Tony-nominated composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Andy Jones (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella), Heidi Blickenstaff (The Little Mermaid), Ashley Brown (the original Mary Poppins), Merle Dandridge (Tarzan, Aida), Josh Strickland (the original Tarzan), Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Newsies), and Alton Fitzgerald White (The Lion King), will join 4,500 students and teachers representing 93 groups from 26 states and the District of Columbia at the 2014 Junior Theater Festival, it was announced today by Timothy Allen McDonald, founding Chairman of iTheatrics and the Junior Theater Group. The Junior Theater Festival is being held January 17, 18 and 19 at the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta.

Additional Junior Theater Festival celebrity guests include 2012 Tony® Honor recipient for Excellence in the Theatre and Music Theatre International (MTI) CEO Freddie Gershon; Jenifer Foote (Follies, Rock of Ages); young performer Henry Hodges (Broadway’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Broadway’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and author of How to Act Like a Kid); Broadway’s Carrie Manolakos (Mamma Mia!); Jacob Brent (Cats); Mike Spee, Julie Briskman, Richard Gray, Diana Huey, Kendra Kassebaum, Greg McCormick Allen, Jayne Muirhead and Heath Saunders  from the Seattle Children’s Theatre production of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, named “Best New Musical” by the Seattle Times; performer and author Tim Federle (The Little Mermaid, Better Nate Than Ever, Five, Six, Seven, Nate!); Mary Pope Osborne, author of the New York Times best-selling Magic Tree House Series; Tony® award–winning lighting designer Ken Billington (Chicago), designer Theresa Squire (The Lieutenant of Inishmore), and artistic directors from three of the leading children’s theaters: Michael Bobbitt of the Adventure Theatre, Rosemary Newcott of the Alliance Theatre, and Linda Hartzell of the Seattle Children’s Theatre.

Produced by the Junior Theater group in partnership with leading arts education consultancy firm, iTheatrics, the Junior Theater Festival is the world’s largest musical theater festival celebrating young people and the transformative power of musical theater.  This year’s title sponsors are Music Theatre International, Disney Theatrical Group, and Playbill®.

For the first year ever, theater lovers across the nation will be able to watch three of the festival’s main stage events via a live stream at http://www.mtishowspace.com/jtf2014 :

  • The Disney Musical New Works Showcase on Saturday, January 18, 8 pm Eastern

  • Pathways to Success with Andy Jones and Evan Ruggiero on Sunday, January 19, 9:15 am Eastern

  • In performance with songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul on Sunday, January 19, 2 pm Eastern

“At the Junior Theater Festival, students, teachers and Broadway’s brightest will raise their voices in song, dance as if nobody’s looking, celebrate art for art’s sake and remind the world that our young people are better prepared for the challenges ahead if they have access to quality arts programs,” said McDonald of iTheatrics.  “Music theater is the super food of the arts, because a musical brings together all of the art forms—music, dance, language, visual and even the most cutting edge digital arts— in one tasty bite,” he adds.

Sponsored by Disney Theatrical Group, the Disney Musicals New Works Showcase on Saturday, January 18 at 8 pm Eastern (live stream at http://www.mtishowspace.com/jtf2014) will bring together five Junior Theater Festival groups to perform selections from new musicals that will soon be made available for licensing by MTI. Uptown Music Theater (New Orleans, LA) will present 101 Dalmatians KIDS; Harris County Carver (Hamilton, GA) will perform Shrek JR; Gwendolyn Brooks Middle (Oak Park, IL) will present Legally Blonde JR.; Roy Waldron Elementary  (LaVergne, TN) will perform Magic Tree House: The Knight At Dawn KIDS; Broadway at the Rose (Omaha, NE) will present Mary Poppins.

During Pathways to Success on Sunday, January 19 at 9:15 am Eastern (live stream at http://www.mtishowspace.com/jtf2014) Andy Jones (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella) and tap dancer Evan Ruggiero (American Idol, The Ellen Show) discuss their journey from students interested in careers in theater to professional performers.

For In Performance with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul on Sunday, January 19 at 2 pm (live stream at http://www.mtishowspace.com/jtf2014) Benj Pasek and Justin Paul will perform songs from their catalogue as they discuss their collaborative process and journey from college roommates to the hit songwriting team behind shows including Broadway’s A Christmas Story the Musical, off Broadway’s Dogfight, Edges, the television show Smash and their newest work Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.  Festival attendees will also enjoy performances from Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach by the Seattle Children’s Theatre cast.

All festival attendees will attend a professional production of Broadway and Beyond: An Evening with the Stars of Disney on Broadway! This special JTF exclusive event features five incredibly talented Broadway performers (Heidi Blickenstaff, Ashley Brown, Merle Dandridge, Josh Strickland and Alton Fitzgerald White) singing songs from the award-winning musicals in which they starred on Broadway as well as other favorites from the Disney on Broadway catalogue.

Broadway performer and author Tim Federle will host a book signing for Five, Six, Seven, Nate! (Simon & Schuster), the sequel to New York Times Notable Book of 2013 Better Nate Than Ever, a novel about a small-town teen who crashes an audition for E.T.: The Broadway Musical. Better Nate Than Ever launched to huge numbers at last year’s Junior Theater Festival, and 2014 attendees will have exclusive access to early copies of the new book before it goes on sale for the general public.

Eight exceptional educators from schools and performing arts centers around the country will be selected for the fifth annual “The Freddie G Broadway Experience,” in which the teachers will receive an all-expense paid trip to New York City to collaborate with each other and work one-on-one with Broadway greats.  The event is sponsored by MTI’s Freddie (“G”) Gershon and his wife Myrna Gershon and is a thank you for all that teachers do to introduce the next generation to Broadway and musical theater.

MTI CEO Freddie Gershon conceived The MTI Broadway Junior Collection (featuring 30 and 60 minute musicals for young performers) in 1994 with nearly 300,000 performances since its inception.  Beginning in 2010, the festival has paid tribute to his leadership and dedication by renaming its student awards for excellence in theater “The Freddie G’s.”

There will also be a tech track in which students interested in technical theater train with professionals, a select group of these student technicians will be invited to work side-by-side with festival staff in running the tech for main stage festival events.

This year the festival will award the inaugural Sharidan Giles Technical Theater Award Scholarship to the technical theater student who most exemplifies commitment, curiosity, collaboration and creativity in technical theater.  Giles was a respected theater production manager and technical director, who mentored countless technical theater artists and was one of the first women admitted into her local branch of The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States union (IATSE local # 50).

Playbill will unveil The Playbill Community Service Award, created to acknowledge all of the ways young people at the Junior Theater Festival are giving back across the country. All groups attending JTF 2014 were encouraged to document their organization's community service projects. These activities could be anything from hosting a weekly afterschool program for under-served students to holding a food drive or performing at a nursing home.

Five finalists were chosen by a panel of adjudicators and are highlighted on Playbill.com, where the public is voting on its favorite. The organization receiving the most votes will win a $1,000 cash prize to support its continued charitable efforts. The finalists are: Act 3 Arts Academy from Sandy Springs, GA (Act 3 Productions); Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School from Oak Park, IL (Junior BRAVO Workshop); The Rose Theater from Omaha, NE (The Rose Brigade), and University School of Nashville from Nashville, TN (Napier Elementary).  To vote log on to http://www.playbill.com/news/article/186198-Vote-Now-Playbill-Community-Service-Award-Celebrating-Youth-Theatre-Launches-Jan-6

The 2014 Junior Theater Festival offers an enthusiastic environment for students and teachers to interact with thousands of others who share their passion for musical theater.  In addition to presenting a 15-minute selection from a musical, both students and teachers participate in interactive workshops led by Broadway and West End professionals, gain from professional development and enjoy theatrical fellowship.

The Junior Theater Festival was founded in 2003.  In 2010 the Festival became an annual event.

While the Junior Theater Festival is not about creating the stars of tomorrow, many of the stars of today have played a role.  Past festival attendees have included actor Zac Efron, Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Wicked), four-time Tony-nominated composer Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Shrek the Musical), Broadway director Kenny Leon (Fences, A Raisin in the Sun, The Mountaintop), and Playbill columnist and “Talkin’ Broadway” radio host Seth Rudetsky.