One of the iconic songs from the iconic musical West Side Story is Maria. The Sound of Music is an equally iconic Hollywood film and it too features a song called Maria, about the character immortalized by Julie Andrews. But another girl named Maria is the subject of a musical production staging this week at Cowles Montessori School, the only public Montessori school in Iowa.
We got a sneak peek at the dress rehearsal of Maria Montessori: The Musical on Wednesday afternoon before the show opened its brief run of two performances on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The production is a great example of possibilities created by the new gym/performance space and music room at Cowles.
“Last spring, several Cowles teachers and I went to the American Montessori Society Conference in Washington, D.C.,” said Principal Todd Johnson. “There, we met Mark Woodward, the composer of Maria Montessori: The Musical. He and some students performed a shortened version of the show. When we returned from our trip, word got out quickly about the musical. Over the summer, we purchased the license to perform it.”
A trio of Cowles parents co-directed the show.
“Jami Bassman, Lori Schervish, and Oliva Lehman gave up an incredible amount of time,” Johnson said. “Teachers who supported them were Lynn Andlauer, Deb Schroeder, Jesse Bonnette, Lori Myers, Adam Egherman and our music teacher, Elizabeth Peterson. Our parent group approved funding for props and flyers.”
The show’s been in rehearsal since late September. Auditions were held and everyone who turned out made the cut. The cast consists of 60 students who range from kindergarten to 7th grade. And they bought in. At the dress rehearsal, every song was full-throated. After a number called Love of Learning, one singer in the front ranks who’d been belting with clenched fists had to wipe his brow while soaking up the applause from the student assembly audience.
Maria Montessori grew up in Italy, encouraged by her father to become a teacher, one of the few occupations then considered open to women. But she had other ideas. Not to become a musical theatrician. She wanted to be a doctor, as portrayed in the song The Anatomy Lab, which featured some cast members decked in skeleton costumes. Eventually she grew up to develop an educational curriculum that spread worldwide and still bears her name.
The show is a musical bio that recounts Maria’s story from childhood, a stage of her own life when she never could have guessed that children all over the world would be performing musical theater in her name a century and a half later.
It covers a lot of ground with a lot of sound – in less than 45 minutes!