Filichia Features: Let’s Hear It from the Boys and Girls

Filichia Features: Let’s Hear It from the Boys and Girls

At the 13th Annual Shubert/MTI Broadway Junior Finale 2018 last week, we were all charmed to hear schoolchildren sing a song or two from musicals as vintage as Peter Pan (1954) and Fiddler the Roof (1964) to as recent as Legally Blonde (2007) and Shrek (2008).

And yet, just as moving on stage at the Broadhurst Theatre were the on-stage interviews that Peter Avery conducted with a few select schoolchildren and one important teacher.

Avery, Director of Theater for the New York City Department of Education, said " We see the musical theater numbers, but we don't get to hear about the impact on hundreds of individual students and their committed teachers. Want to hear from a few of our Year 2 middle school students and a teacher director -- each nominated by their school among many?"

First up was Marcus Hopper from West End Secondary School. The lad had been a vital part of "What You Want" from Legally Blonde, Jr.

Hopper admitted that musical theater wasn't what he wanted out of life - he's a sports guy -- but that his parents pressured him to join the drama club. Because of this coaxing, his mom and dad now have a suite in heaven reserved for them.

Not that I hope that Marcus has given up sports. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Terry Crews, Jason Statham, John Goodman and, yes, Ronald Reagan were all sports stars before they transitioned to acting. If the arts were good enough for them, they should be good enough for any student.

Marcus has since played Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Jr. and, as he'd just shown us, Warner Huntington III in Legally Blonde, Jr. Being center stage hasn't turned out to be the only reward: "I've made a lot of friends from different grades, and I've learned a lot about compassion and kindness, too."

He said all of this in a clear, eloquent voice - which brings us to another asset of appearing on-stage: Fear Number One for much of the population is getting up in front of a crowd and speaking. Marcus now knows how to do that -- and did on Tuesday. Given that he conquered that bugaboo, he now needn't worry about Fear Number Two, Fear Number Three, et al. - not even fear itself.

Next was Amaya Adu, the eighth-grader who actually started Tuesday's songfest by leading her Frederick Douglass Academy VIII Middle School classmates in "Good Morning, Baltimore" from Hairspray, Jr. She too was poised and eloquent, as ready and eager to be interviewed as anyone who's lobbying for Tony Award votes.

"I developed parts of myself that I didn't know existed," said Adu. What was most moving to me was seeing the reaction of four girls and two boys in the row in front of me. These West End Secondary School students enthusiastically found their heads nodding in recognition.

All of us must wonder what we have inside us that we don't know we have. Truly, doing theater is one way to find these assets.

Miller Pierre and his M.S. 053 Brian Piccolo classmates hadn't yet taken the stage with Disney's High School Musical, Jr., but his sincerity and charisma certainly whetted our appetite for their performance.

Pierre was also forthright in admitting that "going from the ensemble to playing Troy Bolton was heartwarming." It's a good lesson for everyone to hear: today's sixth-grade chorus boy is tomorrow's eighth-grade star - or, as the 1973 musical Seesaw taught us, "It's not where you start - it's where you finish." Just as kids in sports learn that you sit on the bench for a while before you get your chance to play, students in theater are taught the same lesson, too.

Gabrielle Gold is actually a social studies teacher but when no one else stepped up to direct the students from The South Bronx Academy for Applied Media, she took the reins and had them deliver two selections from Fame, Jr.

Gold came up with one of the best ideas I've ever - ever - heard, and one that all teachers should adopt: "During our parent-teacher conferences," she said, "I took the opportunity to tell all the parents about Broadway, Jr. As a result, they went home and got their kids interested."

It wasn't in vain, for Gold told of the student who told her on a day no rehearsal was scheduled, "I wish we could be doing Broadway, Jr. today."

Gold may not have started singing "The song'll come out tomorrow" - but indeed it did, to the happiness of all.


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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at