Filichia Features: Those Junior Theatre Festival Performances

Filichia Features: Those Junior Theatre Festival Performances

Kids attending the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta got so much more than meeting the authors of Dear Evan Hansen and Frozen.

On Saturday, they showed why they'd really attended - to perform excerpts from MTI's Junior Editions and hear what adjudicators thought.

What better way to start the morning than by hearing "Good Morning"? Omaha's Rose Theater superbly presented Singin' in the Rain JR. that proved these kids weren't whistlin' in the dark.

They'd obviously practiced "Moses Supposes" religiously. When doing "Make 'Em Laugh," they certainly made us do just that. And the singing? That's a Broadway melody!

They were solid in the book scenes, too. The plot has a silent movie stopping production because talkies have taken over. The kids so passionately mourned the shutdown you'd have thought their own show was being canceled.

The girl playing the shrill-voiced Lina Lamont was very good at being very bad. And in the title song, the boy in Gene Kelly's role didn't use an umbrella. Doesn't that suggest he's even more consumed with his new girlfriend than the weather?

One adjudicator said: "When you smiled, we could hear it." An oxymoron? No - musical theater aficionados got the meaning.

Although some schools do shows they've already performed, Brick, NJ's BCCT's Mary Poppins JR. was tailored-made for JTF. One adjudicator scared the kids when saying "When you sing a song about precision, you must be precise." They relaxed when the next sentence was: "And you were."

How thrilling that Huron, Ohio's Caryl Crane Youth Theatre presented Finian's Rainbow JR. Those who assumed that this 72-year-old show is dated only had to hear this line from a myopically bigoted senator: "An immigrant? My family's been having trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country!"

The sharp director observed the rainbow theme through different-colored T-shirts. The ensemble wore orange, blue, yellow and purple; hot-blooded Sharon was in red, gentle Finian in lavender and Leprechaun Og in Irish green, of course.

How remarkable that the kids sang "This Time of the Year" a capella with no starting note; that's hard enough for pros. And when music came in, the lass' "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" and the lad's "Old Devil Moon" showed Broadway-worthy pipes.

One of the show's best messages is that if the poor did come into money, it would "keep it and share it." What a treat that Caryl Crane shared Finian's with us.

Alpharetta, Georgia's Mill Springs Academy serves 12 grades, as was shown by six-foot-four Jamie Fambrough, playing the title character in Elf JR. So wasn't it hilarious when he interacted with a Santa Claus literally half his size? (Well, this is the era of non-traditional casting.)

One adjudicator appreciated that the cast knew "the best comedy sometimes comes when you're acting serious." (David Hyde Pierce once told me that it's the secret to his success.)

Dallas' Preston Center Dance did Junie B. Jones JR. where Our Heroine agonized when told that she must wear glasses. The actress shrieked a scream that rivaled Stanley Kowalski's "Stellahhhhhhh!"

"You didn't phone it in," one adjudicator told the cast. Having kids learn this expression early on will help keep them from ever doing just that.

New York's PS 124 Theater Club's Aladdin JR. reiterated that "It's what inside that counts" doesn't merely refer to a magic lamp. The chemistry in "You've Never Had a Friend Like Me" suggested that some kids might become friends for life - thanks to being in a show.

The terrific kickline in "Prince Ali" prompted an adjudicator's "Thank you for your commitment." How often do kids get thanks from an adult? How wonderful that they did.

Moorestown (NJ) Theater Company's The Lion King JR's cast wore yellow T-shirts and black pants. "I didn't even miss the lions' heads," said one adjudicator. Moorestown proved the show easily succeeds with a cast that can convey what animals they're playing.

Another adjudicator marveled that "you spoke and sang African words like they were your native language." There was fiercely crisp choreography and a girl who sang "He Lives in You" with a remarkable voice living in her. Soon after Young Simba yelled "I just can't wait to be king!" he didn't have to wait long to be dubbed one of the festival's outstanding performers.

Since my first JTF in 2011, I've never seen a show interrupted by applause as often as this one. Perhaps I never will. But the bar keeps getting raised at every JTF only to have kids conquer it with leaps and bounds.

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