When Ralph Downs Elementary School fourth- and fifth-graders put on a dinner theater, it's not the theater part that challenges them. It's the dinner part.
As generations of parents have witnessed, children are natural performers. Put them on the stage and they will sing and dance with abandon. But ask them to carry plates of food and serve dinner to a roomful of adults? That's when the nerves kick in.
Ralph Downs choral students will host a dinner theater production of “Broadway Beat” at 6:30 p.m. May 10. The dinner theater is a fundraiser for the Putnam City school's music program.
“Broadway Beat” is a revue that transports the audience through generations of Broadway hits, starting with George M. Cohan's standards before moving on to selections from classics such as “The Music Man,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Grease,” “Hairspray,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked.” The hourlong program is a mix of songs sung by the school's chorus, numbers belted out by student soloists and some snappy dialogue to introduce the numbers.
Before students hit the stage, though, they must serve dinner to about 200 guests, mostly family members and teachers.
“I think the hardest part of this for students is the serving part. We talk a lot beforehand about service and manners, and they have to remember and use what they've learned. They also have to be calm and wait patiently for their food. If things start moving fast or become harried, they have to deal with it,” said Katie Robertson, the school's vocal music teacher.
Students are assigned tables to serve.
As any waitress or waiter would do, they ask their guests what they would like to drink.
They deliver drinks and food — this year, the food is being brought in from a local restaurant — to the tables. When guests have finished their dinners, students swoop in to clear tables. Dessert orders and delivery come next.
“You have to be sort of quick,” said fifth-grader Rachel Weir.
It's possible to be too quick, classmate Fulton Webster said. Fulton knows from experience that moving too fast can cause spilled drinks, and sometimes worse.
“Last year everyone was racing around trying to get everything done, and two people collided. Food went everywhere,” he said.
Even with minor anxiety about serving, students and their parents find the dinner theater experience rewarding.
Fifth-grader Madison Parsons said her parents like to see her on stage.
Classmate Christina Wingfield said her parents like seeing her have a good time.
Robertson, who not only directs the choir and soloists but masterminds the entire effort, said the experience is a positive one.
“The students love dinner theater. I know they're excited ahead of time based on how many people they invite to come. Then the evening of dinner theater comes, and it's fun and chaotic. After school, they rehearse, set up and prepare for dinner. They can hardly wait until we welcome our first guests,” Robertson said.
Steve Lindley is the Putnam City schools spokesman.
For ticket information, call 721-4431.