‘Guys and Dolls’ a true sister act
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – When Madeleine Miller sings in her lead role as Sister Sarah Brown in “Guys and Dolls,” she thinks of her 18-year-old sister, Kellie.
“When I was younger I never really sang because I was more shy,” she said. “Kellie encouraged me to sing.”
Madeleine’s older sister, Kellie, who died Feb. 15 in a Denver auto accident, played the lead in many productions at the Garden School in New Castle. The Miller sisters grew up as daughters of the K-12 school – parents David and Renee founded it in 1997.
“She never really heard me sing,” Madeleine said.
The Garden School’s spring “Guys and Dolls” performance is in tribute to Kellie. The Garden School community is also memorializing the loss of Malachi Bilson, 20, who was also killed in the accident, and is on the mind of many in the community as the Broadway hit rolls out this weekend at Glenwood Springs High School.
Guys and Dolls is a musical set in the 1920s and 1930s, featuring gangsters, gamblers, songstresses, and other characters of the New York underworld. The play runs at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
“The board had considered canceling the play, but we all know that is not what Kellie would have wanted,” said Jacki Lohman, of the Garden School. “She loved the stage. This is the school’s biggest fundraiser and features all 90-plus students who attend the school from grades K-12.”
In her first lead role, Madeleine, 15, said she will embrace the influence her sister had on her as a young actress.
“She was just always really outgoing,” said Madeleine, who often goes by Mo. “She always had fun with it. It’s just going to be a lot of fun, and we just need to make sure we are doing that for her.”
Director Stacia Bolitho said Kellie’s positive spirit remains a presence as the Garden School community copes with the loss.
“The Garden School has always made it a priority, of developing a culture of handling grief. For many of our students this is the first time they’ve experienced the loss of somebody, anybody, so we have come together,” she said. “I know it’s on the forefront of their minds. I said if this was the last gift, symbolically, that we could give Kellie, then let’s make this the best show we’ve ever had.”
Bolitho said to cope with the grief, Garden School students had an opportunity where they came together to grieve in their own expressive ways. The school set up different stations where students could share their emotions. One station featured laptops set up where people could post sentiments on a special Facebook page for Kellie. Another offered candles that students could light in memoriam.
“We wanted to provide a safe place for them to process their grief,” Bolitho said. “We also had art projects for the kids who couldn’t express themselves openly.”
Bolitho said one station stood out in her mind.
“You could write a word on a postcard that reminded you of Kellie,” she said.
She said it was hard for her to come up with a single word that summed up what Kellie embodied as a person and an actor.
“There are so many words to describe her,” she said. “She had this incredible giggle that was all her own and that I find myself thinking of and hearing.”
“Guys and Dolls” will be Bolitho’s fifth production working with the Garden School performance artists. Past productions have included “Oliver,” Cinderella,” Narnia” and “The Wizard of Oz.” She said the school’s supportive, creative environment allows the entire school to participate in the productions, not an easy feat.
“It’s definitely a kid-friendly show. It’s incredibly fulfilling and satisfying to work with all the kids,” she said. “It’s humbling and awesome, and I feel really lucky I have been able to lead the charge into something like this for the last five years.”
Like Madeleine, Bolitho is experiencing her first production without Kellie.
“Kellie was my star,” she said. “And we are going to charge ahead. It’s nice to see the kids discovering things inside themselves to make the show for her.”
As the spotlight shifts to Madeleine as she makes her lead role debut, her sister will be in her thoughts.
“This is my first lead role in a play. I’ve gone all my life at the Garden School and been in eight or nine plays,” Madeleine said. “But I’ve never had a lead role before, so I will make sure I will know all my lines for her. She’ll be there.”
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