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West Jordan Journal

Westland students finally get their Broadway debut

May 02, 2022 09:08PM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Fifty-six students, wearing glittering gold top hats and sequined vests, hit the stage for their Broadway debut March 24. The stage was in the cafeteria of Westland Elementary School, and the students were participants in the school extracurricular program Broadway Kids.

Arica Walker, whose children attend Westland, started Broadway Kids in 2016.

“I wanted it to be a little bit different from a typical choir performance,” she said “I wanted to give them the full stage experience—the costumes, the script, the moving on and off stage, and having that opportunity to sing and dance that a lot of kids at this age don't have. This is their first experience on stage, and sometimes their first exposure to Broadway music, that hopefully will create a lifelong love of music and theater.”

This year’s Broadway musical review included songs from classic shows, such as “Sound of Music,” “Music Man,” “Chorus Line,” “Cinderella,” “Grease” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” and from modern musicals “Newsies,” “Wicked” and “Anastasia.”

The program is open to fourth, fifth and sixth graders interested in acting, singing and dancing and who are willing to rehearse three days a week before school for three months.

The show was truly a debut for every student this year. Because of COVID-19, there have been no shows for the past two years.

“For the sixth graders this year, this is their one and only chance, because they were fourth graders the year we didn't get to perform, fifth-graders the year we couldn't do it and this year, finally they got to perform,” Walker said. “So it was really special for them.”

Walker said kids gain so much confidence from participating in the program.

“There's one student in particular this year who came in very introverted, very quiet, and by the end, he was up there, in his little Newsies cap, smiling and giving it everything he's got,” she said. “That's my favorite part: seeing the way that this opportunity and this experience can change a kid's life.”

While some kids are hesitant to be on stage, others live for it.

“I like singing and acting, and I like having a big group of people looking at me,” fifth grader Tessa Tobler said.

Sarea Steele, also a fifth grader, has participated in Westland’s junior choir and has enjoyed watching the older kids perform in the annual Broadway Kids shows. She was excited to finally be able to participate this year and to have an opportunity to sing a solo and to use a microphone. Her family members came from as far as Layton to see her perform.

Both Sarea and Tessa were soloists for “Once Upon A December,” which also featured ballroom dancing.

Jill Tobler was surprised that her daughter Tessa got up early on her own to attend the early morning rehearsals. She is grateful that Broadway Kids gives local families an alternative to costly and time-intensive community performance groups.

Walker started Broadway Kids (inspired by her mother’s Granite District program) to provide her daughter with an opportunity to perform. Walker and choreographer/parent volunteer Kara Crook have written three rotating shows which highlight a wide range of Broadway music. Walker’s husband, Kevin, provides accompaniment and a male role model during rehearsals. Other parent volunteers help run the program. Rachelle Mann was this year’s lead volunteer.

“My three goals are that we learn to respect one another, we work hard and we have a lot of fun,” Walker said. “And I think we accomplished that this year.”