Singing ‘the sweet silver song of a lark,’ 3,000 miles east
Joined by Shirley Jones, St. Genevieve High students travel to Georgia to perform ‘Carousel’ for President and Mrs. Carter.
The opening act at the historic Rylander Theatre in Americus, Georgia, was Academy Award-winning actress Shirley Jones singing a song from President Jimmy Carter’s favorite Broadway musical, “Carousel.”
In the packed audience sat the former President himself and his wife, Rosalynn, about to see the curtain rise on talented performers from, not a Broadway touring company, but a parish high school located in Panorama City, California.
Performing arts students from St. Genevieve High School had traveled to Georgia the weekend before Valentine’s Day to re-stage their 2011 fall production of “Carousel.”
President Carter was present in the audience when St. Genevieve students staged “Singin’ in the Rain” at Georgia’s Plains High School in March of 2009 and also when the school’s performing choir and award-winning dance teams traveled to Georgia a few months later in October to entertain at his 85th birthday celebration.
Some members of the high school’s 81-strong “Carousel” cast and crew had been on those earlier 3,000-mile “field trips,” and they were thrilled to be back in Georgia, accompanied by actress/singer, Shirley Jones, who played the lead female role in the 1956 film adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical. Jones is also well-known for portraying the widowed mother who formed a pop band with her five children in the popular 1970s TV sitcom, “The Partridge Family.”
Having sung for six U.S. presidents, not including President Carter, Jones accepted the invitation of Dan Horn, St. Genevieve’s principal, to sing for Carter during St. Genevieve’s “Carousel” tour to Americus.
She shared the limousine ride from the Georgia airport with Sister of Charity Mary Elizabeth Galt, archdiocesan chancellor; Sister of Charity Anne Kendall, provincial; and Theresa Fragoso, director of operations for the archdiocesan Catholic Education Foundation.
“The laughs coming from that limousine were what struck me first,” said Horn of his impression when he arrived to escort the happy company of two nuns, an actress and an archdiocesan staff member to dinner in Plains, where Jones later that evening received the key to the city from the mayor.
Juanne Aquino, the St. Genevieve junior student who performed the lead role of “Julie Jordan,” played by Jones in the film version of “Carousel” admitted being “really nervous” about meeting the actress, but was put at ease by the stories Jones shared with the cast about her life as a young person, trying to decide whether to become a veterinarian or pursue her acting passion.
“When she talked about thoughts and feelings of her life, she was really humble. I connected with her,” said Aquino.
Daphne-Jane Dizon, a St. Genevieve senior who played Aquino’s best friend, “Carrie,” in the show, also related to Jones’ conflict about what career to pursue. “I’m in the same predicament,” said Dizon. “I have a passion for musicals, but I’m not sure. It’s nice to know Shirley Jones pursued her passion and was successful.”
Alanah Nicosia, a fellow senior who played the ring-leader part of “Nettie,” said Jones’ “master class” talk to the students helped her think more carefully about her future. “I want to become a pediatrician, but at the same time I want to keep singing and it’s ok to feel this way,” said Nicosia.
Jacob Kelso, a freshman who played the male lead, “Billy Bigelow,” said performing in Georgia was a “life-changing” experience. “It’s not every day you can say an Academy Award-winning actress performed right in front of you,” said Kelso.
Khristian Decastro, a junior who played Carrie’s boyfriend, “Enoch” said seeing President Carter again after performing for his 85th birthday celebration was like meeting an old friend. “It’s heart-warming to know a former president of the U.S. will remember who you are,” said Decastro.
“I’m very grateful that my high school experience isn’t typical,” he added. “It’s very unique, especially with President Jimmy Carter by my side.”
President Carter, who called St. Genevieve “my favorite high school in America” when he visited the high school on Oct. 25, 2010, during his Southern California book tour, complimented the students for their “Carousel” production. “The performance I saw Friday night (Feb. 10) was just as good as the performance I saw 65 years ago on Broadway,” said President Carter.
“The show was magnificent,” exclaimed Jones. “The singing was beautiful and the choreography brought back many memories. The fact that this was done by high school kids just blows my mind.”