Education & Youth

Thornton drama students bring "Dreamgirls" respite to the Harvey World stage

The young thespians opened the school’s theatre doors to the community during a soulful and raucous two-night event.

Thornton drama students capped off the first academic year of in-person learning since the pandemic began with a production of the musical "Dreamgirls." HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Thornton drama students capped off the first academic year of in-person learning since the pandemic began with a production of the musical "Dreamgirls." HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

Monique Williams hadn’t yet decided on the spring play when a student approached her with an idea.

Kylee Broomfield, a junior, suggested “Dreamgirls,” the 1981 Tony award-winning Broadway musical loosely based on the highs and lows of rhythm & blues greats The Supremes, Jackie Wilson, and others.

Williams put the ball in Broomfield’s court to write the script and direct—a second for the aspiring producer and director.

“I had a chance [during speech season] to be a student director on a play called “The Choice,” and I really enjoyed … the leadership role,” Broomfield said.

She’s loved “Dreamgirls” since she was younger, from the dances to the songs—which she’s memorized and would sing with her friend Jayla Murphy or by herself before practice.

“It’s data-driven that youth-led initiatives, us [adults] letting them lead, us letting them be the authors of their own stories—it works,” said Williams, a Harvey Public Library Board trustee who’s been co-coaching the Thornton drama program for seven years.

Last week’s two-night event was open to the public, a respite from pandemic-induced emotional fatigue for both students and the community.

The young Dreammettes adorned sequin dresses perfect for 1950s nightclub performances and Diana Ross-inspired bob wigs. The production crew colored the backdrop with baby blues, fluorescence oranges and other hues.

With any musical, there were acrobatics, intricately curated dance sequences, and a confetti cannon, of course.

The production crew checks lights and sounds prior to the show. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
The production crew checks lights and sounds prior to the show. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Preparation includes equipping the stage with a title card. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Preparation includes equipping the stage with a title card. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
The switchboard used to control lighting. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
The switchboard used to control lighting. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

Mikhael Jackson, a senior who played the boisterous, womanizing Jimmy “Thunder” Earle, roused the audience with hip thrusts, spins, and footwork during “Cadillac Car” and “Jimmy’s Rap.”

Immanuel Boyce, who played the ambitious yet greedy Curtis Taylor, Jr., encouraged Jackson to audition, but not for a speaking role.“I initially started out as a dancer,” Jackson said, “but I got bumped up because our original Jimmy had cash problems.”

Jackson, 18, had no acting experience, but studied for the role. “I watched the movie almost every day. I studied the songs I needed to sing. I would say for like a week, I listened to those same five songs on repeat.”

Sophomore Tyla Hudson, 16, tore the house down with a roaring rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” made famous by Jennifer Holliday.

Broomfield encouraged Hudson to audition. Hudson won the role of Effie White, someone she “always wanted to play.” Her performance elicited audible audience responses—“sing it, girl,” “alright now”—and a standing ovation.

Rehearsal “was great,” Hudson said, but also challenging “because you had to do school then the play.”

Broomfield, who holds a 4.3 grade point average, felt that same pressure, adding she had to create a healthy distance between her friendship with cast members and her directorship.

There were two rounds of auditions. Students rehearsed for four weeks after school Monday through Friday, and even on Saturday mornings, replete with vocal coaching. All on the heels of finals season.

It was a group effort, Broomfield said, “to work hard to give my team and my crew everything I’ve got because they did the same thing for me.”

Student director Kylee Broomfield is already planning next year's spring play, and credits drama coach Monique Williams with helping students execute the musical. "Ms. Mo' gave me everything I needed" to succeed, Broomfield said. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Student director Kylee Broomfield is already planning next year's spring play, and credits drama coach Monique Williams with helping students execute the musical. "Ms. Mo' gave me everything I needed" to succeed, Broomfield said. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

The musical was adapted into a film in 2006, starring Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson. The young stars performed a delicate balancing act: using clips and background from the film to accentuate the experience while reinventing a beloved classic.

The move allowed them to be creative with limited funds. “Ms. Mo’,” as students call Williams, was also a shoulder to lean on.

Williams and her sister own Fancy and Free Dresses, a not-for-profit that takes in donated dresses for families who cannot afford prom attire. Some of those dresses were borrowed for the musical, Williams said.

Other adults who want to support young people should use whatever resources or expertise they have, Williams added.

“The way someone else can do it may look different than a play. It might be starting a business, might be helping them fill out a college application.”

Williams welcomes an embrace -- and a flower bouquet -- from a friend as audience-goers trickle in before the show. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Williams welcomes an embrace -- and a flower bouquet -- from a friend as audience-goers trickle in before the show. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

“Grateful” was how Kimberly Harris, a 1998 Thornton alum and Broomfield’s mom, described her feelings about the teachers, “people in the schools who do these things that are outside of the salary bracket.”

Thornton resonates with the community, Harris said, because educators create spaces for young people to express themselves, put down the tablets, and create decades-long memories.

“I did it just to fill my bucket list,” Jackson said of the musical. This fall, he’ll study Audio and Music Technology at Eastern Illinois University, but he may continue theatre in college.

The cast hurriedly cleans the stage afterward, sweeping up remnants of the confetti cannon. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
The cast hurriedly cleans the stage afterward, sweeping up remnants of the confetti cannon. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

Hudson will further her passion for the stage through her studies in the school’s International Baccalaureate program, which includes a theatre course.

She will join Broomfield in those classes, who’s already focused on next year’s production.

It will be bigger and better than this year’s performance, Broomfield said. “I want to say that our singing is not over.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Caleb Steele played Curtis Taylor, Jr. The role of Taylor was played by Immanuel Boyce. Steele played the role of Clarence “CC” Conrad White.

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