This weekend, 100 kids from the Hoboken school district will perform the Broadway musical Peter Pan to an expected 800 attendees each night.
The 1954 musical follows lovable leader of the lost boy Peter Pan, and Wendy, John, and Michelle [changed from Michael in the original] Darling on their journey as the fly to Neverland, explore the island, and battle pirates.
According to Director Danielle Miller, Peter Pan was chosen because she purposely tries to choose plays that can have as many children participate as possible.
“Every year we pick a musical we can elaborate on and have a large ensemble,” said Miller. “We want to be able to have as many students participate as possible. We would never pick a show like Annie, which you think sounds great for example, because apart from the scenes in the orphanage, there are not many parts which the whole ensemble could be in.”
Miller said Hoboken is one of the only districts in the country to perform district-wide plays, with children from kindergarten to 12th grade.
“Most individual schools in a district perform plays,” she said. “It’s very rare that a whole district comes together for a single production. I think we are one of the few that does it in the country and I know we are the only one in the state.”
Over 170 students auditioned for the production, which began rehearsals eight weeks ago after school.
Miller said making cuts is difficult and she tries to be fair. She only assesses students on their audition and not necessarily on prior experience.
According to Miller, being in the production is not only a learning experience and opportunity for young actors to perform, but she also has student volunteers who create all the sets, buy and create props, and assist with costumes and actors backstage.
Miller said that the biggest challenge is the size of the production.
“It’s become so large, and it’s a blessing, but it’s also really difficult because we have three adults and 100 kids to manage,” said Miller. “That’s about 30 kids per adult.”
Students from the district have won several awards in the past for their acting chops.
Theater programs at Hoboken High have won many awards. The students from the High School Drama Club for children in seventh through twelfth grade had three top 10 finishes in the 2017 Speech and Theater Association of New Jersey’s Governor’s Award Competition at Rutgers recently. The drama and backstage clubs also took home 12 overall medals at the NJ Thespian Festival held at Robbinsville High School. The high school has also won awards from Pepper Mill Playhouse.
Behind the scenes
According to the actress behind Peter Pan, junior Hannah Mack, flying is her favorite part of the role, but it is not as easy as thinking happy thoughts.
“I’ve actually had to do a lot of core training,” said Mack. “I now wake up in the mornings and exercise and eat better. The role has forced me to be healthier.”
According to Mack, her Arial stunts including swimming through the air, back flips, and general balancing, requiring a lot of abdominal strength.
Mack said she was honored and humbled to receive the role as Peter Pan and was very surprised when she got a callback -- but it was also daunting trying to fill the shoes.
“It’s daunting to know so many kids onstage and in the audience know the story and grew up loving Peter Pan,” said Mack who cut her hair for the role.
Mack said her most difficult task of getting into character was remembering not to be too animated.
“There’s a line between what an animated cartoon would do and how a real person would be animated and if you’re to animated it looks like you are overacting,” she said. “You have to find your own twist… I am definitely more of a goofy Peter Pan than a serious one.”
Kendell McDonough, a Wallace fifth grader who plays one of the Lost Boys, said she finds acting like a boy to be the most challenging.
“For me it’s a little hard because I have to try and be a boy and my voice is a little higher than a boys and I’m pretty cheerful so I have to remind myself a lot to act more like a boy but I think I’m doing well,” said McDonough.
Camila Torres, a third grader from Wallace, plays Michelle Darling, the youngest of the darling siblings.
In order to get into character she said she studies her little brother.
“I try to act like a little kid so I follow my little brother around,” said Torres, who added this is her first time as a lead in a play, “but the older kids really help me.”
Eighth grader Sofia Melfi plays Wendy Darling and said she identifies with her character’s “motherly” characteristics.
“Wendy is supposed to act as a motherly figure,” said Melfi.“ She likes to read and knit and look after Michelle and John, and in rehearsals I feel sisterly and motherly. I try to help the other kids, and if I knew how to knit, I would.”
Melfi said she was apprehensive when she first tried to fly.
“I’m actually scared of heights,” said Melfi, who now has the hang of it. “I’ll never forget the look on his [Jackson Kim’s] face when he first flew.”
Jackson Kim, a fourth grader from Wallace School, plays John Darling.
“It’s so much fun,” he said of flying. “Flying is really fun, but one tip for flying -- don’t jump.”
According to Miller, tickets are nearly sold out.
“We have about 25 percent of tickets left for the shows,” said Miller, who recommends not waiting to buy them at the door.
Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students and seniors. They can be purchased online at hhsnj.booktic.com.
Performances are May 19 at 7 p.m., May 20 at 2 p.m. and May 21 at 2 p.m. in the Hoboken High School Auditorium at 800 Clinton St.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.