By Matthew Blank
18 Jan 2014
The annual event, which unites over 4,000 young theatre lovers from 23 states across the U.S., took place Jan. 18-20. Co-presented by iTheatrics (which develops stage works for young performers) and Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars, JTF 2013 is sponsored by Music Theatre International, Disney Theatrical Group, Playbill, PRG (Production Resource Group) and Sound Associates.
Among the shows to debut during the JTF New Works Showcase were Xanadu JR.; Hairspray, JR.; and Pirates of Penzance JR.; as well as performances of Disney's Aristocats KIDS; and a dual-language presentation of Disney's Aladdin.
Disney revealed a sneak peek at the Newsies Broadway logo during the 2012 festival, and young performers from the festival also offered a rousing rendition of "Seize the Day." The 2013 weekend featured that musical's Tony-winning composer Menken, along with its director Calhoun, Disney Theatricals Productions president Schumacher and the young stars of Newsies, including Kara Lindsay, Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Mike Faist.
Menken was also the 2013 recipient of the Junior Theater Festival Award, recognizing his contribution toward the advancement of musical theatre for young people. Menken and Schumacher will offer a main stage presentation for all festival attendees.
Additional guests included MTI CEO Freddie Gershon, a 2012 Tony Award Honoree for Excellence in Theatre recipient for creating Broadway Junior; as well as actors Skylar Astin ("Pitch Perfect," Spring Awakening); Briga Heelan ("Cougar Town"); Jacob Brent (Cats); Tony-nominated scenic designer Tobin Ost (Newsies, Bonnie and Clyde); and Tony-winning lighting designer Ken Billington (Chicago).
The weekend also introduced the new book, "Better Nate Than Ever," a new novel for young readers (and theatre lovers) by Broadway trouper Tim Federle (Gypsy, Billy Elliot, The Little Mermaid). The book centers on a young show-tune fanatic who gets the chance of a Lifetime to audition for a Broadway musical of "E.T." Read Playbill.com's coverage of the book here. Federle will also sign copies of "Better Nate Than Ever" during the festival.
Various student groups were honored with the "Freddie G Awards," which recognize achievements in teamwork and production excellence. The awards were named for MTI's Gershon. Eight teachers from the festival will also be selected to participate in the "Freddie G Theatre Experience," which immerses a select group of instructors in the New York theatre world for a weekend in the summer.
Founded in 2003, the Junior Theater Festival is the largest of its kind in the world and attracts students and instructors from across the U.S. who gather to participate in workshops and lectures, as well as perform highlights from their respective productions.