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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Musicals / What's On / Industry News

IN THE SPOTLIGHT... BROADWAY JUNIOR

Article by Simon Parris

There was a time when the only chance for younger performers to be on stage in a community theatre company was for the group to do a show with a few children’s roles. There is Amaryllis and Winthrop in THE MUSIC MAN, Gavroche in LES MISÉRABLES, Jojo in SEUSSICAL, or, if the children were really lucky, the orphans in ANNIE.

With the advent and continued growth in Music Theatre International’s Broadway Junior collection, there is a way to not only involve many more young people on stage, but also develop production teams, parental involvement and audiences. I spoke with a number of theatre companies around Australia and New Zealand who have been thriving on the ever-increasing list of shows in the Broadway Junior collection.

Rebecca Perry of Lifelong Music, based in Mornington, Victoria, is a long-time producer of Broadway Junior shows. Rebecca outlined the aspects that attracted her to the collection:

“The Broadway Junior Collection appeals to me so much because of the quality of the resources. Nowhere else could I find the combination of well-known shows, kid-friendly scripts, outstanding orchestrations and scripts the children get to keep.”

“We have tried some other, cheaper shows but they don’t even come close. Often the backing music is tinny and synthesized and the humour just plain terrible! We have to use backing music, as we cannot afford to hire an orchestra for our shows and the accompaniment CDs for the Broadway Junior shows are superb. As soon as I listened to my first ShowKit CD, (ANNIE JR back in 2002) I knew I could not settle for anything less in terms of quality.”

Rebecca shared the story of a cast member who went on to success in a professional production:

“I had a lovely boy in my Templestowe classes who started as a keen but inexperienced six year old. He worked his way up over various Broadway Junior shows with us and was eventually cast in Melbourne’s The Wind in the Willows in Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens. His mother insisted that the quality experiences he’d gained from the Broadway Junior shows were key to him gaining this role and then keeping it for three summers after!”

 

Disney Mulan JR, Lifelong Music
Photogapher Gavin D Andrew

 

Amy Murray of Albury Wodonga’s BYTESize Productions appreciates the careful way the shows are edited, and agreed about the quality of the resources that are provided:

“What I really like about the Broadway Junior collection is how it is condensed from the original Broadway show and includes all the well-known songs, but is still able to stand on its own and tell the story from beginning to end. It is more manageable for a younger cast who may not have a whole lot of experience, and for us as a new company, and for many us as first time directors, producers, MDs and such. It allows us to give it a go without biting off more than we could chew.”

“The ShowKits are very comprehensive, perfect for a first timer, giving ideas and suggestions on all facets of the production that you can choose to follow, or just use as a stepping-stone to finding your own creative vision. The children also love their rehearsal scripts, which they can make notes in, stick in pictures and keep at the end of the show as a keepsake.”

As a relatively new company, BYTESize has only had the chance to do two Broadway Junior shows: DISNEY’S ALADDIN JR and DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID JR. Amy described how these titles benefitted the company:

“Both shows for us where a huge success with both performing to sold out shows. The children love doing shows they are familiar with and love becoming the characters they love from their favourite movies. The audience love them too, and they are especially brilliant for introducing young children to live theatre as the shows are family friendly, well known and just the right length to keep them interested without getting too fidgety.”

“As a new company it is great for us to be able to produce such well-known titles that appeal to our audience demographic, as when you are starting out you don’t have the reputation of your own brand to fall back on.”

Disney The Little Mermaid JR, BYTESize Productions
Photogapher Sabrina Cartwright

 

Carmen Powel from Masquerade Performing Arts of Berwick, Victoria mentioned a couple of their most successful productions:

DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST JR has a big cast, audience appeal, and it was in flavour/relevant at the time. ANNIE JR also has a big cast and audience appeal…it sells tickets.”

Carmen has noticed the benefits to young performers over the year:

“We have many students/performers who are enjoying professional performing opportunities. However, we have enormous feedback from past performers that give credit to their life skills from their performing arts experiences… and that is worth much more to our program.”

 

Annie Jr, Masquerade Performing Arts
Photographer Andrew Croucher

 

Tracy Reid commented that Sydney company The Regals Musical Society particularly enjoys Broadway Junior shows that are based on Disney musicals:

“We find that the Disney Junior shows are a great way to introduce children into the musical world and what better way to do it than to use Disney shows as all people young and old can relate to them.”

“It’s also nice for the children to be a part of a production as most of our shows are for adults, so they may not necessarily get a chance to perform each year. By doing these Disney Junior shows, it gives them an opportunity to be on stage and hopefully give them some extra experience in a musical theatre environment to hopefully become a professional when they are old enough.”

Tracy went on to describe the flow-on effect of these shows to the company:

“We have had a few instances where the Junior cast have either been in another production that The Regals has put on and come back to do the Junior show and vice versa. A great example of this is we recently held auditions for our May 2015 production, the NSW premiere of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, and had a lot of the cast of our current production of DISNEY’S ALICE IN WONDERLAND JR (and even some of their parents) cast in the show. Also, our production team for DISNEY’S ALICE IN WONDERLAND JR was the same production team who did DISNEY’S MULAN JR last year, and who are also known for being a part of the adult shows that Regals regularly does.”

 

Disney Mulan JR, The Regals Musical Society
Photographer Andrew Croucher

 

A company with a long history of youth theatre is Bundaberg Players Incorporated of Queensland. Nigel Dick has seen the difference the Broadway Junior collection has made to these projects:

“Our organisation has presented an Annual Youth Production (10 – 18 years) each year since 1971 and in most instances they have been musicals, as these vehicles provide opportunities for more members to be involved. The development of the Broadway Junior shows has allowed us to explore ‘big name’ productions that we may never have considered otherwise. The Broadway Junior shows are cleverly edited so that each cast member enjoys more stage time, and the easier staging allows us to be more creative with our somewhat limited space."

“The backing tracks are of excellent quality and have certainly made this aspect of the production incredibly professional. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Companies such as ours in regional communities to access musicians who are prepared to give the time required to get a ‘sound’ anything like that which is supplied as part of the ShowKit.”

“The length of the show is also an incentive – short, sweet and very much to the point!”

Bundaberg Players Inc has presented DISNEY’S ALICE IN WONDERLAND JR, DISNEY’S ALADDIN JR, INTO THE WOODS JR, DISNEY’S PETER PAN JR and GUYS AND DOLLS JR. Nigel described the reception these shows enjoyed:

“All of the shows were incredibly popular with performers and audience members alike, but I would have to say that the chance for cast members to be dressed as cats, caterpillars, and other colourful creatures probably set DISNEY’S ALICE IN WONDERLAND JR in a different field. The show was incredibly colourful and the fixed set enabled us to be very creative.

DISNEY’S PETER PAN JR was also very popular as it gave different groups the opportunity to really develop their characters and made rehearsals very easy to organise. (And yes! Our Peter did actually get to fly….)”
 

 

Disney Peter Pan JR, Bundaberg Players
Photographer Paul Beutel

 

Watch the Hal Leonard website for details of the 2015 Broadway Junior productions from the companies in this article.

• Lifelong Music has a full program ahead with A YEAR WITH FROG & TOAD KIDS, DISNEY’S SLEEPING BEAUTY KIDS, and HAIRSPRAY JR.
• BYTESize Productions are staging DISNEY’S PETER PAN JR.
• The Regals are doing DISNEY’S ALICE IN WONDERLAND JR.
• Bundaberg Players Incorporated will present DISNEY’S MULAN JR.

A full list of available shows in the Broadway Junior Collection can be found at the
Hal Leonard Musicals Page.

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