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Students and staff preview their upcoming production of 'Elf Jr.,' a retelling of the blockbuster hit. 

Gianni Hunt tried out for his middle school's drama production as a grade-booster for class. He never imagined he'd land the starring role. PMG PHOTO: MIA RYDER-MARKS - The students practiced a number which includes eccentric dance moves.

"I've never been in a play before, so immediately getting the lead and having all of this stuff to do is really stressful," Hunt said.

From Nov. 18- 20, the Lakeridge Middle School drama departments will perform "Elf Jr.," a play based on the motion picture featuring Will Ferrell. The musical tells the story of Buddy, a human who thinks he is an overgrown elf until one day he overhears Santa and some helpers discussing his true identity. Buddy decides to travel from the North Pole to New York City to find his real family. Along the way, he discovers himself, friendship and the true meaning of Christmas.

"The theater department chose this play because we were looking for a show that was aggressively optimistic, considering the last year and a half," said Franklin Dunwoody, theater director.

Dunwoody said that although the staff picked the screenplay, the production is almost entirely student led. From costume design to choreography, the students had some sort of input into what community members will see on stage.

"It's great knowing that when the actors get on stage, these backdrops and scenes behind them were all of our work," said stage manager Hayden Barney, a seventh grader at Lakeridge.

As Barney leads a cluster of students leaning over ladders to paint the skyline of New York City, the lower half of the stage is full of students doing high-kicks and shimmies while carrying oversized, plastic candy canes. Among them is Simone Lee, an eighth grader who will play another starring role of Jovie.PMG PHOTO: MIA RYDER-MARKS - The students practiced their choreography while holding candy canes and presents.

"I love the feeling of being on stage and having my moment," Lee said.

Jamie Minkus, the director of choreography, said one of her main roles is to give students the bones of a dance and let them take charge of what is seen on stage.

"I'm guiding them in their artistry. When they get to claim their artistry …. or claim that voice, there is an excitement that exudes from them and ownership and it's just best. So, my favorite part is watching them get to tap in and discover their artistry, and then put it on stage," she said.

The hope is that other students will be inspired to join the drama department next season.

"Just like me, you won't know if you like something if you never try. I think even if acting isn't your thing, you will still have fun," said Hunt.

IF YOU GO:

What: Lakeridge Middle School's production of 'Elf Jr.'

When: Nov. 18 and 19 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 2 p.m.

Where: Lakeridge Middle School's auditorium

Tickets: $10 and must be bought in advance at eticketexpress.com. Performances are capped at 200 people each show.


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