Filichia Features: The Newest JR. Musicals

Filichia Features: The Newest JR. Musicals

By Peter Filichia on February 14, 2019

Frozen JR. wasn't the only abridged musical that made its debut at the recent Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta.

Three others saw the light of stage. True, Frozen JR. is the only one that you could stage now. But for those of you who plan ahead - and which of you doesn't? - these upcoming JR. titles displayed their wares in mini-productions. Each show should be available for licensing and production before the calendar turns to 2020.

Long before musical theater introduced that now-famous little orphan girl, it had become acquainted with a little orphan boy: Oliver Twist. Thanks to London's British Theatre Academy, we witnessed a smartly distilled Oliver! JR.

When the orphans mused on the wonders of "Food, Glorious Food" and envisioned "piled peaches and cream about six feet high," they jumped up to convey the height. In the rollicking "Consider Yourself," after the Artful Dodger had told Oliver to think of himself as "one of the furniture," the ensemble picked up the lad and made their arms into an easy chair. It's not easy to do, but they did it.

Conventional musical theater wisdom says that kids don't much like slow love songs. Nevertheless, Oliver! JR. retains the most famous ballad from Lionel Bart's Tony-winning score: "As Long As He Needs Me." It's a torch song that shows Nancy's carrying one as large as The Statue of Liberty's. The lass singing it showed she could carry it and that it's not necessarily beyond a youngster's range.

In the original production and Oscar-winning film of Oliver!, Nancy's dress was a shade of red; that color was retained here. No surprise; red is the go-to color for musical theater dresses, isn't it? Annie, Dolly Levi, Molly Brown, Cassie, Desiree and Phyllis Rogers Stone all wear a shade of red during their shows. Use this arresting color when costuming your Nancy.

The subject of red brings us to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer JR. that was presented by Nashville's University School. Of course Johnny Marks' hit song is in it. Even as late as Christmas 2018, it ranked #7 on the list of "The 100 Most-Played Christmas Songs on the Radio."

Although the other Marks' songs hit the marks, the show also makes room for such evergreens as "Rockin' around the Christmas Tree."

It's not a mere revue, for the show has a message to deliver. Remember, Rudolph is initially an outcast because he looks different from the other reindeer. Many of us who've been made to feel ostracized can empathize - and be inspired that Rudolph's uniqueness is the happy cause for his success.

As seven JTF productions of The Lion King JR. proved, kids love playing animals, and it sure showed in Rudolph. One boy had just as much fun portraying Santa Claus whose belly he stuffed to the breaking point. The same was true of an elf who wants to be a dentist. (See why when the script becomes available.)

Then we saw Sister Act JR. Those unfamiliar with the 1992 film or the 2011 Tony-nominated musical adaptation might have been flummoxed or even repulsed by the horrific off-pitch and out-of-tune singing.

No, the kids from The Community Theatre of Greensboro, NC who teamed with The Adelaide Youth Theatre from Australia aren't talent-free. These nuns stink at singing until Deloris Van Cartier, a professional entertainer on the run from a beau who wants to kill her, will teach them how to do it right.

And these dozens of girls indeed did it right. Who says Latin is a dead language? It's certainly heard quite a bit in Sister Act's songs, interrupted by Deloris' high-fiving the nuns, some of which slapped flesh while others looked simply confused by the gesture.

Afraid you won't be able to costume it because nuns don't wear Sound-of-Music-like outfits anymore? Find community theaters that are aching to rid their costume shops of habits and veils from those long-ago productions of Nunsense.

(And get an outfit for The Pope, too; he has a cameo.)

As good as the acting, singing and dancing was in displaying the fine books, music and lyrics, none of those ingredients represented the students' most amazing accomplishment of all. While singing to a pre-recorded track, they were interrupted every few seconds with cheers and applause. Hearing the music would seem to be impossible, but no one missed a proverbial beat.

By this time next year, you may well find your orphans, reindeer and nuns achieving the same goal.

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