Tickets will also be sold at the door. Tickets are $5 for school age and older.

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