Burlington Elementary Students Make a Splash in Finding Nemo Jr. Production 

Five elementary students dressed as starfish and fish standing in a scattered line on a stage made to look like they're underwater.

The stage at Burlington Elementary School was transformed into an underwater wonderland as students brought the story of “Finding Nemo Jr.” to life through two performances for their peers and families. The musical follows the journey of Marlin, a cautious clownfish, and his adventurous son, Nemo, as they navigate the Great Barrier Reef. Their lives take a dramatic turn when Nemo is captured by scuba divers and is taken to a fish tank in Sydney. Determined to reunite with his son, Marlin embarks on an oceanic voyage, encountering a variety of colorful characters who teach valuable lessons of resilience, friendship, and self-discovery.

On stage, Burlington students poured their hearts into their roles, eliciting laughter and cheers from the audience. Behind the scenes, eight student crew members, and one Burlington alum who is in high school, built the sets and props, controlled the lighting and music, and managed backstage operations. The colorful, shimmering costumes and elaborate backdrops and lighting transported both the performers and the audience into the underwater world of “Finding Nemo, Jr.” 

Directed by Burlington Office Manager Tyra Toefer, the show featured a talented cast of 40 performers, ranging from first to fifth grade. Students participate in the musical through an after-school enrichment class. “We had auditions right before fall break and started rehearsals as soon as we came back,” said Toefer. 

When first-grader Hank Haury, who played Squirt, was asked what he enjoyed most about being in Finding Nemo, Jr., he shared, “I liked the dancing a lot.” During the performances, Hank said he felt good: “I wasn’t nervous; it was fun. I think the audience loved it, I could hear them laughing and clapping.” Hank is ready to perform again in the future and is already recruiting others to join him. “My friend wants to try out next year, and I want to get into the show with him.”

Two female elementary students on a stage dressed as clown fish. They are facing each other. The backdrop makes it look like they're under water.

Even students not directly involved in the production still find ways to participate. “They run lines at recess with their friends who are in the show, and they are part of the experience too,” said Toefer. “Every day students ask me, ‘Ms. Tyra, when is the play? Is it Friday? I’m so excited for it.’ They also get to learn theater etiquette and cheer on their peers.” 

Musical theater has always been, and still is, a huge part of Toefer’s life. “I’ve been performing since I was five and have recently started directing local shows as well. Being able to share my love and enthusiasm for musical theater is such a joy. My hope is that students gain self-confidence, develop teamwork skills, and find a love for music and performing.” 

One of Toefer’s favorite things about the recent production is that it was a community effort. “We are a small school, and so many people pitched in to make this happen for the kids,” shared Toefer. “Parent and grandparent volunteers made all of the costumes, and we had a family build the giant mask backdrop. We also held a Saturday rehearsal where parents and siblings helped with set building.” Additionally, several Burlington and St. Vrain Valley Schools staff helped direct, run sound, develop the choreography, and manage the stage crew, sets, and props.

“I am always in awe of the work and dedication of the students,” expressed Toefer. “When the expectation of giving 100% is set, it amazes me how they rise to the occasion. Every year, they exceed my expectations. To say I’m proud is an understatement. There hasn’t been one show we’ve done that I’ve had a dry eye afterward. Kids are amazing.”

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