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Little Ones Join High School Musical

Theater Program Expands to Include Elementary Students


Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center students were pitch perfect. Led by music teacher Tami Nelson, they walked the half-mile from their school to Lee Middle-High School to rehearse as sea creatures in the high-school musical, “The Little Mermaid, Jr.”

“Down here all the fish are happy, as off through the waves they roll. The fish on the land ain’t happy. They’re sad ’cause they’re in a bowl,” they sang as they walked.

Minutes later, the children were up on stage, joined by Lee High School senior Leo Vallejo, who plays Sebastian the Jamaican crab, as dancers and chorus members for the recent production of “Little Mermaid, Jr.”

Kaylee Ochoa makes a happy squid
Kaylee Ochoa makes a happy squid

As fish, crabs, clams and sharks, the 10 second-graders, one first-grader and one kindergartner are part of the high-school cast for the numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Seven Godfrey Elementary fifth-grade students play seagulls and sailors. The musical, a version of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” adapted from Disney’s 2008 Broadway production, is 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 at Lee Middle/High School, 1335 Lee St. SW, in Wyoming, Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students & children.

“We just swim around and dance and sing,” said second-grader Rebekkah Puite.

“My favorite part is dancing!” exclaimed second-grader Abigail Hernandez, moving her hands like a clam opening and closing its shell.

“It’s my first play ever. I plan to go to Hollywood and become famous,” said second-grader Aaliyah Wheeler, who plays a crab.

Tami Nelson, music teacher for ECC, and Principal Pete Geerling joined forces with McGee to get the children involved. It’s an exciting experience for them, Nelson said. “This is: ‘You’re in a play, a musical. You have to know your part and your character.'”

Abigail Hernandez dances in “Little Mermaid, Jr.
Abigail Hernandez dances in “Little Mermaid, Jr.

Making It A District-Wide Event

It’s the first time elementary students have been involved in the Godfrey-Lee theater program. Each year, Director Kelly McGee, staff members and student actors produce a full-scale musical on a shoestring budget on stage in the high-school gymnasium.

McGee and Dan Townsend, director of technology, resurrected theater seven years ago after 15 years without plays and musicals in the small district where there is no auditorium. Beginning with their inaugural show, “Grease!,” people have packed the gymnasium each year to watch.

McGee has always wanted to establish the musical as a district production, but it didn’t work until now. Including elementary-student actors builds the program for the future, he said, and it helps students to learn to be comfortable on stage and in front of an audience.

“It’s more powerful than people think, losing that fear to present in front of people and not being afraid to let who you are out,” she said. “That’s the magic of theater.”

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SNN Article on Godfrey-Lee Theater Director

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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