Most people like to sleep late on a Saturday morning, but on Jan. 17, more than 4,000 people, ranging from tweens to seniors, are wide awake not long after the crack of Saturday’s dawn.

That’s been the case in Atlanta for the last ten years each third Saturday in January. At the Renaissance Waverly Hotel and Cobb Galleria, hordes of students and teachers come from around the country to attend Junior Theater Festival. There the kids perform fifteen-minute excerpts from the school musicals they either did in the fall or plan to mount in the spring.

Actually, this year the correct term is “around the world.” For in addition to representatives from 27 states and the District of Columbia, one troupe from Australia and another from South Korea will be here to see exactly what goes on in Junior Theater Festival. After each segment, they’ll see if they agree with the adjudicators who give what they feel are the pluses and minuses of each production.

Regardless of age, attendees sport more T-shirts than Bruce Vilanch has worn in his entire lifetime. Some teachers and students wear ones that are coordinated with the coded colors of their rooms to which they’ve been assigned; others celebrate the musicals they’re doing. No question that manufacturers of T-shirts will flourish as long as Junior Theatere Festival exists.

Although no group actually performs until 8:45 a.m., thousands are milling around much earlier in the 65,000 square-feet Broadway Junior Theatre. In it are more blue chairs than you’ll find in all the IKEAS worldwide – and yet, few chairs are occupied now. What a contrast to what will happen here on Saturday night, when the place will be packed to see the “New Works Showcase.” Selections from four new works added to the Broadway Junior Series — the hour-long abridgements of hit musicals — will be previewed: ELF, JR. (performed by the Play On Players of Duluth, GA), SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, JR. (Ohlook Performing Arts Center of Grapevine, TX), JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, JR. (Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School of Oak Park, IL) and THE LION KING EXPERIENCE, both in a JR. version and in a 30-minute KIDS edition.

Ohlook Performing Arts Center students perform ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. Photo by Marcus Woollen.

Freddie Gershon, the CEO of Music Theatre International who founded Broadway Junior a couple of decades ago, says that since the concept was introduced, 100,000 Junior productions have yielded 500,000 performances. Now there will be more.

Sunday morning will see the auditorium packed for “Pathways to Success.” How wise of iTheatrics to pick pros to whom the attendees can easily relate. Luca Padovan hasn’t yet seen his twelfth birthday, but he’s already been on Broadway in NEWSIES. Lilla Crawford, not yet 14, followed her Broadway appearances in a small BILLY ELLIOT role and the title role in ANNIE by appearing as Little Red Ridinghood in the hit film of INTO THE WOODS. Both of these accomplished performers will inspire the Junior Theater Festival kids to mutter “If they can do it, I can, too!”

For those kids who care to write their own musicals – and plenty of tweens and teens in hallways and lunchrooms are doing just that on notepads and iPads – some composers and lyricists are here to inspire them. They include Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Tony-nominees for A CHRISTMAS STORY and Lucille Lortel winners for DOGFIGHT who have just been signed to provide songs for Hugh Jackman’s next film: a musical about the life of P.T. Barnum.

A walk through any hall in the vast complex finds at least a few kids singing “For the First Time in Forever,” “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and, of course, “Let It Go.” So won’t kids be excited to encounter the husband-and-wife team that wrote those hits and the rest of the FROZEN score? Some will be genuinely frozen with awe to encounter the Oscar-winning duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

However, all these attractions will be presented, as the famous song goes, tomorrow. Now kids inside the Broadway Junior Theatre run to the backdrop that says “Oxydent Hour of Smiles.” Those who have done ANNIE (or wish they could) stand in front of it and break out into an a capella rendition of “You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile.”

There are smiles aplenty outside the theater, too, in the surrounding halls, where one student after another goes to the giant-sized mock-up of a Playbill. There’s a nice empty space under the yellow banner so that kids can stand in front and have their images preserved as if they were gracing a genuine program.

Students from the Roy Waldron Middle School.

The sounds of more iPhones and digital cameras are heard clicking in front of the ELF, JR. display where kids lean against its North Pole pole. A girl is at the SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, JR. pavilion, grabbing an umbrella, jumping onto the base of a lamppost, holding onto it with her left hand as her right, clutching that umbrella, is extended far in front of her a la Gene Kelly. How wonderful to see that this 1952 classic film is one that at least one girl hasn’t ignored.

Many boys can be found in front of the NEWSIES backdrop, aping the picture behind them of the angry paperboys whose right arms are raised high and topped by defiantly clenched fists. And yet, one young man isn’t posing, but is more intent on tapping his teacher on the shoulder and pointing to NEWSIES’ catchphrase “Seize the Day.” He asks him, “Didn’t you tell me when it comes to spelling, it’s ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’?”

Yes, theater always attracts the smartest kids. You’ll see some sitting on the floors, backs against the walls, reading Kindles or even books. (Imagine!) How apt that when they start performing, they’ll be in front of a cyclorama that says “Celebrate, Educate, Motivate, Participate.”

And that, dear friends, is what Junior Theater Festival is all about. Over 100 schools, after-school companies or weekend programs will show their wares here – indicating quite a growth. In 2003, 650 were in attendance.

Back then, far fewer “pods” – rooms to accommodate performers — were required; colors were used to demarcate one pod from another, but not even all seven colors of the spectrum were needed. Now, however, with students singing, dancing and acting in 13 different locales, the pods still use the original red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple, but have been buttressed by the additional fanciful hues of chocolate, gray, gold, lime, magenta, maroon and navy. Given that the festival keeps growing, look for aqua, cantaloupe, chartreuse, tangerine and mustard to be soon pressed into service.

But that’s the future. Right now, teachers are shepherding their students into what are usually banquet rooms. We who are lucky enough to be here will be served a banquet of talent, tunes and terpsichory. To quote the Newsies: “Read all about it!” – albeit next Friday.

You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com. Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com and each Friday at www.kritzerland.com. His upcoming book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available for pre-order at www.amazon.com.

 

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    Scene Partner is a powerful iPhone app that helps you learn your lines so you can get off book fast!  Available for a number of MTI titles, Scene Partner provides an electronic version of your script which you can then divide by character, act and scene.  This allows you to focus the script around your character’s lines to start memorizing today.

    Special Discount Pricing:

    From January 1- April 3, the more copies you order of your MTI e-scripts, the more you can save!  Check it out…

    The discount will only be calculated for MTI e-script copies that are included on a single customer order for a single title. Rentals on multiple orders or for multiple titles on the same order cannot be combined. Multiple orders from individual customers for the same production cannot be combined.

    Learn more about Scene Partner on our resources page here.

    New Titles Available:

     

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      Welcome to The Lion King Experience!

      Disney’s The Lion King has captivated the imagination of audiences around the world and now for the first time ever you have the opportunity to produce this one-of-a-kind musical in your school (accredited elementary and middle schools only). The African savanna comes to life on your stage with Simba, Rafiki, and an unforgettable cast of characters as they journey from Pride Rock to the jungle and back again in this inspiring coming-of-age tale.

      In addition to a performance license to produce the show, The Lion King Experience features a rigorous curriculum designed to introduce you and your students to a wide range of theatrical skills. This easy to use program has been developed to give you all the tools you need to EXPLORE, CREATE, and SHARE the arts with your students.

      *Some International restrictions may apply.

      For Middle School Students

      Includes an 18-session curriculum that explores fundamentals of theater-making including: Acting, Design, Playwrighting, Technical Theater, Stage Management, and a performance license to produce The Lion King JR., a 60-minute adaptation created especially for the strengths and skill level of middle school students.

      For Elementary School Students

      Includes an 11-session curriculum that explores fundamentals of theater-making including: Acting, Design, Playwrighting, Choreography, Directing, and a performance license to produce The Lion King KIDS, a 30-minute adaptation created especially for the strengths and skill level of elementary school students.

      From lesson plans to traditional African djembe drums, The Lion King Experience includes everything you need to introduce theater in your classroom and to produce your very own production of The Lion King!

      Curriculum Materials include:

      ShowKit™ Materials include:

      • Director’s Guide
      • Piano Vocal Score
      • 30 Actor’s Scripts
      • Rehearsal and Accompaniment CD’s
      • Choreography DVD
      • Demonstartion DVD
      • Resources Disc

      For a limited time only, you can read a FREE PERUSAL COPY of the libretto for Disney’s The Lion King JR. and Disney’s The Lion King KIDS. Log in to your My MTI account and select the show from the dropdown menu (it will appear free of charge), or call your licensing agent to order an electronic version or hard copy today!

      Offer valid through 2/22/2015.

      *Please note, in order to request a license or a perusal you must be an official MTI customer. If you are not currently a customer information to create an account can be found here.

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        It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the loss of our dear friend and iconic restaurateur, Jean Claude Baker.

        Jean Claude Baker created the beloved New York nightspot Chez Josephine in memory of Josephine Baker, the beautiful French singer, dancer and actor who cared for him as a lonely boy in Paris.

        According to The New York Times, “Mr. Baker led a colorful and many-faceted life populated by boldface names. Living on his own in Paris by the time he was 14, he became a shrewd worker in hotels and restaurants with a gift for charming the clientele; while working at Le Pavillon Dauphine in 1960, he greeted the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, who, emerging from a limousine, reportedly kissed him on the lips.”  (Read the full article).

        For the past five summers, MTI Chairman and CEO Freddie Gershon and his wife Myrna have welcomed theatre educators from across the country to a week of events complete with professional development, Broadway performances and unforgettable celebrations including an annual dinner with industry luminaries at the legendary Chez Josephine.  Each year without fail, the flamboyant Jean Claude would greet each guest with his incomparable warmth and elegance – providing a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into one of New York’s most treasured establishments.  Jean Claude possessed a generosity of spirit that could not be matched, and loved to regale his guests with stories of his “mother” Josephine Baker and Paris’s old world charm.

        Myrna and Freddie Gershon knew Jean-Claude for close to 40 years had this to say about their friend…

        “We witnessed how Jean Claude changed the entire West 42nd Street area and was the first person to have the courage and vision to realize that what had been one of the most dilapidated and dangerous parts of the city was potentially a destination.

        It soon became what’s known as ‘Theater Row’ and was created around the anchor of Chez Josephine, his wonderful bistro which honored his mother and the role of the African-American in musical theatre as she was the most glamorous Black star of her period and remains the standard by which everything else/all others are measured.

        His book, THE HUNGRY HEART, is a must-read but none of it really captures Jean-Claude, who nurtured talent and attracted incredibly interesting people including Harry Connick (whose first job was as a cocktail pianist at Chez Josephine) and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (who was a luncheon regular and spoke fluent French with Jean-Claude every time she was present and frequently had her son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., with her).

        It was also a destination for many theatre legends like Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Bernadette Peters and others who found it was close to the theatre district, embracing, unpretentious, with good food, wholesome and an ambience that was dictated by the dazzling hospitality of Jean-Claude Baker.

        Jean-Claude was to the restaurant business what David Merrick was and Cameron Mackintosh is to producing.  He was the main attraction.  He worked each table.  He was the host with the most – always with anecdotes, always with fun and delight, always dressed for a performance and always performing.

        His love of life, of people, of having created his own stage/his own set/his own homage to his mother and what she had created became his mission in life.

        There was no one like Jean-Claude Baker.  There will never be anyone like Jean-Claude Baker. Our hearts are broken.”

        Music Theatre International and Freddie and Myrna paid tribute to Jean Claude Baker in The New York Times which you can view here.

         

         

         

         

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          Filichia Features: Fall in Love with ALL IN LOVE

          January 16, 2015

          One created “Mission: Impossible.” The other composed the themes to “General Hospital” and “The Marvel Super-Heroes” (meaning Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man, The Mighty Thor and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner). Those credits wouldn’t lead anyone to assume that these two writers would pen a musical version of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The [...]

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            Filichia Features: MY FAVORITE YEAR: 2015

            January 9, 2015

            May this be your favorite year. It could be if you and your theater company stage MY FAVORITE YEAR. Granted, when the musical by bookwriter Joseph Dougherty, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens debuted in 1992, it wound up playing more previews (45) than official performances (36). When it shuttered, I had a theory [...]

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              AMERICAN IDIOT Now Available for Licensing!

              January 8, 2015

              The two-time TONY Award-winning hit musical American Idiot, based on Green Day’s GRAMMY Award-winning multi-platinum album, boldly takes the American musical where it’s never gone before. This high-octane show includes every song from Green Day’s album American Idiot, as well as several songs from follow-up release, 21st Century Breakdown. Johnny, Tunny and Will struggle to [...]

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                Filichia Features: New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

                January 5, 2015

                It’s a new year, which we’re all hoping will be the best we’ve ever had. One way to make that happen is to make good New Year’s Resolutions. And keep them. This year, don’t merely make vows to lose weight, drink less and smoke not at all. If you produce, direct or perform in musical [...]

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                  Attending JTF 2015? Get Tips and Advice from Cindy Ripley and the Freddie G Fellows

                  December 30, 2014

                  Whether you are attending solo for Professional Development to enrich your soul or bringing kids to “strut their stuff’, JTF 2015 in Atlanta, GA promises to deliver.  It never fails!  The finely tuned recipe comprised of musical theatre, passionate kids and teachers, plus a dose of magic all in one incredible venue is all it [...]

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                    Filichia Features: ELF on TV, ELF on Stage

                    December 23, 2014

                    “You saw some of it on TV. Now see all of it on stage.” That’s one way you could advertise your production of ELF during the 2015 holiday season. After all, the recent animated NBC special — although funny, charming and touching — was a mere hour long and offered only a fraction of Thomas [...]

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