WESTFIELD, NJ – McKinley Elementary School students, staff and parents reveled in the school’s annual McKinley Kapers musical with song, dance and a rollicking good time Friday night.

The show was held in the school’s gym at 500 First Street and will be performed again Saturday night at 5 p.m.

“It’s a 16-year tradition that has become almost a cornerstone of what it means to be a part of the McKinley community,” said Principal Marc Biunno, who had a main role in the production.

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Many area schools use a yearly show to help supplement their budgets while also building community and developing student confidence. Kapers, however, is not a fundraiser but mainly a vehicle to introduce students to performing. Students in grades three through five have the option to perform if they choose. Some children had speaking roles.

“It really is a great way to bring the theater to the kids,” said McKinley parent Jenny Tananbaum, who serves as director, producer and writer of the show with Jackie Weiner.

A live band led by musical director Don Tipton accompanied the performers, and McKinley alums returned to help work backstage, aid with lights and shepherd the current students.  

Making his debut in Kapers this year, third grader Nathan Welsh said he learned “don’t be shy” from the experience of singing and dancing on stage. He enjoyed being part of a smaller ensemble of third grade boys.

“There’s just a little bit of us, and we each get our own lines,” Nathan said.

Each year the production offers a moral, and this year’s centered on the students’ search to recover the answers to their many questions that were taken by a bright green-clad Riddler. In the end, the pupils discover that it’s okay to not to have the answers and that they can still grow just by asking questions.

Kapers also features routines for McKinley moms, dads and faculty. Principal Biunno believes it’s important to show the kids that the parents can have fun onstage and not take themselves too seriously.

“It’s certainly not my comfort zone, but we show the kids we get up there and have fun,” he said.

Nathan’s father, Ken Welsh, was among nine fathers who made up the Daddy Ohs. He heard about Kapers from his son’s friends' parents and decided to give it a try.

“I have no problem making a fool of myself, so it was an easy sell,” Welsh said, laughing.

One of the most humorous numbers was the Blues Mothers rendition “Mother’s Rhapsody,” adapted from music and lyrics by Queen and a spoof on a mother’s seemingly endless responsibilities.

All performers have spent months practicing for the big night. Under Tipton’s leadership, students practiced during their lunchtime beginning shortly after winter break.

Tipton began by playing tuba in the Kapers band when his son, now a junior in high school, was in fifth grade at McKinley. He has seen several alums go on to take part in theater in later grades.

“Some of them go on to … middle school and they get into these productions. This was probably their first experience,” he said.