By Jonathan Williams
Times West Virginian
The word calls to mind the Broadway shows of the 1940s and ’50s with their elaborate costuming and big production values.
The East Fairmont High School Busy Bee Band & Honeybees haven’t been performing their annual show quite that long, but today marks the beginning of the latest performance of “Follies,” the longest running high school performance in West Virginia.
The show celebrates its 40th year this year, said director T.J. Bean. The first Follies show was in 1970, “but we missed three years,” he said, one the year the band moved to the current school from what is now East Fairmont Junior High School and two others for weather-related reasons.
Bean said the show is a little difficult to describe for people who’ve never seen it.
“You can’t describe it as a high school band concert because there’s so much more than that,” he said.
“It’s just an extremely large production when you stop and think about how these are high school students,” he said.
For example, each year the show spotlights a short Broadway production, this year featuring music and scenes from “Annie.”
“We usually try to run through at least one of those,” he said.
There’s a bigger stage built specifically for the event, bigger lights, bigger sounds — it’s all bigger.
“We try to go the extra mile and bump everything up a notch or 10 and make it that much more professional,” Bean said.
It’s a lot of work, especially when you consider the musicians and danceline are still taking classes every day. To put together these elaborate, Broadway-style productions takes time and practice, Bean said.
“Imagine playing the same station or the same song on your car radio every day,” he said.
During the football season, when the band is playing more or less the same set at each performance, Bean will add one new song for Follies into the practice routine to give the musicians a little variety.
“Before we go away for Christmas break, I may hand out one more,” he said.
But when students return in January, the pressure is on, and it’s “a non-stop process” from the end of January until the day before the show gets under way. Between the Bees rehearsing and the boosters building the stage, wiring new lights and painting sets, there’s hardly a spare minute.
For the past two weeks, they’ve been rehearsing on stage, and “everything’s pretty much buttoned down,” Bean said. “The students are ready to see a crowd out there.”
With 40 years under their belts, the band and dancers have a lot of history — and material — to draw from.
“We have clips in there from James Bond,” Bean said, “a song featuring a lot of Disney numbers,” music from Annie and other Broadway musicals, and a lot more.
Though some of the show may be familiar to longtime fans, he said there will be a few surprises even for folks who haven’t missed a year.
Not to give anything away, Bean said, but Follies will be commemorating its 40th anniversary with a special introduction to the show and “a kick at the end,” two big surprises.
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic show,” Bean said.
Follies will run until Sunday, with 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday and a 2:30 p.m. matinee Sunday. Tickets will be available through Saturday afternoon, Bean said.
Email Jonathan Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JWilliamsTWV.