Lewis, who opened Sequoyah High School as its theater director more than 20 years ago, will end her run in theater in the local school system just as she began, by directing the rollicking musical “Once Upon A Mattress.”
This time around the play will be performed by the Academy Street troupe, which Lewis has been directing since her retirement from her full-time job in 2006.
The troupe will perform “Once Upon A Mattress” at Sequoyah High School at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $8 at the door.
Academy Street is in its 21st season of presenting plays that are open for participation to all students second through 12th grade in Cherokee County.
The final production of the year for the group will feature the talent of about 60 local students.
“For 54 years ‘Once Upon A Mattress’ has been entertaining audiences,” Lewis said. “This also allows me to get a lot of kids up on stage.”
The show first debuted on Broadway in May 1959. Carol Burnett was the “new” face to play the starring role of Princess Winnifred.
It was produced for television in 1964 and 1973 with Burnett reprising her role both times. The show was revived on Broadway in 1995 with Sarah Jessica Parker playing the role of Princess Winnifred, Lewis said.
“It has been a privilege and honor to work with this fine group of young people,” Lewis said. “Nothing is more thrilling for a teacher/director than to see the children’s faces light up when they connect with a role and especially an audience. We directors live for these moments.”
For 22 years, the Academy Street group has presented “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” for the holidays, and since Lewis took over, a big musical in the spring. Lewis said this year she is finally taking a bow and turning the program over to a successor.
“This is definitely my last one. I was supposed to retire last year, but we didn’t have a replacement, so I agreed to one more year. This year, I talked to Letitia Cline and we quickly found a replacement,” Lewis said.
Cherokee County’s school superintendent praised Lewis’s contribution.
“Janice Lewis has shared her knowledge and love of theater with thousands of children in the Cherokee County School District through her roles as a high school teacher and drama program director and now as director of Academy Street,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank R. Petruzielo said. “We’re so fortunate that, even after retiring from a very successful career at Sequoyah High School, that she continues to foster a passion for the arts among our students.”
The new director for next year is Reed Christian, who teaches at River Ridge High School. Her husband is Tim Christian, Dean Rusk Middle School chorus and orchestra director, and she has helped him with productions, Lewis said.
“She will probably improve and change the program,” Lewis said. “I know she will do a wonderful job with the program.”
Lewis said she especially thanks her long-time choral director, Susan Hannah, who has been with her for 26 years, first at Sequoyah High and later at Academy Street.
Lewis said she plans on traveling after stepping down.
“I have been thinking about the places I have never been to, and I plan to do my traveling in the U.S.” she said.
Chief among her destinations are Key West, Fla., and Washington D.C. to visit the memorial wall to veterans and find the name of her cousin who died in the Vietnam War.