Students of MaST’s Drama Program performed with Alton Fitzgerald White at Barnes & Noble in Neshaminy Mall.
Students in drama and theater clubs across the country spend countless hours trying to emulate their idols on Broadway and the big screen. The thought of being able to work on those stages motivates the aspiring performers, but the members of Math and Science Technology Community Charter School’s drama club had the rare opportunity of opening for one.
On Nov. 19, Alton Fitzgerald White watched students of MaST’s drama club perform a song that he is certainly very familiar with at Barnes & Noble at Neshaminy Mall.
White has spent decades on Broadway, most notably for playing the role as Mufasa in Disney’s Broadway production of The Lion King longer than anyone else (4,308 performances to be exact). This month, Disney is celebrating the 20th anniversary of this award-winning musical’s premiere on Broadway.
On a Sunday afternoon, faculty, parents and White huddled into Barnes & Noble as they watched members of MaST’s drama club perform” Circle of Life from The Lion King. Students ranging from first to 12th grade sang this Broadway classic alongside one another in front of one of their idols.
Freshman Kerri Walsh was one of those students who had the pleasure of performing that day.
During the spring, MaST’s drama club put together a production of The Lion King, and Walsh played the role of Rafiki. This was the first time Walsh, who has been with the club since she was in fifth grade, received the role she had auditioned for.
“It was my favorite role I’ve played so far.”
Walsh received a phone call a couple of weeks ago asking if she had any interest in performing with someone from Broadway, and immediately got excited when she heard of the opportunity.
Walsh, dressed as Rafiki, led the club as they sang Circle of Life in front of the crowded store.
“It was very nerve-wracking, not only in a crowd of people, but having someone from Broadway made it nerve-wracking and exciting,” Walsh said.
The audience and White delivered a loud round of applause upon completion of the spectacular performance from Walsh and her fellow students.
Steve Schmidt, director of the drama club, recognized how much this meant to his students.
Just three years ago, the drama club had toyed with the idea of being open to students for grades 7-12, instead of the whole school. Schmidt recalled his son, who at that time was in sixth grade, approach him disheartened at the possibility of younger students being left out.
“You could fix it,” said Schmidt’s son.
Schmidt and Melissa Hartner took over the reins and ensured elementary and high school students alike would perform alongside one another in the drama club.
Today, MaST’s drama club is the largest club at the school and just performed in front of a theater professional.
“I would compare it to playing sports, like you just got to play ball with Michael Jordan or LeBron James,” Schmidt said. “They just got to perform with a Broadway legend.”
White went on to sing A Whole New World from Aladdin and He Lives in You from The Lion King.
After White completed singing, he participated in a Q&A and book signing for My Pride: Mastering Life’s Daily Performances.
He detailed his journey, from being a shy kid growing up in the housing projects in Cincinnati to being on Broadway’s big stage.
“We do theater because we love performing,” he told the audience. “We love sharing our gift.”
Karen Lash, community relations manager at Barnes & Noble, also played a role in orchestrating the event.
Lash, who has a child in the club, saw them perform The Lion King in the spring, and when she heard that White would be making an appearance at Barnes & Noble, immediately thought of the drama program at MaST.
When coordinating the event with White, she and other leaders at MaST thought it would be a terrific opportunity to not only meet a Broadway star like him, but get to perform in front of him.
“They know the music,” Lash said. “They’ve done it, they’ve lived it, they breathed it, why not?”
Alison Marino, lower school assistant principal at MaST, also has a daughter in the program. She was thoroughly impressed with the whole day.
“We’re so fortunate to have such a unique drama club,” said Marino. “We have such a strong program that we can see the students even performing out in the community, not just at school.”
“This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Schmidt. ••