Hey, guys, we need to raise money, so let's put on a show!
That's the gist of "The Music Teacher," Hallmark Channel's first movie musical, premiering Saturday, Aug. 11. The plot has been around forever, but that does not make it any less endearing or any more believable.
Those who love musicals will get a kick out of it. And those who love them know certain elements are a given -- at least two people who can't stand each other will fall in love, the bad guys will be shown up, and all will end well.
Annie Potts ( "GCB," "Designing Women") sings for the first time on camera in the role of no-nonsense teacher Alyson Daley, who has turned troubled teens around with an after-school musical theater program.
"I hadn't sung in a long time," Potts tells Zap2it. "I used to do a lot of musical theater, and then I was in a car accident and broke both of my legs, and that finished me for a career in musical theater. So I just let that go. So it was very nice for me to come back in that way.
"I am out of training and everything," she continues, "but it was really nice for me. I only had a couple of days to prepare it. And I wish I would have had a couple of weeks to nuance the song. It is very sweet."
Daley began the theater program 16 years prior when her husband and son were killed in a car accident, and she needed to fill the emptiness in her life with something positive. She has a casual beau, Ray (Richard Thomas of "The Waltons" in a very small role), but channels all of her energy into her work. Within moments it's all over at a board of education meeting. Her program is unceremoniously cut; it is just a budget line item, which the board deems nonessential.
When students from Daley's first class, who are now about 30 years old and in various stages of their lives and careers, come together to raise money and awareness of how special her program is, the film shows how teachers can completely change lives.
"I made a film that I thought would be an homage to the great teachers that gave me the career I have had," Potts says. "And it's a shout-out for the arts programs getting cut left and right, and they are. Not everybody is a science and math person, and those programs are very important for children. That is a favorite message of mine, and I am happy to be the bully pulpit."
Hallmark's first musical has original songs by Alan Ett, whose credits include Madonna's "Truth or Dare" and Betty White's 90th birthday special.
"I grew up having great teachers as my mentors," he says.
Ett's accomplishments range from starting the Berklee School of Music's famed jazz choir to serving as musical director of many shows and producing music for TV comedies.
"When I wrote it, the idea was to write it as if we were going to Broadway," he says. "The orchestrations are huge. The story of the movie is told through the songs the way a great musical is, and the themes from the songs are attributed to the actors. If you start to tear it apart, you are aware each character has themes, and those themes melodically become the underscore for the film. So the songs drive the action and storytelling while thematic elements drive the composing element of the score."
To make it on Broadway, it's likely that choreography would have to be added. Another problem, and it is a major one, are the flashbacks. The same actors play the characters in both their 30s and as teenagers. This is particularly painful in the scene where Jace (Shawn Roberts), who is now a TV star on a goofy hit show, suffers a flashback. He's wearing a silly wig, and though he is a big, fit guy, we are supposed to believe that his classmates pick him up and dump in a garbage can.
Flashbacks aside, the film works, particularly during the many songs, all of which are going to be on iTunes.
Potts' hope is that viewers will be reminded of influential teachers "and maybe give them a call or write them a thank-you note to let them know teachers are the unrecognized heroes of the planet," she says.
Most students never know how much teachers sacrifice, Potts says. With so many school districts cutting arts programs, the movie illustrates how much creativity can be sparked with just a stage, a piano, a group of kids who love to sing and dance, and an optimistic teacher.
"It's not 'Glee,' it's not 'Smash,' but it's sweet," Potts says.
Photo/Video credit: Hallmark Channel