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Leon Sheffield Elementary School magnet program students Mollie Olinger, left, Brandon Fields and Collin King practice one of their dance routines during rehearsal for 'The Sound of Music.'
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Leon Sheffield Elementary School magnet program students Mollie Olinger, left, Brandon Fields and Collin King practice one of their dance routines during rehearsal for "The Sound of Music."

‘Sound of Music’ helps Leon Sheffield magnet students learn about WWII

By Patrice Stewart · 340-2446

A group of Decatur third- to fifth-graders are learning about World War II, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis while getting ready to perform "The Sound of Music" this weekend.

Magnet program students at Leon Sheffield Elementary School will present the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Friday and Saturday at the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts.

You will hear the cast of 164 sing familiar songs such as "Climb Every Mountain," "Maria," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "So Long, Farewell" and "Edelweiss."

"They love 'The Lonely Goatherd,' " which includes yodeling, said Deanna Knox, drama teacher and show director. "My favorite songs are 'Do Re Mi' and 'My Favorite Things,' and my students have a good time with them, too."

A junior version of this show is not available, she said, so they undertook the adult version.

"No songs were cut, and they do a great job," said Knox.

Her fifth-graders play the leading roles, with third- and fourth-graders filling in the cast as 45 Abbey nuns, 40 wedding nuns and 45 soldiers.

"It's more than a musical; it's across-curriculum learning," she said. "The kids got to learn so much about World War II, and they were amazed and horrified at what they learned about Hitler."

She used "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" book to teach them about wartime raids and children going to stay in the country to escape them, as well as "Number the Stars," about two young girls in Germany who ran dangerous errands for their families.

Knox said her students showed disbelief when she explained the rationing system and showed them a wartime ration stamp.

"You mean you couldn't get as much milk or gas as you wanted?" and "What if you ran out?" were among their questions.

They learned about the pay, inventions and fashions of the era, and how women got to wear pants to go to work in factories to support the war effort. Knox said she explained the telephone party-line system and that not everybody had his own phone or cell phone then.

They talked about the master-race theory and who would fit in today.

"This was a good character-building lesson for them to be more accepting of others," said the director.

Collin King said he likes playing Captain von Trapp.

"I get to be another person, someone totally different from me. I've always wanted to be caring and helping, not ordering people around."

Susan Purvis finds playing Maria the youthful governess a fun role.

"I get to act like an adult, but also have fun with the children," she said, and she nearly gets sent back to the Abbey for some of her "fun."

Mollie Olinger, playing Elsa the Baroness, Maria's rival for the captain's affections, said she gets "kind of jealous at the party scene when he's dancing with Maria, and I disagree with him on politics and everything. I like my character a lot, because I get to wear pearls and diamonds and be a grownup when I haven't gotten to that stage yet."

The Alabama State Council on the Arts awarded a $3,000 grant to help with backdrops and other needs for the production.

Knox said she's lucky to have plenty of faculty backup for the music, choreography and sets, plus two parents, Emily White and Deana Olinger, handling costumes.

If you go

What: "The Sound of Music" by Leon Sheffield Elementary School magnet program students

When: Friday, 7 p.m., and Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m.

Where: Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts

Admission: $5 at the door; for information, call 654-2555

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