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By MATT CRANE
After 30 years, the Summer Scholars on Stage program will once again raise the curtain for its newest original musical comedy.
â€śDonâ€™t Panic! (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse)â€ť premieres tonight at 7 p.m. in the McComas Hall theater at Mississippi State University.
Program director Joe Ray Underwood said it was hard to believe the production marks 30 years for the summer theater camp.
â€śWe never dreamed weâ€™d be doing this for 30 years,â€ť Underwood said. â€śItâ€™s endured and taken on a life of its own.â€ť
Underwood said the students have been amazing to watch throughout writing and production camps.
â€śThere are kids here who would rival any American Idol group,â€ť he said. â€śThe talent level is just remarkable.â€ť
Underwood said after 30 years of mentoring students and shaping the program, many former Summer Scholars participants have used the camp as a stepping stone for careers in theatrical entertainment.
â€śThis lets people find their niche, and some pursue it professionally,â€ť he said. â€śWeâ€™ve got former kids on Broadway, touring with albums, acting in movies, writing plays and some involved with the technical aspects of theater.â€ť
Set to music, â€śDonâ€™t Panic!â€ť tells the story of a 30 year high school class reunion that happens to coincide with mysterious end of the Mayan calendar, and an even more mysterious apocalyptic zombie breakout.
Featuring songs like â€śAge of Aquarius,â€ť â€śHungry Like the Wolfâ€ť and â€śNot While Iâ€™m Around,â€ť the production was written by 17 campers participating in a preliminary writing week, a process Underwood said encourages creative expression from a collective perspective.
â€śGroup writing is very different, so getting a consensus about what youâ€™re doing is a real challenge,â€ť he said. â€śI think the whole thing has been quite cleverly done.â€ť
Costume designer Amy Fortenberry said the connection between actors and the costumes they wear is critical to the success of any production, and the process has been very collaborative.
â€śTheyâ€™re developing habits like actors which is amazing,â€ť Fortenberry said. â€śItâ€™s great to see the younger generation continue this tradition of creating and educating through theater.â€ť
Costuming assistant Mandy Hackman said each act has a very distinctive look and feel, and the process for creating costumes for the zombies has included burning, bloodying and dirtying clothes.
â€śThe world is so big in this show,â€ť Hackman said. â€śCostuming helps the kids develop their characters, and it puts the world of the show in perspective for them so they can put it in perspective for the audience.â€ť
Fortenberry said being back in a theater camp setting has been the greatest gift for her and has enjoyed seeing the campersâ€™ faces light up when the show begins to come together.
â€śThey are so creative and so willing to work,â€ť she said. â€śItâ€™s a really good show, and they have worked so hard.â€ť
Underwood said community members wanting to attend â€śDonâ€™t Panic!â€ť can expect a great musical comedy that has an added bonus of being free to the public.
â€śItâ€™s a high energy show and it has fun music,â€ť he said. â€śPeople should come see us if they want to get away, laugh and see young people at their best.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t Panic! (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse)â€ť begins tonight at 7 p.m. at the McComas Hall theater. A final performance will be held Saturday at 1 p.m.
Admission is free, but donations to Summer Scholars are welcome.