EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 21, 2013

Longtime Hampstead school theater director takes final bow

By Alex Lippa

---- — HAMPSTEAD — For 24 years, Jennifer Latham has been a fixture in the theater and arts program at Hampstead Middle School. But tonight, the curtain will close on her final production.

Latham will direct the last show of her teaching career with the school’s performance of “Guys and Dolls.” Latham is retiring at the end of the school year.

“It’s very emotional,” she said. “But after many years of doing this, it’s time to just give it a rest.”

This year’s show is particularly special to Latham. She had been planning to direct “Guys and Dolls” for years as her farewell performance.

“It’s my favorite show,” she said. “It’s sassy, unique, and is considered by most to be the quintessential Broadway musical. It’s at the top of the heap.”

Latham said she has been in touch with as many of the school’s alumni she could find to attend her last show tonight. She even recruited one, Pinkerton Academy freshman Danielle Kuhl, to choreograph the play.

“She taught me so much and it was such an honor to be asked back here,” Kuhl said. “Me and everyone else who had her has been so lucky to have her.”

Fifth-grader Michael Overko is one of the lead actors in just his first year at the school. He is new to acting, but thanks to Latham, he knows it is something he wants to continue learning.

“I’m glad I got to do at least one year with her,” he said.

“I’ve been blessed to even have her. “

Another lead actor, eighth-grader Tarek Khartabil, is just the latest in his family to learn under Latham.

“My brother and sister, who are now either in college or beyond, had her for a teacher,” he said. “It’s great to see how much she is dedicated to her students.”

Latham admits it hasn’t always been easy at Hampstead Middle School. With no auditorium, plays have to be performed in the cafeteria.

“Every year, we put up a stage, the lights and everything else,” she said. “But every year, we have success.”

About 20 students are acting in the play this year, but there are some special guests, including Latham’s husband, Don. Don Latham has years of experience in local theater.

“Sometimes, things will happen unexpectedly at the last moment,” Latham said. “If Don is free, I can usually count on him to pull it off. But I’m glad he was able to be in this performance,” she said.

Assistant principal Owen Harrington also makes an appearance as a police officer.

Latham is unsure how she will react during the final curtain call. But there is one thing she knows for sure.

“I’m absolutely going to miss the kids the most,” she said.

“There’s no question about it.”