MONTVILLE, NJ - Robert R. Lazar Middle School held its spring musical production at Montville Twp. High School on March 28 and 29. The play was known as "Guys n' Dolls Jr.," a middle school take on the 1950 classic Broadway musical, based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. The book of “Guys n’ Dolls, Jr.” was adapted from a book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling.

“I’m really glad I got the role,” said 13-Year-old seventh grader Max Iaci, from Montville, who played gambler Nathan Detroit. “The role has a lot of lines. It’s a good opportunity to be someone you’re not and to have people wonder if you’re lying or not. I’m also really glad that everyone has the same opportunity.”

Thirteen-year-old seventh grader Joe Amoroso also was happy to be a part of the production, despite the difficulties of his part.

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Prior to his debut, Amoroso, who played the main character Sky Masterson, said, “I think it’s going to go great and it’s been a big blast. It was a little hard getting down how my character acts and talks so I watched a lot of movies about the play to get in the zone. We had to change some notes in the songs that were too low for my voice. The dancing came easy.”

“Guys n’ Dolls Jr.” follows the same storyline of gamblers in 1930s New York City, trying to score big through underground craps gaming. At its center, it is an unforgettable romantic comedy of people trying to settle romantic dilemmas, while resolving old habits that die hard… and comedically.

To fit the atmosphere of a middle school production, much of the play was readjusted, taking out material that was deemed inappropriate and more suitable for adults. This version of the original musical was eventually reduced by one hour.

And for two nights, the cast and crew of “Guys n’ Dolls Jr.” performed to as many as 1,000 spectators. Mia Grillo was another 13-year-old seventh grade veteran performer who “had a blast” standing in front of such large crowds, playing the missionary Sara Brown.

“I like the songs for they fit me very well,” said Grillo. “It’s a little hard but you get used to it with practice. Plus, the teachers are nice and supporting. They critique your performance and offer advice. They also support in life. Furthermore, you get to hang out with your friends.”

Of course, the road to a successful production did have its speed bumps. For many weeks, kids would come to the high school, practicing frequent dance numbers, memorizing lines, and even going as far as learning the accents and slang terms of 1930s New York City. But nothing could dampen the spirits and work ethic of the Lazar students. For them, the musical was more of a vacation than an after school activity.

Even for newcomers to the middle school’s drama events, such as 12-year-old seventh grader Josh Bienskie, who plays gambler Benny Southstreet, found a new place to have fun and find acceptance.

“This year, I got a cool supporting role,” said Bienskie. “The solos in the songs are kind of hard, and there’s a lot of lines to memorize. But overall, it’s really fun.”

And the audience members also had fun. Some spectators, young and old, came for both nights, such as Montville resident Mary Megala.

“They raised the bar this year higher than middle school level,” said Megala, who works as a para professional at Lazar. “There are great dances. The kids are very professional and talented, and definitely very dedicated. And the kids just love to do this and want to be there. You can see it on their faces.”

After the final show, things got a little emotional, as cast and crew invited their teachers and directors on stage to congratulate them for their leadership and guidance during the spring musical. This year, the musical was led by choreographer Maria Heyburn, who is a dance teacher at Lazar; director Jamie Novak, who is a Spanish teacher at Lazar; and director Rebecca Friedman, who is a special education teacher at Lazar.

“I am so proud to be a part of this year’s show, Guys and Dolls Jr.,” said Friedman, who has been directing musicals at Lazar for three years. “It’s amazing to be able to work with such a large group of talented students. They’ve put in a massive number of hours learning and rehearsing, preparing for their big performance, and I know the audience is going to be blown away by them. Having music and theater in our school is just so important, for a variety of academic and social reasons. Not only does being part of a theater production provide an opportunity to practice literacy and music skills, there are aspects of the show that incorporate science, technology, art, and languages. The kids get to be a part of something that matters to them, which builds both their peer relationships and their sense of pride in the school and themselves. Parents have even told us that their students don’t want to miss school, because it would mean missing rehearsals. Theater builds community for the students on the stage, behind the scenes, and those who come to watch in the audience. Not to mention, this show is absolutely tons of fun! We’ve all been working hard and enjoying putting this great show together.”

Heyburn has choreographed musicals at Lazar for three years, while Novak has been directing musical at the middle school for 14 years.

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