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Cortez Middle School’s musical theater production teaches confidence, commitment

Brian Sanders as Fagin and Landon Hurst as Nippers in Cortez Middle School’s production of “Oliver! Jr.” (Courtesy photo)
Nearly 70 students participate, with help from family

Montezuma-Cortez Middle School’s musical theater program has been running for more than eight years now, and it has no intention of slowing down.

The program recently completed its ninth show Nov. 4-5, and director Angela Gabardi and musical director Marla Sitton said 67 CMS students participated.

The show, “Oliver! Jr.,” was a take on the classic play “Oliver Twist.” Each semester, the play is selected based on the children who are involved or new students who might decide to participate.

“We pick shows that’ll interest the kids, challenge the kids, and also things we can do as far as sets and costumes and stuff like that,” Gabardi said.

The Cortez Middle School cast and crew of “Oliver! Jr.” (Courtesy photo)

Because of the number of boys interested in being in one of the program’s musicals, Oliver! Jr. was chosen for the fall semester.

“We had a large population of boys who had been interested in musicals, so Oliver! Jr. is a nice show to showcase not only some of our strong female leads and roles, but it also gave our gentlemen a chance to really dive into musical theater too,” Gabardi said.

The program has received support from the high school band, choir and drama program, which Sitton and Gabardi said has encouraged younger students.

“It’s really cool to see the middle school program and high school program have a sense of community too,” Gabardi said.

During opening weekend, the play drew nearly 600 community members, family and friends.

“Not only was Marla teaching them pretty challenging music, and not only were they diving into some darker characters than we’ve had before, but they also had to do that while speaking in a Cockney accent,” Gabardi said. “We had to dive in there pretty deep too. We were trying to run rehearsals speaking in a Cockney accent. We had a lot of fun.”

Gabardi and Sitton pointed out that shows are student-run, with help from parents and guardians.

“It’s just fun to get to collaborate with these amazing kids and amazing parents,” Gabardi said. “We did say it’s 100% student-produced, but we have outstanding parents and guardians who come in and hang out with us. We had probably at least 20 parents, brothers, and grandparents who hung out with us the whole tech week and through the shows and help with ticket sales and stuff. I think that’s my favorite thing is just how it builds this community.”

To Sitton, teaching musical theater with one of her former students has been one of the most memorable parts of her involvement. She has been a teacher in Cortez for nearly 28 years.

“I was actually Angela’s teacher at the high school, so it’s really fun for me to get to work with my former favorite student and now she’s one of my best friends,” Sitton said. “I really enjoy working with the kids and watching their growth because some of them start out, and we put some of them in a character where they’re like, ‘There is no way I’m going to be able to do that,’ and then it gets right down to it and they just knock it out of the park.”

To Gabardi and Sitton, musical theater means much more than just putting on a play. It’s a way for students to learn teamwork, collaboration, commitment and hard work while growing confidence in their abilities.

“I would hope that they would gain a confidence in themselves that they did not come in with,” Sitton said. “I hope they would gain confidence within themselves that carries on into other things.”

She also talked about the emphasis they place on commitment.

“If you’re going to start something you need to see it through,” she said.

The next CMS musical theater production will take place in March – “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing,” from Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer.