Friday, October 23, 2015

Musicals / Industry News

Music Theatre International (Australasia) - SIMON'S TOP PICKS - Part 2



Any school that has presented a title from Hal Leonard’s Broadway Junior Collection™ will know how well prepared and suitable the adapted shows are. At a time of year when schools will be looking at their program for next year, I take a look at a few of the musicals available in this terrific series.

The increasing popularity of stage musicals, along with the increasing number of students taking voice and dance lessons, has led to a rise in primary and middle schools staging musical productions rather than simple concerts.

Full-length musicals are generally beyond the time and resources of a junior production. Hal Leonard Australia, through their association with Music Theatre International, has the solution to this, providing the ever-growing list of titles in the hugely popular Broadway Junior Collection™.

I have first-hand knowledge of this series, having directed a Year 7-9 presentation of a Broadway Junior show in each of the past five years.

There are many advantages to Broadway Junior shows. They are carefully edited to retain the original storyline, the main songs are included and they have a very manageable running time of 60-70 minutes. Not only are the scripts full of invaluable details to help students understand what it means to be in a musical, but the director’s script also contains helpful hints about the staging.

Particularly useful is the rehearsal CD that contains a full orchestral performance of the score. Going directly from rehearsal to performance with this CD not only streamlines the entire process but also provides a high quality accompaniment that raises the quality of the production significantly.


A charming, traditional musical that is included in the Broadway Junior Collection™ is THE MUSIC MAN JR. Premiering in Broadway’s Golden Age, the show has a multitude of colourful character roles and a very generous amount of ensemble work.

Travelling salesman Harold Hill picks River City, Iowa as the latest town to swindle with his musical instruments and music lessons scam. Swept up in the lives of the quirky, stubborn residents, Harold is caught off guard when he falls for prim librarian Marian Paroo.

The Music Man Jr - St Michael's Grammar School (VIC)

The characters in THE MUSIC MAN JR range from youngsters Amaryllis and Marian’s little brother Winthrop to kindly Mrs Paroo, the pompous Mayor Shinn and his vain wife Eulalie.

There is great novelty for the cast in dressing up in the 1912 costumes and enacting the different pace and morals of the day. The show includes the opportunity for different levels of choreography, and cast members who learn a musical instrument will be able to play it on stage at the finale.

Composer Meredith Willson had a special knack for writing songs that derive from a particular rhythmic situation, for example, there is the opening song “Rock Island” by the salesmen that is set to the rhythm of a train trip, and Marian’s first ballad “Goodnight My Someone” comes from the tune of Amaryllis’ piano exercise. The score also contains the rousing anthem “Seventy-Six Trombones” and the lovely ballad “Till There Was You.”

A much more recent Broadway show to receive the Broadway Junior treatment is THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE JR. The 2002 musical won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and introduced the world to Broadway star Sutton Foster, who won a Tony Award herself for playing Millie.

Modern Millie Dillmount arrives in New York City with her heart set on finding true love and soon finds herself torn between her wealthy boss Trevor Graydon III and street-smart Jimmy Smith. The nonsensical subplot about a faded actress disguised as a Chinese landlady who is selling young women into white slavery will surely be laughed aside as the audience enjoys Millie’s romantic entanglements.

While shows in Broadway Junior Collection™ are always adapted to ensure young voices can sing the score, casting will require a young performer with a strong belt to play the title role of Millie.

The period setting will again provide costumes that students will enjoy wearing. Female cast members will sport flapper dresses and cloche hats, while males will look smart in pinstriped suits or zoot suits, with fedoras and spats.

Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr - St Michael's Grammar School (VIC)

The choreography includes the opportunity for some fantastic tap dancing in the high pace “Speed Test” and Millie’s power ballad “Forget About The Boy.”

Another Broadway hit from the past decade is HAIRSPRAY JR. The award for Best Musical was one of the seven Tony Awards won by this fabulous show in 2003. The title is well known thanks to the 2010 Australian production and the 2007 musical film starring John Travolta.

Apart from around half a dozen adults, the characters of HAIRSPRAY JR are energetic teenagers, making this a very suitable show for a young cast. Centred on The Corny Collins Show, dance is integral to the story, so choreography is important to the production.

A big-hearted teen who is just ahead of her time, Tracy Turnblad seeks to dance on The Corny Collins Show and also achieve racial integration. Lovable Tracy’s enthusiastic kindness and good natured selflessness touches all of those around her, and will most likely affect the cast and audience as well.

Hairspray 2010 Melbourne - Photo by Simon Parris

One of the decisions to be made when casting HAIRSPRAY JR is whether to follow all the professional versions and have a boy play Tracy’s mother Edna. This can be a very rewarding and even powerful angle when the other performers accept the casting and take it as normal.

The fact that the original version included a multi-racial cast should not deter prospective productions. Obviously blackface makeup is not to be used, but there is a note from the authors that can be included in the program, encouraging the audience to use their imagination to see the performers in the roles for which they are intended. The nicest kids in town of The Corny Collins Shows can wear bright primary colours and pastels, while the kids from detention can wear darker mixed tones such as purples, dark greens and browns. The remainder of the differences between the two segregated groups comes from the actors’ performances in their roles.

If your middle school musical has the support of the art department, DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID JR is an inspired choice. Creating an enchanted kingdom under the sea and dressing exotic mermaids and colourful sea creatures will surely inspire creative designers with a flair for theatrical magic. Shimmering mermaid tails, Ursula’s slithering tentacles and marine life with distinctly human characteristics are all part of the very satisfying challenge.

Disney's The Little Mermaid  - Williamstown Musical Theatre Company (VIC) - Photo by Gavin D Andrew

Another attraction to staging DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID JR is that the full-length version of the show, which premiered on Broadway in 2008, it is yet to have a professional season locally. Adapted from the much loved Disney animated feature, the show features the fabulous songs “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Audiences and cast know the movie, but the unknown nature of the stage version provides a blank slate for a dazzling original production.

Of all the stage heroines in the Broadway Junior series, the chance to play Ariel will be one that is strongly coveted and hotly contested. All young music theatre actresses would love to sing Menken and Ashman’s superb ballad “Part of Your World.” Handsome Prince Eric, fun-loving friend Flounder, funky Sebastian and the devilish Ursula complete the lead cast, with plenty of opportunity for a large singing and dancing company.

Speaking of redheaded heroines, another role that every young girl dreams of playing is lovable orphan Annie, star of ANNIE JR. The cherished Broadway musical has barely been out of the public eye in it 38-year life with three Australian tours and many Broadway outings.

The recent 2012 Broadway revival starred Australia’s best-known Daddy Warbucks, Anthony Warlow, with Jane Lynch from GLEE stepping in to make her Broadway musical debut as fiendishly self-serving orphan mistress Miss Hannigan. With no less than three movie versions, there is every reason to be very confident with audience and cast recognition of this title.

Annie  - 2012 Melbourne - Photo by Jim Lee

Based on a comic strip, the story follows plucky orphan Annie as she wins the heart of mega-rich Daddy Warbucks while practically single-handedly rescuing America from The Great Depression. Familiar songs include the gold standard “Tomorrow,” as well as the infectious “Hard-Knock Life,” the tender ballad “Maybe” and the rousing number “Easy Street.”

The Broadway Jr edition of ANNIE JR ensures that the songs are easy accessible for young voices to sing, and also illustrates some of the invaluable features of the series. Licensees can purchase a Choreographic DVD, which provides clearly explained and enthusiastically demonstrated ideas for choreography for the show. There is a set of Production Slides available, which provide attractive projections for key scenes in the show. Alternatively, these slides assist with painting backdrops for the production.

Perfect for a school that has more girls auditioning for its middle school or junior school musical, ANNIE JR has roles for a range of ages as well as plenty of engaging ensemble work. Audiences and cast members will long be humming the tunes of the musical of “Tomorrow.”

One really adventurous show for a middle school to present s the 2008 Broadway musical 13 - THE MUSICAL. Featuring a terrifically catchy score by music theatre favourite Jason Robert Brown, 13 - THE MUSICAL features a cast of characters who are all aged 13 and is designed to be performed by a cast who are all aged 13, but could easily be a little older or younger.

13 - The Musical - St Michael's Grammar School (VIC)

The musical opens with central character Evan Goldman safely ensconced on New York’s Upper West Side before his parents’ divorce transplants him to small town Indiana. Away from his friends and favourite haunts, Evan is forced to start again at one of the hardest and most insecure ages. Initially wishing he was part of the cool crowd at his new school, Evan soon learns that true friends are much more valuable.

Originally performed with 13 characters on Broadway, the 90 minute, single act musical can easily accommodate a much larger company of young performers. The insightful, highly amusing script plays right into the angst, pain and joy of becoming a teenager, and Jason Robert Brown’s score has a fresh, modern sound with many funny and very catchy songs.

Have a look at these shows, and search for other choices, in Hal Leonard’s extensive catalogue, which is fully searchable through the FIND A SHOW page.


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