SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Helmetta Mayor Chris Slavicek is affectionately known as Mr. Chris by present and past members of the Appleby School Drama Club. Slavicek has directed most Appleby alumni for the last 18 years in the school's annual fifth grade play. Despite Milltown Mel's forecast of an early spring, winter will be sticking around until April thanks to the 2020 Appleby Drama Club production of Disney's Frozen Jr. The curtain rises on a four performance run on April 23, April 24 and April 25. Slavicek hosts a special dress rehearsal on Wednesday, April 22 for the community's senior citizens.
April's four performance run is the culmination of months of hard work that begins right after students return from winter break. Tryouts are always held in December prior to the start of vacation. The excitement and anticipation is always high when it comes to the unveiling of the selection for the drama club's annual production. Slavicek made the announcement during the Spotswood School District's Walk to School Day in the fall.
"Frozen Jr. is a new release and with the popularity and hype, it seems like just the right fit," Slavicek said of this year's choice.
Juliana Ziegler will be playing Anna while Nicole Scarfone will take on the role of Elsa. Dillon Schmitz will be everyone's favorite snowman Olaf. The trio will be surrounded by a cast and crew of enthusiastic and talented fifth graders. Participation in the play is voluntary though most fifth grade students either try out for a speaking part or join the ensemble. Being a part of the back stage crew is also an option if students aren't quite comfortable getting up on stage to sing and dance. The experience is a memorable one for students.
"I can only hope the students take away a profound understanding of the performing arts," Slavicek said when asked what he hopes students take away from the fifth grade play. "But most importantly, life lessons such as public speaking, discipline, confidence, respect and commitment. It brings tears to my eyes to see the meek, mellow students explore and step outside their comfort zone."
Ask most Spotswood High School students from Spotswood or Helmetta about the Appleby School fifth grade play, and they will fondly recall their play year whether it was Beauty and the Beast Jr or Willy Wonka Jr. Each play has something special that makes it unique to that particular fifth grade class. So what bit of magic can the audience expect to find with the upcoming production of Frozen Jr?
"The story is endearing; a beautiful love story, but between two sisters," Slavicek said. "Audience members should look forward to a 'chilling' experience...can't give away the secrets, but get ready to 'Let Yourself Go' in the magic."
This production is Slavicek's 18th. His day job includes being the mayor of Helmetta and the Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Chelsea Senior Living. Slavicek works to oversee 22 independent living, assisted living and memory care communities throughout New Jersey and New York with the goal of delivering superior customer service and quality care to the aging population in both states. What keeps him coming back to direct the fifth grade play year after year?
"It is truly a labor of love," Slavicek said. "The community gives so much to me that I feel it is my way to give back."
"Over the past 18 years, I've had the pleasure of working with generations of students/families through the program," the Helmetta native continued. "The camaraderie and relationships grow stronger each year. The fifth grade play is a huge part of my life personally and allows me to be at the helm of something that brings joy to me."
"The productions wouldn't be to the caliber in which they are without the countless hours of dedication from so many talented volunteers throughout the years," Slavicek added. "I am blessed to have a team alongside me that makes my vision a reality each and every year. For this, I am grateful."
While the Garden State enjoys a taste of spring this week, snow will remain in the forecast at Appleby until April when the curtain at the Spotswood High School Cafetorium rises on the four performance run of Frozen Jr. The question on everyone's mind until then is a simple one, "Do you want to build a snowman?"