The Shakopee High School drama department’s current production of “Hairspray” continues our school’s tradition of putting on amazing, highly entertaining, captivating musicals and plays. Drama director Thom Amundsen certainly has a knack for not only assembling incredibly talented students year after year, but helping them excel in their roles.

Bringing together top-tier talent for a musical is a good start, but it takes a gifted director like Amundsen to coach, teach, challenge, and connect with the student actors to bring out their absolute best. And that’s exactly what we experience in every fall musical and spring play at the high school.

One of the many aspects of the drama program that I admire is how well the students come together to support and encourage each other. It’s not only the actors in the starring roles. The playbill for “Hairspray” lists more than 120 students contributing as actors, musicians, tech crew, construction crew, running crew, costumes, and other essential roles. This provides an opportunity for a wide cross-section of students to showcase their talents and abilities.

I also appreciate that the theater group has traditions that are passed down from year to year. I’m told students are sworn to secrecy on some traditions and not allowed to discuss them outside of the cast and crew — and I’d expect nothing less from a creative group of drama students. As one former drama student told me, “What happens in the black room stays in the black room.” The black room is where the actors rehearse and prep before they go onstage.

Other traditions are more visible, like after-show parties. The drama students have a reputation for having fun. The cast, crew, and musicians are extremely good at what they do, invest a lot of time to provide high-energy shows, and spend a lot of time together, so they are certainly deserving of having fun and celebrating their success.

The actors’ enthusiasm for their parts and willingness to embrace their roles elevate their performances. When I saw “Hairspray” on Saturday, everyone on stage looked like they were enjoying themselves and truly wanted to be there, and that excitement was infectious. The audience’s thunderous applause throughout the musical and standing ovation at the end made it clear that everyone was just as blown away as I was.

Amundsen also deserves applause for having the courage to put on a play like “Hairspray” that’s edgy and deals with tough social issues like acceptance. It’s a rare treat to be entertained, listen to great singing, hear a phenomenal pit orchestra, and watch energetic dancing in a musical that tackles social barriers.

The drama department isn’t the only arts group at the high school delivering outstanding performances. The bands and choirs do the same. I’ve enjoyed several concerts over the years. Some of the arrangements are rather complex, and the singing and musicianship sound so professional, that it’s hard to believe these are high school students. The concerts are moving to the point that I get goosebumps, and I’m not alone. I often see people wiping their eyes.

I’m sure a lot goes on behind the scenes preparing for musicals, plays, and concerts that we never hear or read about. Likewise, I’m sure there’s a lot of stress and anxiety as the go-live dates draw near. The fact that the productions are always flawless and the directors make it look easy is a testament to their hard work, dedication, and expertise.

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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