‘Death by Disco’ hits Ninth-Grade Academy

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Evan Erwin as Tony Moroni strikes the classic disco pose in a scene from act one, dividing two divas who want him as a dance contest partner.

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Jeff Epps, director of informational technology for Richmond County Schools, shows off the 3-D modeling software Cubify Sculpt, used by students to create the murder weapon for the dinner theatre production.

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Kim Bruce poses for the paparazzi moments before the show begins.

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Actor Marquis Ratliff and actress Mary Kate Sago play with silk flowers before the curtain goes up.

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Media coordinator Terry Craven and Jerry Ethridge of the Richmond County Board of Education welcome guests and open the show with a prayer.

HAMLET — Saturday night fever was epidemic Wednesday evening at the Richmond County Ninth-Grade Academy, where the Teen Scene Investigation 3-D forensics and drama clubs teamed up to put on James Dabb’s “Death by Disco” during an elegant murder mystery dinner theatre presentation attended by more than 100 people.

Terry Craven, media coordinator for the academy, said the idea began with a conversation with Jeff Epps, director of informational technology for the school district.

“He and I had a conversation about it a few years ago,” Craven said. “This is our third year doing this, but it evolved slowly. Jeff is into 3-D technology and I love murder mysteries. I actually took a class to (Richmond Community) theatre to see “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” and their jaws dropped. They wanted to do something similar.”

What does 3-D technology have to do with a play? Everything, in this case. After all, the star of any murder mystery is the murder weapon.

“We’ll end up giving this away at the end of the play,” Epps said. “It’s a 3-D-printed shoe.”

Epps pointed to a screen to the right of the stage, where a larger digital image of the 3-D-printed hot pink platform pump was displayed and turned slowly in all viewable directions for everyone to see.

“I actually had to suspend this from my ceiling fan,” Epps explained. “You need clean data to get a complete 3-D image and that is how we were able to print it. Our students use DICOM data, and that stands for digital imaging and communications in medicine. It’s the standard used in taking X-rays. Eventually we want to partner with local hospitals and doctors’ offices to get images for students to analyze.”

Epps said a doctor can now show a person his or her heart in 3-D, show patients what they are going to do before an operation, and print it out for them.

“It’s all part of our program, ‘Explore a Career and then Sculpt Your Future,” Epps said.

Epps praised the software program used by the students.

“With Cubify Sculpt, students can do what doctors are doing,” he said. “They can go in and soften, smudge, sharpen. It’s the same kind of software used in planning medical treatment and it is amazing to see what they do with this.”

Craven said the first year, about 50 people turned out to see the drama club students shine on stage.

“Last year, we had 140 people,” she said.

For the ticket price of $15, the audience enjoyed a buffet catered by Jordan’s Barbecue of West End and professional sound by Roger E. Ward of Ward Productions, Pinehurst.

The play starred Nic Wilkes as The Boogie Man (a disc jockey,) Evan Erwin as Toni Moroni, Mary Kate Sago as Kathleen O’Reilly, Logan Wall as Vincent Elbodini, Brianna McGuire and Madison Graves (in alternate performances) as Angela Moroni, Kim Bruce as Theresa Maria Garcia, Marquis Ratliff as Wally Pope, Anastasia Green and Kevin Powell as Anthony Moroni Sr. and Tamar Waddell as the Trivia Host.

School board members Bobbie Sue Ormsby, Jerry Etheridge and Don Greene were among the audience along with several officials from the Richmond County Schools administrative office.

Backstage before the show began, actress Kim Bruce was getting her hair perfected and actor Marquis Ratliff swatted at the red silk flowers the girls were putting in his Afro wig.

“I’ve done this before,” Bruce said. “I’m not at all nervous.”

Ratliff, also a veteran, shared Bruce’s sentiments. But Mary Kate Sago admitted to a manageable case of the butterflies as she stood chatting it up with her fellow performers before her first show.

Regardless of their experience, all of the stars shined once the curtain went up. The audience consisted of several survivors of the 1970s who erupted in laughter during the livelier parts of each act and gasped in shock as mystery after mystery unraveled before them.

No spoilers, so no revelation of the ending. But Chad Osborne from the district technology department said curious people could start speculating ahead of time thanks to a trailer of the play.

“The production is open to the public,” Osborne said. “We actually did a green-screen promo that we sent out ahead of time.”

The trailer can be viewed on YouTube by visiting https://youtu.be/9-fsB-QzGg8 on the Web.

Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.