Whirling hula hoops, poodle skirts and a good old fashioned diner are just some of the elements that are bringing the Maranatha Players latest production to life.
Hula Hoops and Halos is coming to Maranatha Christian School’s stage, running Thursday through Saturday from Dec. 7 to Dec. 16.
Set in a diner, the musical is the story of a young waitress who wants to be like everybody else and a rebel angel on probation sent down to earn her halo and the group of teenagers in the diner who help out.
“I like the message in it about being yourself by the end, that you don’t need to be like everybody else,” said director Becky Strickland. “The other thing that really drew me was the era, the 1950s is such a fun era to costume and to dance and to sing lots of harmonies.”
Grade 12 student Brooklyn Laukkanen plays Angela, the rebel angel, in the play.
“I’ve always loved music. The first time I got up on stage I was four years old singing in front of people.”
Laukkanen is not alone in her love of the stage. Strickland estimates that approximately one third of Maranatha’s school population participates in the show.
“You get about 20 kids together and a lot of them you don’t talk to, or they are in different grades or they are just different people around the school and by the end we are just so tight knit and everyone knows each other very, very well,” said Laukkanen.
Tian Walker, a Grade 10 student, plays Chip, the jock/nerd who is looking for a girl out of the ordinary to date.
“This is my seventh year and my eleventh production in this school,” he said, adding that he’s gained confidence through the acting program.
“My first year I wasn’t very good, I wasn’t in a big role, but you develop it over time. You sort of evolve it and it goes the same with singing.”
He plays opposite Jordan Ragan, a Grade 12 student who plays Betsy, a shy waitress.
Both Ragan and Laukkanen said their characters are opposite who they are in real life.
“It’s a huge struggle for me to find the rebel to come out of me onstage, I’m completely enjoying it,” Laukkanen said.
“The enthusiasm of the kids and the excitement that’s there is kind of what draws me to do it,” says Strickland, who directs several plays throughout the year at the school. “Their dedication and their hard work and the fact that they will put in as many hours as they do encourages me to keep going.”
Behind the scenes
A musical like Hula Hoops and Halos is no small feat to achieve. While students are learning lines and singing harmonies they’ve also got to be quick on their feet: dancing the jitterbug or hopping to a swing step.
Strickland choreographs each piece individually.
“For example, we have a number that has some jitterbug in it.
“I do my research and I often find videos that the kids can watch to actually learn the choreography, so we found one that was actually a professional jitterbug competition piece that we use in the play and broke it down by watching it piece by piece. The kids go step-by-step and then we take it, once they’ve learned, onto the stage and then we block it.”
Each student, or pair is given a space they dance in.
“Then it’s just the case of practicing it after that. It usually takes about three hours to choreograph one number,” said Strickland
“It definitely is crazy teamwork,” adds Laukkanen.
Between figuring out the steps, working with a partner or a group and sometimes gleaning what she can from the screen, “it’s so much dedication and focus,” she said.
“It’s double work. The play is set in the fifties in a diner, but way back then in the fifties camera reels were too expensive so they had to perfect everything. Live theatre is kind of the same thing. You have to learn how to act, sing and dance all at the same time.”
Strickland will work the songs separately from the dances, and when the players are comfortable with both will add them together.
“It does challenge the kids to really think about how are you able to sing and keep your volume up while at the same time dancing the steps. It’s very much: learn them separately and get confident separately, bring them together do it with our vocals a couple times and then pull back and say now you’ve got to do it on your own.
“To get that timing between the two can get really difficult.”
For the students, it’s just taking it one step at a time.
“We just take it step-by-step, learning bits at a time and chunks and we run that, learn another chunk, run both of them, learn another chunk and just keep doing it again and again,” said Ragan.
Others take the steps they learn back to the hallways of their class.
“I enjoy it, learning new moves and then I can show it off to my friends during school,” said Walker.
Tickets are on sale now at the Open Book. An adult ticket is $10 while seniors and children under 12 cost $8.