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Taking the stage

Drama to give Special Needs Mutual a chance to shine

A youth group in northern Davis County is putting on a special performance next week.

On April 12 and 13, the members of the North Davis Area Special Needs Mutual of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will take the stage at Layton High School, 440 Lancer Lane, Layton, to perform "The Reality of Broadway."

The play begins at 7 p.m., and that's when the mutual members begin to shine.

"As soon as they get up there in those lights, they just transform into stars," said Holly Rasband of Clinton, the group's young women's president. "It's just amazing to watch them."

The North Davis Area Special Needs Mutual is made up of people from Farmington to Roy from ages 12 to 50 or older. They also range in ability level. But each of the 130 members and their 50 leaders will appear onstage during the play.

"They love to get up there and ham it up," Rasband said.

This year's performance marries classic Broadway tunes with popular reality television. It was written by Syracuse residents Tom and Debbie Housley.

During the play the performers are separated into 12 groups, each named after a different Broadway production. The groups come onstage and perform as if they are auditioning for Broadway. The play depicts the final night of the competition.

"They are going for all the marbles," said Tom Housley, writer and director.

In the end, the winning group gets to be in a new Broadway production, "The Phantom Cats of Many Colors on the Roofs."

This is the group's 24th annual performance, and Housley said the members look forward to performing each spring. "It's one of the highlights of the year for them," he said.

Twenty-nine-year-old Michelle Bennett of Sunset has a performing background. She is excited for the play. "I love it," she said. "It's so much fun." Bennett also said she doesn't get nervous while performing. "I just dance," she said. "That's what I love to do."

Stu White, 40, of Kaysville is also anticipating in this year's performance. "I like getting up in front of the crowd," he said, adding that they've had crowds of more than 1,000 people in the past. "You take the nervous energy and turn it around and it works for you."

Housley said he has seen many of the group members grow by participating in the play. He said one of the youths is normally very shy and keeps her head down. But when she gets into the production, she comes out of her shell and enjoys taking big bows.

"Another young man that rarely spoke or said anything easily understood has come a long way with the plays and wants to be involved," Housley said.

Some of the actors are limited in their abilities, but Housley said that doesn't stop them from making an impact. "They go out and they are doing their thing and they have got a grin from ear to ear and it is really contagious," he said. "You see them having such a good time, and you can't help but have a good time also."

Twenty-nine-year-old Clinton resident Jessica Herring is looking forward to performing in the play. "It's going to be fun," she said. "I like the costumes."

Rasband said the group has a budget for its annual performance, but many of the supplies and services are donated. Admission to the performance is free, but Rasband said that in the past people have made donations to the group after seeing them perform.

"It's just amazing," she said. "People appreciate good theater."

Housley said there are many volunteers that help put on the production.

"It's unbelievable the amount of volunteers that are involved, between costumes and recording and developing choreography and painting sets," he said. "But it's a labor of love because working with these kids is addictive."

Housley has been involved with the play for about 12 years. He said in the past he would worry about pulling the production off, but he has learned that it will all work out. "It doesn't matter how bad we as leaders mess it up," he said. "There's somebody watching out for them, and it always works."

The performers have been practicing for this year's play at an LDS church in Clearfield since January.

Janice Botts, 40, of Kaysville encourages everyone to come see their hard work. "We want them all to see the play," she said.

E-mail: nclemens@desnews.com