Choreographer Jennifer Waters leads Emily Graham as Fiona, and a chorus of rats, in Big Sky Broadway’s first ever tap dance number. The show runs two nights, June 22-23, with a 7 p.m. start. Big Sky Broadway kids practice their moves just one week from opening night. (L to R) Greta McClain, Logan Barker, Emerson Tatom, Eden Buckingham, Sophia Cone, Sarah Buckingham and Annel Garcia.

“I’m a Believer”

Big Sky Broadway kids ready for upcoming performance of “Shrek the Musical”
“I think it’s always so fascinating that a group of such young people, from elementary school up to eighth grade, all come together. And in two weeks we put on this amazing play. It’s so cool.”—Olivia Bulis

If you happened past the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center recently, there’s a good chance you heard the song “I’m a Believer” blasting from the speakers. You probably also caught the sound of little tap shoes echoing from the stage, a lot of singing, and a lot of laughter. These are the sounds of the Big Sky Broadway kids—readying for their upcoming performance of “Shrek the Musical.”

             This year 47 participants, from elementary to eighth grade, signed up for the biggest-ever BSB production —a two-week immersive summer camp, which culminates in two performances of “Shrek.” Arriving to camp with their lines memorized, daily camp sessions form the rest of the production with lessons in choreography, vocals, blocking and more.

     Barbara Rowley, BSB founder and producer, can be found in the fray, overseeing a loud, energetic, yet organized production of eager and excited young performers who pass from one session to another. Each lesson is punctuated by “I’m a Believer,” the prompt to move on to the next one.

     A week into camp, Rowley was interacting with her high school staffers, one who came to her wondering if they’d ordered enough Rat-a-tat-tapper costumes. (They had.) Anna Alvin just graduated from Lone Peak High School, but was back for a ninth year with BSB, working on props. A week before opening night, she was working on a scroll and considering the best way to create a rather large cookie sheet. Foil? Silver paint? Alvin would figure it out.

     Olivia Bulis, who spoke to the Lookout back in December about her experience as the lead in a Bozeman production of “Annie,” was cast this year as Princess Fiona. This is Bulis’ fifth year with Big Sky Broadway —she’ll be entering ninth grade next school year, so this is her last summer performing with BSB. She admits the two-week experience can be exhausting, but it’s all worthwhile. 

     “For me there’s nothing more rewarding than finishing your musical. You’re standing on the stage, and the audience starts clapping, gives you a standing ovation. That’s the best feeling,” she said.

     Bulis is already planning on interning with the program following her freshman year, and looking even further into the future, she hopes, 20 years from now, BSB will be around for her own kids to experience someday.

     “I think it’s always so fascinating that a group of such young people, from elementary school up to eighth grade, all come together,” Bulis said, watching a group of her cast mates rehearse lines with Director and BSB founder John Zirkle. “And in two weeks we put on this amazing play. It’s so cool.”

     Beyond “Annie” and “Shrek,” Bulis has performed in “Mary Poppins,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” but she’s really excited to take on the role of Princess Fiona. 

     “Her character is really, really fun to play,” Bulis said. “Her personality changes throughout the entire play, so it’s really fun to go back and forth all the time.”

     They’ll be two performances of “Shrek,” some starring roles varying depending on the night. Emily Graham, who just finished up seventh grade, is also starring as Princess Fiona, performing Saturday, June 23. This is Graham’s third year with BSB. 

     “I’ve just always loved performing in front of people,” said Graham during a quick break from rehearsal. “In Big Sky this is one of the only times that I have the chance to, so every year I am so excited for this—It’s pretty much what I look forward to. I don’t stop talking about it, ever.”

     Another star of the show is Luke Kirchmayr. He’ll be tackling the role of Shrek both performances. Like Bulis, he’s headed to high school next year. So this too will be his last performance with BSB. It’s the fifth year he’s participated, but he’s especially excited for “Shrek” since he enjoys the songs and choreography included in the show. 

     Kirchmayr insists he’s mostly un-phased by the two-week turnaround. 

     “It’s fun to kind of rush it and see how well we can pull it off,” Kirchmayr said. “There’s an adrenaline rush.”

     All three young actors were appreciative of the professional support they receive from their teachers and grateful to be taken seriously by them. 

     “They’re like real-life superheroes,” Bulis said. 

     With one week until opening night, Bulis, Graham and Kirchmayr happily headed back to rehearsal. “Shrek the Musical” will take place Friday, June 22 and Saturday June 23, both performances at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12, $17, and $22.

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