JTF Atlanta: New Works 2020–a year of excellence

By Madelyn Greene – Contributing Editor

January 26, 2019 ATLANTA

What does a New York City strike, a peculiar group of wedding guests, and two self aware child-animals have in common with an ocean sea voyager meant to restore balance to the world and a young, brilliant little girl who helps lead to revolution against an unjust system? 

All of these stories were told through a new lens on January 18th, 2020. 

For those who may not be familiar, the New Works Showcase is a feature of the Junior Theater Festival, a worldwide arts celebration that originated here in Atlanta. Each year, thousands of children come together to compete with 15 minute cuts of Music Theater International’s Broadway Jr. collection. They are given feedback on their performance and are treated to Broadway talkbacks and performances, workshops in the arts, impromptu theater games, and a preview of the shows soon to be joining the Music Theater International roster. 

This year, six different troupes across three states were selected to put together cuts of material both new and familiar to the stage to perform for the 7,000+ theater fans attending the conference. From “Seize the Day” to “Revolting Children,” it was a revolutionary night. 

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NEWSIES JR: Play on Players and Red Phoenix Theatre Company (GA)

The show opened with a phenomenal performance of songs from the cult classic NEWSIES. The magnitude of having two different troupes (and nearly 100 children) onstage working together with such focus set the showcase off on exactly the right foot. The powerful message of songs  “Seize the Day,” “Watch What Happens,” and “Once and For All,” rung clearly throughout the theater. The vocal stamina and dynamics of these two troupes was especially appreciated. Even while doing amazingly well-executed tricks and dancing with (and over!) newspapers, they never lost their sound or their passion for the story they were telling.

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THE DROWSY CHAPERONE JR: Plaza Academy (TX)

Next up was Plaza Academy, who put up a delightful showcase of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE’s catchy jazz age tunes. With a zany cast of characters and plenty of features to go around, the individual character work required for the cast was immense, and they handled the pressure beautifully. Musical theater fan favorites like “Fancy Dress,” were executed with all the glamour and poise one would hope, and in the catchy tune “I Don’t Wanna Show off No More” each element, from quick changes to individual vocals to spirited choreography, was done flawlessly.

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ELEPHANT & PIGGIE – WE ARE IN A PLAY! JR: Ohlook Performing Arts (TX)

Ohlook Performing Arts Center has a truly stunning energy about them. The group of mostly high school kids took it upon themselves to make a “broken” toy the most intensely horrible, high stakes betrayal between two friends, and they did it all with the aplomb of professionals twice their age. And after the cast of characters “discovered” that there was an audience watching them? They had no trouble riling up a crowd of seven thousand to perform a series of hand claps and vocal doo-wops. The sparkly, attention grabbing outfits and electric neon colors were just the cherry on top of the treat that Ohlook gave the audience. 

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MOANA JR: BRAVO! Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School (IL)

The vocal presence that carried over the conference hall as BRAVO sang the opening notes of MOANA truthfully cannot be overstated. Everything about this performance, from entrancing water costumes to gorgeous sea-voyaging ships were done with such noticeable care. Songs from the 2016 movie positively echoed across the room, and every eye was focused on an equally powerful element of the performance. Soloists executed toe touches and lifts as well as high notes with exuberance and skill while the dance corps floated around them, embodying water with all the same vigour. It was a mesmerizing medley of songs.

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MATILDA JR: Inspiration Stage (TX)

Image result for jtf matilda jr

With all of the excellent performances shown last Saturday, my expectations for the finale seemed set almost impossibly high. I shouldn’t have worried – Inspiration Stage’s rendition of MATILDA was sensational. Although the cut was only three songs, the performers, who ranged from elementary to high school, took the audience on an emotional journey through the lives of their characters as they fought to gain the courage to stand up against tyranny. The music, choreography and acting were all incredible, but they blended so seamlessly into the story that they seemed to fade away almost entirely. The brilliance in the staging of songs like “When I Grow Up,” had the audience weeping, and the unabashed energy in “School Song” and “Revolting Children” was inspiring.

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The Junior Theater Festival’s New Works Showcase is always a sight to behold, but I feel this year was truthfully one of its strongest yet. The absolute pleasure of watching such talented kids give such great performances is topped only by the knowledge that soon, children from all around the world will get to tell these stories – to audiences unknown. 

Social Media (Sequential Order):

Newsies Jr: @playonplayers, @rehoenixtheatreco

The Drowsy Chaperone Jr: @plazaacademy

Elephant and Piggie – We are in a Play! Jr: @ohlookpac

Moana Jr: @bravo_performing_arts

Matilda Jr: @inspirationstage

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