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Junior High School Musical: Can cast climb ev’ry mountain?
Stage » Before opening night, questions about commitment, drama over onstage kisses, swastikas in the boys bathroom, sleepless nights and tears.

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All through February, Kearl tries to help Abi and Eden get comfortable with embracing their captains in the scene where they decide to get married. The first time they try it, Josh keeps his hands in fists, Abi keeps her sweatshirt sleeves over her hands, and the whole thing appears more like two football players congratulating each other.

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How the snippets became a story

Editor’s note: Elaine Jarvik knew she wanted to tell a backstage story after watching granddaughter Morgan Birch perform as Dorothy in the 2010 production of Clayton Middle School’s “The Wizard of Oz.” To write “The sound of being 14,” Jarvik followed the production for two months, from the posting of audition notices through rehearsals and performances, interviewing actors, parents and volunteers, even trailing the two young Marias as they got haircuts for the role.

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Climb ev’ry mountain • And so the rehearsals proceed. And at each one, Kearl and volunteer choreographer Melanie Robbins and chorus teacher Michelle Dodge get the students one step closer. It’s time now for the subtleties: how to pause longer between a line to suggest hesitation, how to sip a cup of pretend coffee as if it were hot.

Kearl turns to the leads who are sitting in the first few rows of seats. Keep your hands out of your pockets onstage, she tells them. Don’t laugh when you’re not supposed to be laughing. Stay in character, she reminds them over and over, especially to the two dozen rambunctious boys who are Nazi soldiers.

Still, onstage during an all-day rehearsal at the end of February, the Nazis slouch and smirk. In the back of the auditorium, when they’re supposed to be quietly watching the play, one of them pulls on the skin of his neck and makes animal noises, and another gets out a tennis ball and throws it against the wall. The din and the bouncing get louder.

Later in the day, the school’s principal, Linda Richins, makes an announcement: Someone has been drawing swastikas in the boys bathrooms. "I don’t know if you understand what that symbol means to people," she says. "It’s a very bad part of human history."

But along the way there are also small victories. "See this boy," says Kim Sheffield, the Parent Teacher Student Association president and mother of a baroness, pointing to the cast bios posted along the auditorium walls. "He would never hang out with that boy or that girl if it weren’t for this play."

Later in the week, the two Marias get their long locks cut off so they’ll look more like the iconic Maria, Julie Andrews. Abi has watched the movie version of the musical so many times in her life, says her mother, that "it’s in her DNA."

Abi, considered one of the best 8th-grade soccer goalies in the state, had expected to get a minor role when she auditioned for the play in November. Eden, who has always loved being onstage, has never sung a solo part before.

The Marias have become best friends over the past two months. At random times during their ordinary life, they find themselves speaking with clipped European vowels.

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They bought a special notebook just for the two of them, where they write down their favorite "Sound of Music" lines, and some poems about being Maria. "Eden’s poem is so epic it isn’t funny," says Abi. It’s a long poem that includes these lines:

The one whose love for the Captain is oh so very strong,

The one with 11 clothes changes and nearly 20 songs.


The one who found out what "Climb Every Mountain" meant.

"That’s the deep part," Eden says.

One week of rehearsals left, and there are still missed cues, slow costume changes, off-pitch, painful harmonies, and scenery that takes much too long to move off the stage. The show threatens to clock in at four hours.

At the end of the week, there are tears in the auditorium: Seventh-grader Erik Hulbert’s mother died that morning of cancer.

Till you find your dream • Suddenly, it’s opening night. Eden’s voice, so scratchy from a cold the day before that she couldn’t sing, is on the mend. Kearl is in the wings, stage right, to help move scenery and be ready with a cue if needed.

The house lights dim. A church bell chimes three times. Then three more. Spotlights shine on the four nuns: Camille Jackson, Liv Hunter, Judy Vo and Mother Superior Emma Gleave.

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