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Drawing the curtain on 24 years of high school musicals

MIDDLEPORT – There is a saying about teachers: “A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart.”

Carol Blumrick teaches third grade at the Royalton-Hartland Elementary School, a career that has spanned 33 years.

She also is widely respected as the director of the Roy-Hart school musicals, and earlier this month staged her 24th and final performance, “Peter Pan.”

The sheer number of students she has inspired, encouraged and influenced is staggering.

“Carol has had a tremendous impact on her students and on her cast members,” said Brooke Yaiser. “She’s been an inspiration to me as far back as I can remember.”

Yaiser recalled watching her older brother perform in Blumrick’s first production, “Grease,” in 1993, then having Blumrick has her third-grade teacher. Yaiser later performed in seven theater productions under Blumrick’s tutelage and has served as her stage manager for the past four years.

“I so admire her and love her,” she said.

Rebecca Schweigert, the Middleport village clerk, knows Blumrick through her two daughters’ involvement with her musicals in years past, as well as through Blumrick’s husband, Wayne, who serves as a village trustee. Wayne is a retired Lyndonville music teacher who now serves as a long-term substitute at Roy-Hart.

Schweigert’s daughter Gretchen played in the pit orchestra and her daughter Bridget performed on stage under Blumrick’s direction. Schweigert also recalled serving as a parent volunteer.

“There was so much that went on behind the scenes and Carol made it all look so effortless,” Schweigert said. “She was always phenomenal at pinpointing the right talents. And, sometimes she’d seem to find talent when you wouldn’t necessarily know it was there. But the performances from these kids were phenomenal – some of them were Tony Award-worthy. You’d swear they were seasoned pros.

“It’s always been an honor to be in the musicals at Roy-Hart,” she added.

Blumrick recently took some time after her final performance to reflect on her career and love of musical theater.

Are you from the Royalton-Hartland area?

Yes. I’m kind of a homebody – I’m living in the same house I grew up in. I graduated from Roy-Hart High School in 1977 and from Buffalo State College in 1980.

Then I got married and started a family. I have three boys. Stephen is 33 and a marketing development specialist, Michael is 29 and an attorney, and David is 23 and a marketing representative for a health insurance company. I was a parochial school teacher first, then started at Roy-Hart. I’ve been teaching 33 years and am going to retire next year.

How did you get started directing the Roy-Hart High School musicals?

I took over from Ellyn MacConnell, who was a kindergarten teacher. I wouldn’t have gone into teaching and I wouldn’t have gotten involved in the musicals if it weren’t for her. She taught me everything I know and then I just tweaked it to fit my personality.

What does it take to be a successful high school musical director?

A passion for the show and for the kids. You have to understand them and know their talents. You have to have flexibility, creativity and organization.

What do you look for in a student performer?

Commitment. And passion. I know I keep using that word, but it’s a huge thing. Kids are far more creative than I could ever be and you have to trust their personalities and talents and just let them do it. Wow! I love to encourage that.

You chose “Peter Pan” for your final performance. Have you had repeats in 24 years and why did you choose this one for your finale?

We’ve tried not to repeat shows. You pick the show from what you see in the cast members from the previous year. You see the chemistry.

You start reading the perusals for next year right after this year’s performance ends. I knew I wanted to do “Peter Pan” and we had to book the flying apparatus early, as well as the costumes. Through the summer, you hold committee meetings.

A musical is a year in the making. It’s a full-time job on top of your full-time job, but it is so worth it.

Take me through the rest of the year leading up to the performance.

Auditions are in November. We take a hiatus in December, then start rehearsals in January, six days a week. But everyone doesn’t come every day – except for the director. “Peter Pan” was three acts with four different casts. We had 90 students who performed on stage, 35 in the pit orchestra, 10 stage crew, six in the lighting booth, three for sound and parent volunteers.

The last three weeks, rehearsals were seven days a week. We had the same professional flying company that had been hired by Shea’s to train us on the flying apparatus. It was a crash course in three days.

Was the show a resounding success?

This was a big thing for Roy-Hart and I think it was our biggest show ever.

How did you decide this would be your final year with the musicals?

I’ve had people shadowing me for the past five to seven years. Sue Rothwell has been our choreographer and will continue on. Brooke Yaiser has been shadowing me and is certainly capable of taking on any role in keeping the Roy-Hart musicals to the same caliber, in my opinion.

And my assistant director, Debbie Rey, is also stepping down. She’s been my right-hand person. It’s never a one-man show. My sister-in-law, Kathy Pease, has been my choral director, and she will continue.

This has been such a part of my life that if I didn’t have people who I knew could come in and take it above and beyond what I could have expected, I wouldn’t be able to step down now.

Name a highlight over the past 24 years.

Just 13 days after I gave birth to my youngest, David, I directed my first show, “Grease.” He was born in December 1992, and we started auditioning in January 1993. And David had leading roles – but I stepped out of those decisions – in middle school and in high school. I was so proud.

So, you directed your son? How did that work?

Wonderful!

And two of your productions have been nominated for Kenny Awards at Shea’s through the years. What were they?

It was for “The King and I” in 2006 and for “Fiddler on the Roof” in 2007. Sydney Anderson had a lead in “The King and I” and she’s now a professional opera singer. We received the “Best Ensemble” award for “Fiddler.”

I encourage anyone who has a chance to do this to do it because it’s a wonderful experience for the kids to perform on the stage at Shea’s.

What will you do when you leave directing?

I love to perform and have performed in community theater productions, with the Lake Plains Players and at Curtain Up at the Palace in Lockport. I just love theater – watching it and performing it.

I’m just decompressing now – it happens every year at this time. I have two granddaughters and another baby on the way and I haven’t been able to see them as much as I’d like. I’m president of the teachers association, too.

I like helping people and being involved. But, I’m going to take a breath now and decide what my next adventure will be.

Anything else to add?

I’d like to thank my family. My husband, Wayne, directed the pit orchestra for a while when I first started directing. When my three sons were very young, I’d think of ways to put them on them on stage so that I’d still be able to direct. They got used to Crock-Pot meals and rushing in and out of the house at all hours.

My husband continues to play in the pit, knowing it would be the only quality time we’d have together for three months of the year.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.