FOREST CITY | Forest City High School students will be the first group in the United States to perform the musical “The Battle of Boat." 

The musical follows the adventures of a group of children in England trying to find their place during World War I. 

Performances will take place at 7 p.m. on Nov. 2-4. Tickets can be purchased at the high school office beginning Oct. 18.

“The Battle of Boat” was written by composer Ethan Lewis Maltby and lyricist Jenna Donnelly.   

The premiere production by the National Youth Music Theatre took place last year in England.

The performance rights for the musical itself became available in June of this year. Forest City was the first to be granted the rights. 

"We thought it would be nice to bring forth something entirely new," said Josh Sparrgrove, co-director along with Stacie LaMoore for the FCHS production of "The Battle of Boat."

The musical director for the production is Trent Teske.  Molly Schrade is the choreographer.

"It's so wonderful that the school and students are taking a new piece of work like this and putting it in front of a new audience that otherwise would be unlikely to ever get to hear of it," Maltby told the Summit.

To go from a small city in the UK to Iowa "is a pretty awesome step," Maltby said, noting he and Donnelly wish they could be there to see it live.

Maltby said they wrote "The Battle of Boat" because they wanted to approach World War I in a different way than what has come before in films and musicals.

Rather than focusing on the trenches in France, "we looked at the homefront," Maltby said.

They looked specifically at children during that time in history.

"We also wanted to write something where the cast play their own ages and something that would be empowering to young people," Maltby said.

The music from "The Battle of Boat" is challenging, according to Sparrgrove. 

A lot of the songs feature four-part harmony, he said.

Also, unlike most musicals the school does -- such as last year's production of "Annie" -- the students aren't already familiar with the songs, according to Sparrgrove.

He said the students are responding well to the challenge.

The cast includes 65 students. Many others are involved in other aspects of the production, such as costume design, make-up, lighting, stage management and publicity. 

Fourteen cast members have "named" roles while the rest have ensemble roles.

"One thing we like about this musical is there's a lot of great ensemble parts," Sparrgrove said.

The production includes lots of short solos for those who aren't the leads. 

Sparrgrove said there's lots of talented singers at FCHS and he and the other directors wanted to provide a showcase for as many of them as possible.

One of the ensemble performers, junior Ellie Reece, said she's been in lots of musicals but this one is different.

"It's a very serious topic, but it's still really fun," she said. 

The music is difficult, "but that's OK because it makes us all better singers," Reece said. "And its exciting that we are the first people to do it (in the United States)."

Even though "The Battle of Boat" is set 100 years ago, "it addresses a lot of problems we see today," she said.

Maltby said he and Donnelly didn't want the musical to just be about World War I.

"The themes the characters deal with, though heightened by the war, are still relevant today," he said. "Bullies and standing up for your beliefs, fighting against tyranny and oppression in any form, friendships, love and loss."

After the Forest City production, "The Battle of Boat" will have seven more productions within the next year, including one in Australia.

"We'd love it if schools in the U.S. and all over the world took the show to their hearts and wanted to keep performing it," Maltby said. "We feel like it's a pretty timeless story and want as many people as possible to hear it."

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