Following a successful run of Moana Jr., the Holston Middle School Show Choir has begun rehearsals for their first summer performance of Matilda the Musical, a show made possible by a Tennessee Arts Commission grant.

Natalee Elkins, the HMS choral director and Show Choir director, and Taylor Branson, an HMS school counselor and Show Choir production coordinator, applied for the grant last year, and after a months-long application and interview process, they were finally able to bring their vision to life.

“We’ve had the rights for this show for three years. It was supposed to happen pre-COVID,” Elkins said. “We knew that if it was to come to fruition, we were going to need some outside funding. We applied for the grant last year, and, honestly, I don’t think we ever thought anything was going to come of it.”

With the additional funding from TAC, the Show Choir directors were able to open auditions to students, teachers, and even professors from across the county. Most of the cast attend schools in the KCS Regions Four and Five, including Holston, Beaumont, Belle Morris, Central, Fulton, Gibbs, Gresham, Shannondale, and Sterchi.

“We did what they call ‘non-traditional casting,’ which is where we are basically looking to not cast based on physical or ethnic traits. We are casting based on who we felt is best for the part,” Elkins said. “We have a diverse cast of kids coming from everywhere which is really fun.”

This unique opportunity has also allowed educators to grace the stage. Elkins and Branson have roles of their own in the musical, Holston Middle Principal Katie Lutton will play the beloved Ms. Honey, and even University of Tennessee math professor Jack Sturm joined the cast. 

“Something really neat about Jack – he’s the UT professor – he teaches math now, but he originally was going to be a theater major,” Branson said. “We’re going to use him as that college and career piece, like ‘Look, he has this other job, but he is still able to do this,’ which also ties into the 865 Academies.”

The Holston Show Choir has been performing for over 15 years, and its repertoire includes several condensed versions of popular Disney films. Prior to this season’s Moana Jr. performance, the group staged Into the Woods, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, to name a few. 

Elkins and Branson are always brainstorming for the next show, but for now, all the focus is on Matilda. 

Tickets for Matilda the Musical are on sale now for July 7 – 9. Buy tickets here.

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