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Cast members of ''Catch Me If You Can'' practice a musical number after school for the upcoming show. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

Bob Jones students work tirelessly to present ‘Catch Me If You Can’ in April

MADISON — It’s no secret that the award-winning Bob Jones High School drama department always puts on a good show.

In preparation for their big spring musical, students at Bob Jones have been honing their singing voices, dancing skills and acting chops since August to put on a show that the community will want to be sure to catch.

“Catch Me If You Can” will star Justin Peel as Frank Abagnale Jr., a con man who runs away from home and ends up chasing his dreams while keeping the FBI busy chasing him—that is, until he finds love in Brenda, played by Regan Harris.

Justin Peel, far left, rehearses for his role as Frank Abagnale Jr. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

“Frank Jr. is just a kid who’s really confused, and so he thought that the only way kind of to escape from his reality of his parents getting divorced and stuff was to basically lie and steal—the only thing that his father kind of taught him growing up,” Peel explained.

The character of Brenda is a nurse who, when Frank Jr. meets her, sets off a chain of events that brings him to the end of the road in his life of crime. “I’m kind of the reason that he decides he wants to stop being a con artist, and that’s when his problems kind of catch up to him,” Harris said.

Michael Willis plays Agent Carl Hanratty, a sort of conglomeration of several FBI agents who worked to capture the real Frank Jr.—particularly Agent Joseph Shea. Willis said Hanratty serves as Frank Jr.’s main adversary in the musical.

Willis, center, will play FBI Agent Carl Hanratty. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

Student involvement goes deeper than the actors, though. The set is made and built from scratch, and some props and costume parts were student-made as well. Two students, Nolen Gunner and Olivia Knowling, also worked together to choreograph the entire show.

Gunner said she and Knowling spent countless hours after school listening to music and bouncing ideas off each other. Knowling said they drew most of their inspiration from Broadway. From there, they were able to get ideas for certain dances and use that as a foundation on which they could build their own dance numbers. During one number, “Butter Outta Cream,” the dancers use large Vegas-style feather fans that they—and several other students—spent hours making.

Students practice ”Butter Outta Cream” with the fans they made at an after-school rehearsal. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

“The showgirl number with the fans is definitely unique,” Knowling said.

With this show, both Gunner and Knowling said they were able to use a wider variety of dancing, which they are excited for the audience to see.

“This show is way different than the one we did before (Thoroughly Modern Millie),” Gunner said. “The one we did before was set in the ‘20s, and so this time we had more leeway with what kind of dancing we could do, so we really tried to showcase what the feature dancers could do and ensemble could do, so I think that I’m excited that they can really see that our school is talented.”

With so many moving pieces in “Catch Me If You Can”—mainly, a cast of more than 60 students both in and out of drama—the show needs strong leaders to make sure objectives are met and everything runs smoothly so that the final product is the best it can be. That’s where Amber Blackmon and Kafui Sakyi-Addo come into play.

As the student producer and student director, respectively, Blackmon and Sakyi-Addo said working together on the musical since August as often as six days a week has given all students the chance to overcome challenges that have helped them grow both individually and as a “family.”

“It’s been really cool watching just from auditions and kind of how everyone was in their summer mode to ‘O.K., it’s down to the nitty-gritty. It’s time to get the show ready,’” Blackmon said. “… There’s kids in this show that’s never been in a drama class before, and then there’s kids in this show that are in the highest-level drama we have. We open it to the entire school, and we have some people that come in and just ‘wow’ us, and there’s been a few kids, actually, that’s came in and wowed us this year.”

When rehearsals for the musical began in August, Sakyi-Addo said only certain students rehearsed together at a time. In smaller numbers, they were able to fine-tune specific parts and delve deep into a scene before bringing it all together. Over time, rehearsals got larger and larger until they involved everyone. “I think because we started out small, they all know exactly what they need to do, and they’re all pulling their weight so the show can be incredible,” she said.

On a personal level, Sakyi-Addo added that serving as student director has helped her grow stronger in her leadership skills. Now, she said she feels “a lot more confident” in leading a group of people. On a similar note, Blackmon said she learned how to handle a wide variety of tasks and find a good balance in her life. She added that keeping up good grades and staying out of trouble are stipulations that all students involved in the show have to follow.

The actors have grown in their skills as well. For Peel, taking on the role of Frank Jr. challenged him to portray two very different sides of his character. “He kind of puts on this face of spectacular and miraculous kind of stuff, but on the inside he’s really lonely and hurting, so it’s really hard to portray that kind of facade but also portray the hurt at the same time,” he said.

Willis said the music, while fun, was difficult to learn and master. “I think the music in this musical is very challenging, not only for me, but I know the ensemble parts—the harmonies are really difficult to learn sometimes … but it’s also very fun, so you kind of take the challenge in stride,” he explained.

The music was something that initially drew drama teacher Mary Davis into “Catch Me If You Can.” While helping her daughter look into soprano music she could use to build her audition portfolio, Davis said she came across Brenda’s solo: “Fly, Fly Away.”

After looking more into the music and the musical itself, Davis said she knew it was the one she wanted the students to bring to life as this year’s spring musical. Like Willis, she acknowledged that the music was particularly difficult.

“This music is so hard,” she said. “My music director … he calls it ‘Hairspray on steroids.’ It’s written by the same person that composed ‘Hairspray,’ so there’s some similarities. You can hear them from time to time, but the harmonies are insanely difficult.”

This show also incorporates more dancing than past shows, Davis said—“big, big, big dance numbers.” Peel said he is excited for the audience to see the show’s “really fun” and “really eye-catching” opening number.

“Most of those kids have never tapped before in their life, so for them to all of a sudden be doing these huge tap numbers that people will take dance for years to learn has been pretty intense, but it’s great,” she added.

The message of the show was something else that resonated with Davis and many of the cast members.

“I think this musical has a really strong message of love, which sounds corny, but the character of Frank Jr. really goes on this tumultuous journey,” Willis said. “He comes from a broken home, and he’s really trying to find himself in the world, but at the end of the day his family is what he has, and that’s what he clings to.”

Davis said she was “intrigued” by the show, especially being based on the life of a real man who is still living today. For her, Frank’s story of redemption—leaving behind his life of crime to live as an honest man—is something that drew her in, and she said it is a story that can help the audience to “appreciate and cherish” what they already have.

“I love that there’s redemption,” she said. “At the end, it talks about how he pays back every penny that he ever stole, and he did his time and then helped the FBI, and so I think it’s really cool how he learned a lesson through hardship and then still came out and made it positive.”

Despite all the extra time and stress involved, the students expressed a high level of excitement to share their hard work with the community. Sakyi-Addo said she hopes the story will suck the audience in and make them feel like they are a part of it. “I really just want the audience to feel that, as well as feel like these kids have worked so hard because they really have.”

“These kids have been keeping their grades up, and they’re amazing people, and they’ve worked really, really hard just to make people laugh in some scenes—and cry at a scene, maybe—but I just hope they take back that these kids are really hard workers, and they’re amazing,” Blackmon added.

The show will run April 4-6 at 7 p.m. in the Bob Jones auditorium at 650 Hughes Rd. There will also be a matinee on Saturday, April 6, at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and military, and $10 for students. They are available now from students and online at showtix4u.com/events/16115. They will also be available at the door. Blackmon said proceeds will support the drama department and help them put on their next big show. Davis added that these shows cost thousands of dollars to put on each year, and a huge chunk of that comes from previous ticket proceeds.

View the show’s commercial, which Sakyi-Addo filmed and edited, on Facebook. For more information, photos and videos, visit facebook.com/BobJonesMusical2019.

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