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Fox Chapel Country Day School fifth-graders shine in musical that took audience back in time

| Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Claudia DeMartino sings 'Blue Suede Shoes' to a standing room only crowd at the final performance of the Country Day School's musical, Jukebox.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Tami Fire beams as she plays piano and directs her original script for the Country Day School's Jukebox musical.

Fox Chapel Country Day School students rolled up their jeans, fluffed their poodle skirts and slicked back their hair to go on a search last week.

They were looking for who put the bop in the “Bop-she-Bop.”

Cast as 1950s greasers and pink dolls, the student body did their best Sha-Na-Na impersonations during the school's spring musical, “Country Day Jukebox,” an original script by music teacher Tami Fire.

“This year's fifth-grade class is out of this world,” said Fire, of the 13 students featured in the finger-snapping fun.

“I always write for the personalities of the students and I knew these students had the enthusiasm to sustain a theme piece.

“Last year, when they were singing and playing around in class, I could see them this year singing like Johnny and Sandy in “Grease,” — ‘We Go Together.”

With fast-paced familiar songs such as “Rockin' Robin” and “At the Hop,” Fire said the students fell in love with the decade famous for Ford Thunderbirds, drive-in diners, leather jackets and vinyl records.

“If I wrote a play about a cesspool, these kids would volunteer to play garbage. They are great,” she said.

Fire, in her 10th year at the school along Squaw Run East in Fox Chapel, is well-versed in theater arts. Having earned her degree at Carnegie Mellon University, she traveled with the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, largely visiting area schools to bring them of taste of professional arts.

“I saw how the kids loved it,” she said. “And I thought, I kind of want to be in the classroom.”

Fire soon stepped into her role at Country Day, feeling “that it was a place that was made for me.

“This is a jewel. No other music teachers around can take the freedoms or the risks that I can,” she said.

She credits longtime former Head of School Richard Whiteman for creating an environment where music and art are a core part of the curriculum.

To that end, Fire said, the three original plays she pens each year go a long way in helping students succeed in the classroom. For this show in particular, Fire said the 1950s lingo spurred an unexpected debate over language then and now. It was something she didn't plan but relished as a teacher.

“This is as much a part of their education as math and science,” she said, adding that she is a zealot about not letting students fade into the backdrop.

“I don't appreciate one kid having 78 lines and one kid being a tree,” she said. “Having known these kids for sometimes eight years, I know how to write for each of them. I know where I can push a little and where to hang back. And they all have exactly 19 lines.”

Head of School Sharon Smith said Fire's efforts are not lost on the students, or the parents.

“Tami is creative and energetic and really gets the children excited about singing,” Smith said. “She creates shows and songs matching the students' personalities.”

The hall is typically packed for student productions but this year's 50s-themed romp has everyone ready to shake their hips and sing along, she said.

“I'm hoping the audience will take away the joy of music,” Fire said. “A lot of the adults grew up with these songs and I hope that the kids are singing along with the grandparents on their way home.”

And that means all of the 90 students at Country Day, each got their chance to shine on stage. As the fifth-graders hung out at the makeshift soda shop, they dropped coins in the jukebox as a cue for the younger students to join them on stage and sing some oldies.

Fifth-grader Sean Kelley said his favorite part of the play was how all the greasers, varsity boys and biker girls became best friends at the end of the show. The 11-year-old couldn't wait to slick back his spiked hair and share the performance with the audience.

“I was nervous but after you do a dress rehearsal that kind of goes away,” he said.

Classmate Callie Davis, 11, said she loved looking back and learning about a favorite decade in history. As a member of “pink dolls,” Callie got to roll up her jeans and wear her hair in a high ponytail to portray a greaser girlfriend, a la Pinky Tuscadero from TV's “Happy Days.”

“I think it's fun to learn their speech,” she said. “Like they call each other clowns and they talk all cool.

“The practices have really brought our class together and that's been fun.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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