ZEPHYRHILLS — Myli Lane used to be a quiet, shy kid. There wasn't a hint of that last week, when the fifth-grader strode onto the stage at Chester Taylor Elementary School.
It was the last of three performances of Music Man Junior, and a swan song of sorts for many in the 44-member cast moving on to middle school. Over the two previous nights, the cast and chorus put on one heck of a show for parents and family members. This performance, held during the school day, was for the entire student body, who gathered in the cafetorium.
If Myli was nervous, she didn't show it.
Dressed in 1900s-period costume, red curls framing her face, Myli transformed into "Mrs. Paroo," With masterful poise, she delivered her lines as the widowed mother of the female lead (played by Abby Bush) in Meredith Willson's adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway classic.
It was an ideal role for Myli, who caught the acting bug as a third-grader in a school production of Broadway Santa.
"Three years ago, Mr. Bintz brought drama to the school, and I realized this is what I like to do," she said. "I like that you have to learn all the lines, and the lights are on you, and you're the center of attention. I like that you can be someone that you're not."
Myli's mom, Joanna Stalvey, who helps with hair and makeup, said it's been quite an experience watching her daughter bloom. This isn't the typical elementary school music production, where students stand on risers singing songs, she said, adding, "I can't say enough about Mr. Bintz and what he's done. He brought out the stage and lights and microphones."
Drama is an experience music teacher Ryan Bintz wants to share with all his students.
Since his arrival, upper elementary students have performed spring musicals such as Willly Wonka and Annie Junior, as well as winter theatrical productions. Bintz, who was named Teacher of the Year during his second year at Chester Taylor, also directs smaller musical productions for first- and second-graders.
He teaches music classes daily. Weekly drama instruction is held during a 45-minute "enhancement" block on Friday afternoons.
There, students learn acting techniques, how to work the lights, and work discreetly as stagehands.
In a production such as Music Man, students learn about the dialect, dress and history at the turn of the 20th century.
"A lot of these kids have never done anything like this before," said Bintz. He has a lengthy resume acting in community productions and plans to audition soon for an area production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
"Just to see their faces and how happy they are when a show is a completed is a joy for me," he said.
So is watching students rise to the challenge. Typically, Music Man Junior is a production for middle and high schoolers.
"I just really want to challenge them, and that's why I do these huge productions," Bintz said. "They've really taken to it."
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Jeffery Walker's love of singing was one of the reasons he joined the elementary troupe. He landed the lead role of the fast talking salesman, Henry Hill — aka "The Music Man" — who loses his heart to town librarian Marian Paroo.
"There's a certain thrill of it, and it's a fun experience," he said. "It gives you a lot of time to socialize, and if you picture yourself having a future in any kind of music career, then it's a good place to learn different things."
Many students had not been exposed to the theater, said principal Julie Marks. Chester Taylor Elementary is a Title I school, where 85 percent of students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price meals program.
"I feel like watching these students and knowing some of their back stories, some of their struggles, to see them shine and come alive is incredible," she said. "What he's done at our school is just amazing. He's bringing big stuff out in children that we never thought — that they never thought — they could do."
"I don't know how he does it," said Colleen Kay, mother of leading man Jeffery Walker, and daughter Savannah Walker, who played the role of Alma Hicks.
"He has all those kids working hard, and they're enjoying it," Kay said. "He dreams big, and it helps the kids to know they can dream big, too."
Contact Michele Miller at email@example.com. Follow @MicheleMiller52.