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Murray Journal

Murray District students take to the stage this spring

Mar 02, 2020 11:02AM ● By Julie Slama

Parkside students rehearse a scene from “Alice in Wonderland” under the direction of Michelle Best, in front of last year’s “Seussical” backdrop. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Parkside sixth-grader Brenna Webster got the part she wanted – Queen of Hearts – in the upcoming children’s version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Wearing a shirt that read, “Queen of Everything,” Brenna took the school stage during rehearsal, not to practice her lines, but to fill in for an absent cast member.

“I had the shirt before I got the part,” she said, as her mother, Pam, who volunteers to run the show’s minus track, got a CD for the advanced dancers to rehearse. “I already memorized my lines and dances. I practice them with my mom. She’s making my costume, too.”

Brenna and about 45 Parkside Elementary students will take the stage in the school play at 6:30 p.m., March 19-20. 

Parkside is one of several Murray School District shows that will be performed in March. Riverview Junior High’s “Into the Woods, Jr.” will be at 7 p.m., March 12-14 and March 16. Hillcrest Junior High will perform the Broadway-version of “Peter Pan, Jr.” at 7 p.m., March 3-7 and Murray High students will take the stage with “Peter and the Starcatcher” at 7 p.m., March 19-23 in their Little Theatre.

The Parkside show, directed by Michelle Best, will be about 45 minutes long. A surprise guest appearance will be made in the role of author Lewis Carroll. Britney Lund is the assistant director, Cris Westerfield is overseeing the dancers and Elisabeth Best is helping with the music.

“The musical is special here,” Michelle Best said. “There are students who have been able to shine here even if they aren’t the ones who always are the top in the classroom. They’re learning empathy and confidence and the love of the arts. They’re here, being successful and are part of a group accomplishing something together.”

In addition, students are able to put skills they learn on the set — public speaking, projection, teamwork, communication, memorization — into their work in the classroom, she said.

“The best part of it is when it comes together, and I can see the pride and confidence on the kids’ faces,” Best said.

At Riverview Junior High, the $5 “Into the Woods, Jr.” tickets will be available at the door, with the first few rows of premium seating at $10.

“I love how involved, how unified the school has become around the musical,” Producer Monica Giles said.

Supporting the 75 students who are performing or on stage crew are the woodshop, which built sets; the art department, which painted the sets and posters to advertise the performance; and the student newspaper which previewed the show.

Giles said the show was selected for several reasons.

“It’s a fun show, with lots of parts and leading roles so we could include as many students as possible,” she said. “Plus, the junior version doesn’t include the dark characters, so it’s a family friendly show that lasts about an hour.”

Joining her with the show staff is director Jai-Dee Riches, choreographer Jen Davis and music director Evan Moss.

“It’s a very cute, fun show with songs you know,” Giles said. “We have great talent here.”

The talent also is deep at Hillcrest Jr. High as 140 cast and crew members, with most major roles double-casted, will perform “Peter Pan, Jr.” Not only was a play needed for a huge cast, but it also was the No. 1 choice in a survey given to students, faculty and staff.

Tickets for the show are $5 and are available by following the musical icon on the school’s website,, or at the door. The show is directed by Jessica Pearce, assistant directors Krystin Elder and Jen Allred-Salvesen; technical director Austin Woodall, choreographer Victoria Bean and guest choreographer Spencer Hohl.

“We’re approaching it as a concept play, so it begins with the recess bell and it takes place on a gigantic play set,” Pearce said, adding that the Darling children “fly” on swings and Peter Pan and Tinker Bell “fly” on the teetertotter.  

The nostalgia of fun extends to the costumes rented from Hale Center Theater Orem for the lead characters.

“They’re quirky and futuristic. It’s fun and it goes with the feeling of play,” she said.

To get into the feeling, she asked students to think back to the playground dynamics when they were first-graders to envision “the youth, joy and freedom.”

“There’s magic of make-believe, magic of storytelling, of remembering how to pretend,” Pearce said, adding that students read sections of the book and watched versions of the show.

The Hillcrest cast and crew will support nearby Murray High students in the Peter Pan prequel, “Peter and the Starcatcher” by sharing costumes and a trunk, which will be used as a prop in both shows. Both casts also will attend one another’s dress rehearsals.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” tickets in advance are $6 for students; $7 for adults; and $8 at the door.

“It’s a very creative show, engaging the actors with the audience’s imagination,” director Will Saxton said. “The students are really excited about it.”