- Last December, McCracken County High School students began auditioning for the musical “Grease” – their version of the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
- Using the karaoke app Smule, the seniors on the cast came together – virtually – and performed the musical’s final act, “We Go Together,” and sent it as a gift to their director Mary Bowden.
By Jacob Perkins
A nearly completed set currently sits vacant on the auditorium stage of McCracken County High School.
One of the most devastating impacts of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) for students throughout Kentucky has been the postponement or cancellation of plans for which they have worked tirelessly. An instance of this that has been garnishing a lot of attention on social media and was even played during one of Gov. Andy Beshear’s daily COVID-19 updates comes from McCracken County.
Last December, McCracken County High School students began auditioning for the musical “Grease,” their version of the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
Once the 52-person cast and 15-person crew were announced and the students returned from winter break, they hit the ground running.
”We have been rehearsing after school four to five days every week since we returned to school in January,” said McCracken County High School Drama Director Mary Bowden. “We have had rehearsals to learn music, separate rehearsals to learn choreography and then rehearsals to stage the scenes and work on characterization. These rehearsals last anywhere from two to three hours.”
Then came COVID-19, which led to all school districts in the Commonwealth closing their doors to help protect the teachers, staff, students and families in their communities.
According to Bowden, the initial reaction of her students was shock and disbelief. No one expected something like this to occur. Her sentiments were echoed by one of her senior students, Lucas Bohannon.
“We had to be in this together and cope with each other,” said Bohannon. “Everyone was lost. … Everyone was going through this for the first time together.”
On top of their concerns for the health of their communities, the students began to realize that their performance was now in jeopardy.
“We were all kind of scared that we weren’t going to be able to do ‘Grease,’” Bohannon added. “But we never lost hope. I think that’s important. We always said, ‘The show must go on.’ I think that rings true, especially in this situation.”
So with the help of his parents, Bohannon came up with a plan.
His mom, Tammy Bohannon, a special needs instructional assistant at McCracken County High, said the cast always presents Bowden and the tech crew with gifts on closing night.
“Everyone involved in this production was acutely aware that this was show weekend and it was even more sad that they couldn’t even get together and sing through it,” she said.
“My mom suggested making a video and singing one of the big ensemble numbers from ‘Grease,’” Lucas Bohannon said. “It kind of just sparked from there. It was better than I ever could have imagined.”
Using the karaoke app Smule, the seniors on the cast came together – virtually – and performed the musical’s final act, “We Go Together,” and sent it as a gift to Bowden. Lucas Bohannon posted the video on March 28 at 7:30 p.m. CT – right at the time their final performance would have taken place.
There are a total of 17 seniors in the cast, 10 of whom were able to join the video. There are an additional three seniors on the crew. When Bowden saw the video, she was overcome with emotions.
“I cried big, ugly tears. We’re talking the kind that you don’t want to cry in public,” she said. “I think part of me cried because I miss seeing my students so much. I have several of them in class multiple times per day, and then for rehearsals for a couple of hours after school each day.
“I never expected something like that. For them to think of me and what would make me smile during this crazy time of uncertainty, I can only feel blessed.”
Bohannon explained that this gift was so important to the seniors because they’re not sure when they’ll see Bowden again.
“She’s pregnant with her second child and her due date is April 23. We don’t know if we’re going to see her again,” he said. “She is one of the biggest influences on all of our lives. We didn’t know that the last time that we saw her before we started non-traditional instruction days might have been our last.”
Bohannon is considering attending Northern Kentucky University in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in theater. Although he always loved theater and it has been a passion of his for his whole life, Bohannon said Bowden really gave him that push throughout his high school career to pursue it in college.
“She’s definitely played a huge role in my passion for theater. It started growing in high school when she became my director,” he said.
At the moment, the show is postponed and not canceled. The students and Bowden are staying ready just in case the show goes on.
“I have no plans to cancel,” said Bowden. ”But if I’ve learned anything in the past two weeks, it’s that a lot of outside forces can influence your plans and you need to roll with the punches. We have been incredibly supported by our faculty and the community. They all want to see this show come together and be performed.
“We are keeping our chins up to pull this together when/if we return to school. We have no reason to shut down the performance entirely just yet.”
As for the video being played at the end of Gov. Beshear’s March 30 press conference – and watching Virginia Moore, executive director for Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, sign the entire song – Tammy Bohannon said she was overcome with emotion.
“So many people were impressed with Ms. Virginia signing the song with such expression. I wanted to share that one of the seniors in the video, Claire Buchanan, is hearing impaired,” Tammy Bohannon explained. “Claire has worn bilateral hearing aids since age 4, is a natural lip reader and practices American Sign Language.”
In the fall, Claire will attend the Belmont School of Music as a music therapy major.
“I think it’s wonderful to have such an amazing young lady as part of the ‘Grease’ cast and it shows that everyone can find a home in the arts,” Bohannon said.