Kenai Middle schoolers are making final adjustments to their musical “Moana” before opening night.
Brain Lyke, the director of the show and a drama and language arts teacher at Kenai Middle, said the inspiration for taking on the spring musical came from his 5-year-old daughter — who went through a phase of watching the Disney movie every week.
“The songs and the story have such an uplifting message for kids this age,” Lyke said.
The story follows Moana, a young heiress to a Polynesian kingdom, as she tries to save her island from a curse cast by mythical monsters beyond the reef of her community.
Lyke said the story resonates with him as a middle school teacher, since he wants his students to have the courage to face their fears and even leave home when they have to.
To him, the motif of the story can be summed up simply: “Your destiny is out there.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, last year Lyke and his students produced “The Lion King Jr.” as a film. This year, the kids are back live.
“This whole school year has been one of transition and change,” Lyke said. “I’m so pleased that things kind of cleared out in time for us to give these students the chance to do a live musical.”
Tammy Vollom is the music director of the show, as well as the choir director at Kenai Middle School. During a dress rehearsal Wednesday she said the song and dance elements of the production have been fun to work on.
“We’ve been slowly, progressively learning the music because it is a lot different from the movies and the lines,” Vollom said. “And we have a fantastic choreographer, and so the dancing is new.”
She said the familiarity that many of the kids have with the story has made it easier for the show to come together. That, and the students’ work ethic.
“The students have really been working hard, and sometimes I step back and I (say) ‘wow, these are seventh and eighth graders’,” Vollom said. “Some of the stuff that is happening blew me away.”
Annemarie Lacy, a seventh grader, is a dancer in the show, primarily playing the characters of Te Fiti and Te Kā. Te Fiti is a goddess of Polynesia who gives life to the islands, but when demigod Maui steals her heart, she becomes Te Kā — a demon of earth and fire.
Lacy said expressing her characters through dance has been the best part of the experience.
“For me, especially being Te Fiti and Te Kā, I just move my body in ways that represent a goddess, and then I shift so drastically to this monster,” she said during Wednesday’s rehearsal. “I get some special roles.”
Lacy said she’s a little nervous about the timing of her costume changes, but otherwise she thinks the rehearsal ran smoothly on Wednesday.
“We have a lot of talented people here, a lot of great singers and a lot of talented actors,” she said. “So I think it’s a great show.”
Cooper Tallent-Darling plays Maui — the boisterous demigod who gets the islands into trouble when he steals the heart of Te Fiti, and ends up helping Moana save the islands.
The eighth grader said the character has grown on him.
“We’re just both really energetic,” Tallent-Darling said. “He’s trying to get through stuff for himself, but then he realizes that not everything’s about him and stuff like that. I thought that was pretty cool.”
He played a part in last year’s film production of “The Lion King Jr.,” but hasn’t performed for a live audience in this capacity yet. Tallent-Darling said working on the movie was much different than this year’s musical.
“You don’t really have to memorize your lines as much as you have to now,” he said. “And this movie, it took maybe two or three days to film it, but this is a one-night, one-hour thing.”
Tallent-Darling said even though some of the transitions might be difficult, the teamwork and chemistry of the cast is “amazing.”
“Everybody’s perfect for their role right now,” he said.
Showtimes will be Friday at 6 p.m., as well as a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday and a 6 p.m. evening performance on Saturday at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Tickets are $5 at the door for individuals or $20 per family.