A sure as the leaves fall each autumn, Jones Middle School students prepare for their annual fall production.

This year marks the 43rd year for the tradition, and the latest JMS cast and crew are geared up to present "Shrek Jr." on Thursday, Oct. 18, through Sunday, Oct. 21, at the Jones Middle School auditorium, 2100 Arlington Ave.

Director Sarah Santilli said the yearly presentation has always appealed to a wide variety of students.

"With opportunities both on stage and backstage in roles large and small, we have been able to work with busy student schedules and their various interests," she said. "We also work hard to feature as many students as possible, giving students ownership of their performance and technical work."

Music director Katie Widing agreed, noting the annual fall musical is so ingrained in the JMS culture and student experience that students line up to be part of it, and school staff members make arrangements for them to do so.

"We work collaboratively with the school staff and coaches to help students balance their schedules so they can have the experience on stage," Widing said. "Because of this collaboration, the Jones fall production is an organization that our students look forward to joining when they come to Jones."

The Oct. 18 and 19 shows will start at 7 p.m., and the Oct. 20 and 21 features will begin at 2 p.m.

Tickets cost $10; all seats are reserved. Tickets can be purchased on the Jones PTO website, jonespto.com.

"Performances have sold out in the past, so we encourage the community to buy tickets ahead of time, if possible," Santilli said. "Any extra seats will be available for purchase with cash or check at the door one hour prior to performances."

This year, 112 students are in the cast, and 52 more make up the tech crew.

There also will be a pit band of music educators from Upper Arlington and Worthington who are professional musicians.

Santilli said "Shrek Jr." was selected, in part, because the fall production has a rotation which highlights traditional, modern and fantasy shows over three-year periods.

"That way, students are able to experience all three during their time here at Jones," she said. "For our modern show this year, we wanted to try something new.

" 'Shrek Jr.' allows for a lot of student performers in the cast to be featured, creates interesting technical demands for our tech crew and also has a great message for our students and community."

Widing said the show will feature numerous speaking roles and singing solos for students in all three grades at JMS. She said it "centers around the big chorus numbers."

"It is a tremendous opportunity for our students to perform with live musicians," she said. "This experience mirrors the professional world of theater and allows for a more sophisticated performance for our students and audience members."

Proceeds from "Shrek Jr." will go to the Suzie Matthews Auditorium Improvement Fund, which in the past few years has been used in collaboration with other community grants to pay for updates to the auditorium.

The fund is named for former fall production director and Jones music teacher Suzie Matthews.

"The musical is based on the well-loved animated movie, maintaining many of the favorite characters, scenes and lines from the original," Santilli said. "The songs and dances really bring this show to life and will leave the audience dancing in their seats.

"This show's message really speaks to our students. At Jones Middle School, we are dedicated to celebrating individual stories, diversity and the differences that make us unique. Our students can identify with the struggles these characters face and how they overcome them."

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