GENEVA — All was calm and quiet outside St. Francis-St. Stephen School on the morning of May 14, but down in the school’s basement, 21 seventh-graders were bustling about, putting on costumes, readying props and having their hair and makeup done.
The students were getting ready for their first performance of “Copa Cabana 2004,” this year’s edition of the humanities rock ‘n’ roll show that the school’s seventh-grade students perform each year. This year marks the eighth time one of Jeannette Hernandez’s seventh-grade classes has put on the show.
Around February every year, Hernandez — who teaches humanities for grades six through eight — brings in videos of rock bands and singers from the 1950s through the 1980s and lets her students pick an act they’d like to perform in the spring show. Once the students have decided who they’ll emulate, they study the history and background of the musicians and singers, noting important events that happened during the time the singers were famous.
An assignment to draw album covers for their chosen musical acts allows the students to flex their artistic muscles. Inside the “albums,” each student creates a timeline, including not only the history of their chosen act, but also events of historical interest, such as the landing of the first man on the moon.
As the May 14 performance drew nearer, the students found the kind of clothes, makeup, hairstyles and props they needed to transform themselves into the musicians they wanted to imitate, and became experts at singing, lip synching and dancing. Finally, at a little before 10 a.m. on May 14, the students, their family members and school faculty filled the folding chairs and benches set up in front of the small stage in the school’s basement.
Joey Dean, posing as Dick Clark, was the host of the show, introducing and giving background on the acts, which included Martha and the Vandellas, The Ronettes, Carly Simon, Frank Sinatra, Pat Benatar, The Supremes, Elvis, Carol King, The Dixie Cups and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
Angela Post donned jeans and a tie-dyed shirt to pose as Carly Simon. She sat behind a piano, moving to the music and occasionally pointing her finger at the audience for emphasis as she lip synched to “You’re So Vain.” The audience erupted into spontaneous applause twice during the song and again when she was finished.
Angela said she had fun performing, and said she hasn’t done anything like this, with the exception of dance recitals.
Several of Ryan Rozelle’s female classmates screamed and swooned by the stage when he swung his hips as he danced and lip synched to an Elvis hit. Ryan, complete with sideburns and a suit jacket, said he was nervous before going onstage, but once he began his number, “all the nervousness goes away.”
Brendan Costello was doing triple-duty that morning, handing out programs before the show, moving microphones and the piano between acts, and performing as one of the Teenagers in the last act, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Brendan said this performance has been one of the most fun things his class has done this year. Fellow Teenager Peter Pulver and Donald Hess — who played Frankie — agreed that everyone had a good time preparing for the show.
Before Kiley Conklin took the stage as Pat Benatar, a real microphone was set up for her, as Kiley had decided to actually sing to “Shadows in the Night” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” She sang out strongly, and even though the microphone wasn’t working properly for her second song, the crowd had no trouble hearing her.
Kiley said she chose to be Benatar because “she’s so outgoing and I really like the two songs that I did.” Kiley said she enjoyed the project not only because she likes to sing, but also because it brought the class together.
Several other students agreed that they bonded while working on the show and watching each other perform. At the end of the show, all the students gathered onstage to sing “Can’t Get Next to You,” each bringing their own unique, enthusiastic flavor to the performance.
The student performers and Hernandez said they were happy with the way the show had gone.
“This was a process. Today was the product,” Hernandez said.