Seth Boyden variety show highlights student talent

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — This year’s variety show at Seth Boyden, held May 13, brought together a series of original fifth-grade skits with acts by students in the younger grades. The title of the show, aptly, was “Unity.”

The event was the culmination of the 10-week Fifth Grade Performance Project, a labor of love for veteran director and Seth Boyden alumni parent Kelly Heinze. The 26 participating fifth-graders learned about all aspects of performance production, from set design to stage management, and they ultimately developed five of their own scenes: “Happiness Comes from Within,” by Alaysia Ingram; “Family of Farmers,” by Sam Dorbin; “A Kid’s Best Friend,” by Adam Fisher; and the two-part “When Sports Go Wrong,” a collaborative effort. The skits imparted uplifting messages about dealing with adversity and conflict. Concluding each scene were song and dance numbers, some of which featured soloists Sam Dorbin, Nawal Irfani, Miracle Okoli, Kristina Powell and Sophia Tsioulcas-Sherman.

In addition to the authors and solo performers, the cast included Olivia Anstatt, Autumn Flowers, Mark Lubiak, J. R. Morris, Brielle Ocean, Bryan Paz Quintana, Dayana Pierre, Sadie Riss and Olivia Sanchez. Working hard behind the scenes were Adler Cleghorn, Stanley Fogg, Kenyon Orsquo Neal, Aasiyah Labon, Francia Maisonnet, Sam Riekenberg, Rayne Roundtree, Ahnya Simpson, Stephanie Tabora and Charis Thermitus.

Interspersed with the fifth-grade scenes were performances by younger Seth Boyden students. A group of kindergarteners melted hearts with their song “May All Children,” directed by school music teacher Leah Van Doornik. Several soloists delivered big voice numbers, such as Lila Lee’s “Eye of the Tiger,” Lyric Smith’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” and Michayla Catron’s “How Far I’ll Go.” Macklin Landry dedicated a keyboard-and-voice rendition of “Lost Boy” to his mom for Mother’s Day; Omar Perez played an acoustic guitar version of “Wake Me Up When September Ends”; Sophie Irfani tickled the ivories for “I’m Still Standing”; and Jamelle Jones danced to a mashup of recent hits.

Fathers on guitar accompanied their children in two numbers: Juliana Davidman’s cover of “Roar” and Oliver Dean’s performance of his own original composition. Riffing on the “Unity” theme were duets by Anaya Center and Julia Feinleib’s singing “Fight Song,” brothers Sam and Martin Hanger singing “Farmer, Refuted,” from Hamilton, and Odile Hannon and Marlene Pankow singing “Sisters,” from “White Christmas.”

Larger groups participated, too: Marahbelle Dumay, Khadine Edwards and Esther Van Doornik danced to “Party in the USA,” and Violet Holtz sang “How Far I’ll Go” with her sister Sylvia on ukulele, Jasmine Lyons on piano and Liana Catron dancing. Ten fourth-graders — Oluchi Akakwere, Will Emmons, Shawn Exantus, Julia Feinleib, Lori Gill, Finn Goring, Dylan Loria, Marcus Nunn, Trinity Ponder and Sam Rosenthal, aka the #LeadersOfTomorrow — assumed the guises of “Toy Story” characters for the movie’s theme song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”

A “Mystery Song Act” turned out to be Principal Damion Frye dropping a few G-rated lines from early rapper-MC team Erik B. & Rakim. Frye also screened a hilarious short film he had put together and shown in school to relax students before the PARCC standardized tests. In the video, Frye speeds to Seth Boyden in a toy truck, and each teacher from the younger grades offers words of encouragement to the test-takers.

Justin Connell, Chibueze Nwanonyiri and Sophie Irfani emceed the show, charming the audience with impromptu jokes during set changes. The large, receptive crowd filled most of the Seth Boyden auditorium, clapping along whenever appropriate and cheering vociferously after each act.

Musical Director Charlotte Steiner and Assistant Director Julian Levy both worked tirelessly and with great patience. Steiner is a Columbia High School senior graduating this spring and Levy is a CHS junior. David Anstatt helped design the set decorations, which included a huge black sign with “UNITY” in neon letters. Amelia Riekenberg, Donna Upton, Amy Goring, Rachel Fisher and Tricia Fogg served as parent supervisors. The variety show T-shirts were designed by fifth-grader Sadie Riss. Anna Herbst of Orange Studios Photography took head shots of each student in the performance project. John Connell and Prism Digital provided the programs.

The guiding force behind the show was Kelly Heinze, the owner and director of Music and More with Kelly, which holds children’s music classes in Maplewood, South Orange and neighboring towns. Heinze has been involved in producing shows at Seth Boyden for more than a decade, having had all four of her children go through the school.

“My greatest joy,” she said, “is the faces of the children when they have accomplished something and are so proud.”

In the Seth Boyden variety show, the smiles of the performers at the end of each act were radiant with well-earned pride.

Photos Courtesy of Anna Herbst