05-07-14: Emerald Ridge sophomore lands solos in high school musical debut
05-07-14: Emerald Ridge sophomore lands solos in high school musical debut
Posted on 05/07/2014

Years before a neuromuscular disorder robbed him of his ability to walk, Joshua France’s mother knew her son had a special gift.


“He has always loved to sing and dance, even as a little boy,” said Christine France. “He has just never been one to perform much in front of other people.”


That will all change this month as the tenth grader takes to the stage as a cast member and featured soloist in “Shrek: The Musical” at Emerald Ridge High School.


The 16-year-old plays the role of Humpty Dumpty, one of a series of fairytale characters that come alive in the production.


“Shrek: The Musical” opens at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 27. Performances are also scheduled at 7 p.m. on February 28 and March 6-8, as well as at 2 p.m. on March 1 in the high school auditorium. Tickets are on sale at the high school.


“He is one of the best vocalists in the cast and a real asset to the production,” said Emerald Ridge High Drama Director Chris Tavern. “When working with a singer, the first things you focus on are breath support and posture. Knowing that Josh’s disease has made sitting up straight and supporting very difficult, it is even more amazing that he sings with so much presence.”


The teen said his love for singing is simple: “I just can,” he said, “and it’s awesome. I sing at home all the time.”


A specially-designed Humpty Dumpty costume and stage prop will make it appear as if Joshua is sitting on top of a wall. Joshua will wear a costume on the upper half of his body that is designed to look like an egg, and the lower half of his wheelchair will be surrounded by a handmade brick wall image.


Tavern said he is impressed with how Joshua has adapted the show’s choreography to work for him in the wheelchair.


“Even though he can’t move his arms and legs, Josh is using great facial expression and head movements to mesh with what the other actors are doing during the dancing moments,” Tavern said. “He is very engaging and entertaining to watch.”


Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy


Joshua was four years old when he was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) — a progressive neuromuscular disorder that eventually affects all of a person’s voluntary muscles.


ImageThe disease is caused by a mutation in the largest gene located on the human X chromosome and affects about one in 3,600 boys. Muscle wasting begins in the legs and pelvis and then progresses to the neck and shoulder muscles, followed by a loss of arm and respiratory muscles.


There is no known cure, and treatment is generally aimed at controlling the onset of symptoms to maximize the quality of life. Joshua’s upper body, for example, is supported by a belt around his waist and pads on each side of his wheelchair next to his ribs.


Joshua’s mother said she and her husband learned about the disease after taking their son to an orthopedic surgeon to determine why he was walking on his toes. The answer came when his blood test results returned two weeks later.


While there is no known history of the disease in her family, Christine said she carries the mutation. Research shows females are typically carriers for the disease, while males will be affected. Joshua’s younger brother has the same disease, she said.


Joshua wore special boots at night as a child to keep his heel cords stretched and then had surgery at age 8 to provide more permanent relief. He moved into his motorized wheelchair full-time at age 9.

“We had taken a family camping trip and watched as he fell multiple times in a half hour, Christine said. “We knew it was time.”


After putting fresh batteries in a motorized wheelchair, they watched as Joshua took his first ride.


“He just took off,” Christine recalled. “It was as if he had always been in a chair. He said, ‘Mom, I can feel the wind in my hair.’ I had never realized he couldn’t feel that sensation until that moment. He had never been able to fully run.”


Research shows that most people affected with DMD lose their ability to walk by age 12 and can lose full mobility by age 21.


Life expectancy is 25; however, people afflicted with the disease have been known to survive into their forties or fifties — research Joshua said keeps him optimistic about his future. The Emerald Ridge jaguar is also hopeful there will soon be a cure.


Being in a wheelchair has its benefits, he said. Known by students and staff for his quick wit, he said he enjoys reminding friends that he can wear comfy slippers to school and can travel between classes much faster than they can walk. His chair travels up to 7 miles per hour.


Excelling in school 


Joshua enrolled at Emerald Ridge High this year after spending grades seven and eight at Glacier View Junior High. He participated in an online academy program in ninth grade, but continued to attend Glacier View Junior High for choir and art class.


Emerald Ridge High Choir Director Kurt McKee first heard Joshua sing last year during a Glacier View Junior High choral concert.


“I thought wow, he has a great voice,” McKee said.Image


McKee asked Joshua to sing another short solo during an African call-and-response song in last fall’s high school choir concert. “He just hit it out of the park. If you don’t have complete control of your core muscles, it’s difficult to produce a quality sound tone. He has a great tone, with a little vibrato.”


The choir director also felt an instant connection to Joshua after learning about his disease.


“My wife’s older brother had the same disease and passed away when he was 20 years old,” he said. “I know the sacrifices Joshua and his family have had to make, and I am super excited to work with him.”


There was no question, McKee said, that Joshua needed to try out for “Shrek: The Musical.”


His mother also pushed Joshua to audition. “I’ve always told him, ‘Joshua, you have a gift that you need to share with others,’” Christine said. “Now, he is having the time of his life.”


Christine has purchased blocks of tickets for nearly every performance so that family and friends can cheer him on during his stage debut.


While initially reluctant to audition, Joshua said he listened to both McKee’s and his mother’s advice and has never looked back.


“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, adding he has made new friendships with other cast members.


Rehearsals keep him busy in addition to his full schedule of classes and homework. An avid reading and history buff, the sophomore is enrolled in choir, geometry, English, Spanish, and pre-Advanced Placement (AP) biology and American studies.


When asked how he felt when he first heard he was cast in the show, Joshua smiled, leaned his head back in his wheelchair, opened his mouth wide, and belted out a loud and prolonged “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!” note.


The tenor said he hopes his musical stage debut is the beginning of a career in music and drama that includes auditioning for other plays and musicals during his three years at Emerald Ridge High.


After graduation, Joshua plans to serve as a church missionary for two years and then major in musical arts and drama in college.


“Eventually, I would love a career on Broadway,” he said.


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