Seated next to the father who watched him perform on a high school stage not more than six years ago, Mike Viola didn’t fight back tears as he watched Keystone Oaks students sing on opening night during the final act of “Fame The Musical.”
“The kids did such an amazing job,” said Viola, the show’s staging director. “My dad started crying, and that’s when it really got to me.”
Director Shane Hallam didn’t show his emotions so easily, and he’s been described by many students as “very steady.” But even he wore a glassy gaze Thursday night after students performed for a nearly sold-out crowd in Michael A. Callara Auditorium.
“This is the first one for us,” he said. “It feels amazing. The kids did a great job.”
What began as the dream of two former Chartiers Valley classmates resulted in what people called the best high school musical Keystone Oaks has staged in recent memory, yielding the best ticket sales in more than seven years.
A total of 1,411 tickets were sold — 477 on Thursday, 457 on Friday and 477 on Saturday — culminating in the largest turnout a school musical has had in nearly a decade.
Several factors contributed to the large crowds, Hallam said. Along with media coverage and the use of social media, students did a great job of spreading the word around school, he said.
Superintendent William Urbanek and high school Principal Scott Hagy both said the district’s production of Fame was one of the best they’ve ever seen.
“We’re fortunate to have some very talented students in the district,” Urbanek said. “The performers and directors did a wonderful job.”
Since the curtain has fallen on Fame for the final time, Jordan Maddox said he’s caught himself singing show tunes as if he was practicing. “But sadly I won’t be performing Fame again,” he said.
Also a Keystone Oaks football standout, Maddox said, “there’s nothing like having the spotlight on you in front of hundreds of people.
Maddox surprised the directors with his performance, which they said was even stronger than what he delivered in practice.
“Jordan’s a game-day player. He definitely feeds off of the adrenalin rush,” Hallam said.
“The show turned out better than I had thought it would,” Maddox said. “Everyone did a great job — from the cast members to the stage crew. But none of it would have been possible if it weren’t for the two awesome directors K.O. has in (Hallam) and (Viola),” he said.
Students called Hallam and Viola onto the stage during the final bow Saturday, and the directors said they were surprised and “thrilled” that the cast invited them. The performers hugged each other and their directors, “sharing some final moments of the love and joy they felt throughout this process.
“Anyone back there could tell how much these students enjoyed themselves through the process and all the bonds that were created between this diverse group of students … All the seniors showed some type of emotion as the realization hit that this would be their last musical on the K.O. stage,” Hallam said.
Maddox is one of those seniors and said a lot of emotions poured out after the final show on Saturday.
“We all worked so hard for this and just like that, it’s over,” he said. “During the time of this production, I made new friends with people I’d normally never talk to in school. It really was a great experience to be a part of, and I’m going to miss it more than I thought I would.”
Senior Rachel Geraci said she knew she would miss it during the last song of the show.
“It was strange sitting backstage because I started to feel that ping of sadness ... the goosebumps, the fluttery feeling, just everything. I can't really explain the emotion very well but I felt really hopeful about the future somehow. This experience taught me a lot about myself and I took that away with me,” she said.
It hit senior Jonathan Welch during the second act reprise for “Bring On Tomorrow,” which features the lead characters in caps and gowns, graduating from a performing arts high school.
“In two months I will be wearing that cap and gown, and it will be for real this time. I will be done with high school and moving on with my life, and it really hit me that it’s all about to be over so soon,” he said.
Even though the students won’t get to repeat high school, they may have a shot at an encore with the musical, which has been entered in Pittsburgh’s Gene Kelly Awards.
Winners are announced at the end of May during a ceremony at The Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. Those nominated for best musical have an opportunity to perform on the center’s stage.
“To even be nominated for a Gene Kelly Award is an honor,” Maddox said. “To win would be like winning a WPIAL championship in football because, what most people don’t realize is that musicals are also a team effort."