Sandy Short can’t get enough applause.
“They seem to love us,” she says, obviously pleased with the enthusiasm Bonners Ferry has shown for her summer musical. “Someone told me it was the best five bucks he’d spent anywhere.”
High praise for “Broadway Bound,” a low-budget musical revue featuring only children and being shown in a school auditorium so old it once was condemned.
The humble setting in Bonners Ferry Junior High’s Fry Auditorium seems appropriate for this show, considering its producers, Sandy and Ryan Moe, are 15 and 18.
But the aged auditorium doesn’t mean unprofessional any more than the producers’ youth means inexperience - as hundreds of Bonners Ferry theatergoers found out last weekend.
Sandy and Ryan are more than qualified to rekindle Bonners Ferry’s interest in the stage.
“I wish we’d do this every year,” says Marianne Hale, a pianist in “Broadway Bound’s” quartet and the mother of two young actors.
The prospect of boredom in her sleepy town this summer dismayed Sandy. She’s a serious 15, not partial to hanging out or giggling when she could practice the pitches in a new song or stage a difficult scene.
A play seemed a good summer project, but she wasn’t thinking small-scale. Sandy had too much experience in the theater to settle for a quickie, backyard production for neighbors.
She pitched her idea to Ryan. He began spouting ideas before Sandy finished her spiel. The pair had acted together in several productions in Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene.
“We both have different, cool ideas,” Sandy says.
They decided to produce a Broadway revue featuring kids. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express” was their first choice of shows, but its performers wear roller skates.
“I could see kids flying off into the orchestra pit,” Sandy says. They reluctantly dropped the show and a few others they didn’t think would go over in Bonners Ferry.
Their final choices - “Big River,” “Annie,” “Les Miserables,” “Grease” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” - are safe and work well for kids.
To find their cast, Sandy and Ryan offered a week of free theater workshops for children. Sandy’s mother negotiated use of the junior high auditorium. The first day, 60 kids showed up ready to work.
For eight hours a day, Sandy and Ryan taught dance, musical theater, improvisation, audition techniques and stage directions with games they’d learned at workshops they’d attended.
One 12-year-old shyly told them she couldn’t sing, then belted out a song that knocked Sandy and Ryan back in their seats.
“She’s amazing,” Ryan says of the girl they chose to fill the role of Annie. “She tops any Annie I’ve seen professionally.”
A part went to every child. Five weeks of rehearsals began immediately. Sandy and Ryan drew up detailed schedules and posted them for parents and kids.
After rehearsals ended at 4 p.m., the young producers hit the pavement selling ads for their program, hanging promotional posters around town and finding musicians.
They spent their evenings planning sets, lighting, costumes and sound. Lack of money triggered their sense of invention and led to a simple set rigged with lights and a fog machine.
A 16-year-old seamstress whipped out their costumes.
More than 100 people slipped into the hard wooden auditorium seats on opening night, hoping to catch a little wind from strategically placed fans. Ryan, who’s performance resume stretches over several pages, couldn’t calm himself.
“I was thinking about everything that could go wrong,” he says. “Then nothing did.”
Their cast dazzled the audience with “Annie” and “Grease” and brought tears with “Les Miserables.” By the final bow, the auditorium thundered with applause.
“It was amazing for me to see it all come together,” says Marianne, the pianist. “It’s been hard work, but it’s been worth it.”
“Broadway Bound’s” last Bonners Ferry show is today at 2:30 p.m. But Ryan and Sandy plan to start all over with the same plan in Sandpoint - Ryan’s home - in September.
“A lot of people say the show’s great, that we should take it on tour,” Sandy says, not really surprised. “If we could do it here, we know we can do it in Sandpoint.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo