RSF Players stage magical ‘Moana Jr’

Rowe eighth grader Ella Harkins as Moana.
Rowe eighth grader Ella Harkins as Moana.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Players put on “Moana Jr.” last week at R. Roger Rowe School, a play that allowed students to show how far their talents and creativity can go. The seventh and eighth-grade students, led by drama teacher Christine Callaway, brought Oceania to life on a stage with a towering, student-made Te Kā volcano and way-finding outrigger canoe that rolled over ribbons of shiny and sparkly blue waves.

In the eighth grade show, Moana was played by young actress Ella Harkins, singing with a clear, confident and beautiful voice. Jordan Wells took on the role of the shape-shifting demigod Maui and Madison Rubio got to shine as the flashy Tamatoa, the giant crab with Kasen Mendez playing her Left Claw and Max Wrolstad as Right Claw.

The Players performed evening shows and morning matinees, one attended by a kindergarten and first-grade audience who were wrapped up in the action, danced along to the fun and lively “You’re Welcome” and delighted in the lighting design that drenched the PAC in bright colors and patterns.

Rehearsals started back on Jan 24 during a class that Callaway sees every other day. With over 30 class periods at an hour and 20 minutes a class, the students put in 40 hours of rehearsal time.

As part of putting on the play, students learned about the islands of Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji and Hawaii. They created brochures for the islands as well as a video that highlighted the various cultures and what makes each island so unique.

The class discussed the reason why Maui, played by Jordan and seventh grader Luke Tree, would not wear tattoos for his costume like was depicted in the “Moana” movie as in the Samoan culture, the tattoo represents community and honor and representation of them would be considered disrespectful.

While learning the music, students worked extremely hard to understand the language and the pronunciation of Samoan and Tokelauan words in the lyrics.

Impressively, the seventh grade stagecraft students made all of the costumes, set pieces and props for the play. Callaway taught them how to sew and they made the wrap-around skirts worn by the cast. The inventive students were able to create costumes like jellyfish (lit up umbrellas), a swimming manta ray and the various creatures that Maui shape-shifted into, from a shark to a flying hawk that soared over the audience.