OAKLAND -- High school is a time of dreams -- of pushing the limits and testing abilities. Skyline High School's Performing Arts Department gives teens an opportunity to do just that with its current production of "Dreamgirls." The story of a trio of black female soul singers and their unlikely rise to the top of the pop charts in the early 1960s runs April 2-5.
"I knew we were taking on a big show and a big endeavor with this musical," said director Jan Hunter. "But I knew I had the dancers and some strong, young vocalists who could pull it off. It just felt like this was the right time to do it."
Before rehearsals could even begin on the show, the department started a fundraising project through Kickstarter, the online site where backers join creators to bring projects to life. Hunter and her colleagues set a goal of $3,000 needed to fund the spring musical.
"This year, for a variety of reasons, our school simply did not have the funds to put on a show," said chemistry teacher and volunteer vocal director Michelle Shanker. "My students' dream was to produce 'Dreamgirls,' an epic production that challenges them as performers and as people. I have never seen high school talent anywhere in the way that I have seen it among these kids."
"We started this show with $32 and a great deal of faith," Hunter said. "But we made over our goal, and we are all very grateful. The community, the parents, my church and sorority and even Ms. Shanker's classmates from Dartmouth all kicked in."
Being involved with "Dreamgirls" has also been a dream of Hunter's since she auditioned in 1977 for the show's ensemble in a touring production.
"I auditioned for Michael Bennett himself, and it was the scariest audition of my life," she recalled. While Hunter may not have been cast, she can now put her own creative stamp on the show in Skyline's production.
With opening night for "Dreamgirls" coming up April 2, rehearsals have gone into high gear with the dedicated young performers even giving up their lunch breaks to work on vocals in the music room.
"I just want to do a good job in my role," said Jasmine "Mikki" Johnson, a bubbly senior who plays Effie White. "It's a real chance to push myself. I loved the movie with Jennifer Hudson in that role. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but I'm just happy I get the chance to try."
Hunter has no doubt that Johnson and her fellow castmates will be successful.
"All three girls are so talented and perfect for these roles. Hyidea Burgess is also a senior and our third dream girl is junior Aliyah Hall. She has a 4.4 GPA and already has her first CD out," Hunter said.
After last year's success with "Rent," Hunter was determined to do a musical on the scale of "Dreamgirls," but she hit an unforeseen obstacle when the script arrived.
"The script had the words and the musical score but absolutely no stage directions, prop list or even an indication of where the various scenes took place. It just said 'limbo.' In all my years of directing, I've never encountered a script quite like this," she said.
According to Hunter, if she had produced the script sent to her, the musical would take over three hours.
"I got together with my colleagues, and we figured out what wasn't necessary to the story and cut away," she said. "I don't believe in shows being over two hours, ideally a bit shorter with intermission."
Keeping the beat for those two hours is senior Ella Pearson, who steps up as music director.
"Ella is an instrumental music major and just incredibly talented," Hunter said.
"Dreamgirls" plays April 2-4 at 7:30 p.m. and April 5 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Rawley T. Farnsworth Theatre, 12250 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. Tickets range from $8 to $12. Tickets are available at the door or in advance by calling 510-879-3060, ext. 250.