By Kevin McClintock
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Tonight’s the night when the lights dim, the curtains part and the sound swells inside one of the newest and most modern concert halls found in the Joplin area.
“This is something I’ve wanted (to see) since I was in middle school,” said Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School junior Clayton Woolery. “I couldn’t ask for anything more than what we have now.”
As he spoke, he gestured around at the 425-seat capacity TJ Concert Hall. While the facility already received its public debut late last year, tonight marks the school’s first full-fledged, “bells and whistles” performance held inside the multi-million dollar facility.
The popular musical “Hello, Dolly!” will be performed by TJ’s actors, singers and musicians at 7 p.m. today and Saturday.
There’s really not a bad seat in the house, said Robert Carlson, director of communications and technology.
“We did some strategic planning two years ago and everybody in the community, the alumni, the parents, said (the school) could really benefit from a nice performing arts center,” Carlson said. “We have a huge performing arts and music program, but we really didn’t have the right facility for them. Now we do.”
The concert hall is just one aspect of the $15 million Humphreys Arts and Student Life Complex, which neatly doubled the size of the school, from about 45,000 square feet to about 90,000. The new complex also has a lobby for art galleries, rehearsal rooms for music, a commons area with a full-service cafeteria and outdoor dining, an open-air courtyard in the center of the building, a foreign languages lab, a library and media resource center for older students and a studio arts room.
The theater features a lighting system, sound system, orchestra pit, a trap door, 40-foot fly tower, plenty of space for back stage access for tech crews and props, a sizable staging area as well as practice rooms.
“There are a lot of big theaters, but this one is pretty unique with the current level of technology we have here,” Carlson said. “There’s really nothing like this in the area.”
Before the concert hall was constructed, music and drama students competed for performance space inside the school’s multi-purpose room, which wasn’t built for acoustical performances.
“Everybody sat one right behind the other,” Carlson said. “Parents sat in plastic chairs set up for them, and that’s where we held our assemblies and performing arts performances.”
“You can do everything in here,” said John Atteberry, the school’s music teacher. “We’ve already had concerts, a full symphony orchestra, we’ve had plays, and now we’re getting ready for our first big all-school spring musical. I think everybody is excited about it.
“We picked ‘Hello, Dolly!’ last fall because we wanted to make sure we matched a play our current group of students,” could succeed at. “It’s a good one because it involves a large group and a large chorus -- it’s a show that everybody knows, so the audience (should) be excited to hear the music. Everybody loves the songs.”
The play revolves around Dolly Gallagher Levi, a professional meddler and matchmaker who decides to marry a miserly millionaire named Horace Vandergelder -- and that is when the fun begins.
Demonstrating the commitment shown by the school’s students, Atteberry said, 60 of the school’s entire 160 students, grades 6-12, are participating in the performance, be it acting, chorus, instrumental or as a member of the tech crew backstage.
“They really enjoy being here,” Atteberry said of the students, “and they can see what it’s like being in a real theater and how exciting that can be” by graduating and moving to a performing arts department on the collegiate level.
Having the space on the concert hall’s mammoth stage helps when practicing lines and walking through dress rehearsals, said TJ sophomores Frank Cascone and Evadne Rodriguez.
“It’s definitely made practice a lot easier for us,” said Cascone.
Aside from Woolery, Cascone and Rodriguez, students with headlining roles include: Samantha Bradshaw, Kaylee Conner, Sanjay Jenkins, Jonathan Shumaker, Samantha Mountjoy, John Bowman, Victoria Baker and Shannon Clark, among many others.
Want to go?
Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School is located at 3401 Newman Road. Call 781-5124 for advanced tickets -- $12 for adults, $8 for children.