By Keysha Drexel
Students at Mountain Brook Junior High School spent the week before winter break preparing to take the stage at one of the world’s largest musical theater festivals for young people.
Members of the Mountain Brook Junior High Choir have been accepted to the 2014 Junior Theater Festival Jan. 17-19 at the Cobb Galleria Center in Atlanta.
Amy Loden, the school’s choir teacher, and the 20 students who will represent the school at the festival have been rehearsing to present a 15-minute selection from “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.” before a panel of distinguished theater professionals.
“The challenging part is taking the musical and getting it down to a 15-minute performance. We have 60 kids in the choir and are taking 20 to the festival, so a lot of them are swapping up parts. We also have to work on choreography,” Loden said.
The Mountain Brook Junior High choir students will join 94 other student choir groups representing 28 states at the 2014 festival, which will bring together more than 4,500 students, teachers and Broadway professionals.
Loden said the school has participated in the festival three times before and that it is always an honor to be selected to perform at the event.
At the 2011 Junior Theater Festival, the group presented “Meredith Willson’s The Music Man Jr.” Students Gracie Fridy and Megan Bemowski earned the Freddie G. Outstanding Student Direction and Choreography award.
The group performed selections from “Guys and Dolls Jr.” at the 2013 festival. Katy Grace Liscomb was one of 80 students who made it to the final call-back for future Broadway Junior shoots for “how-to” choreography videos for soon-to-be released Broadway Junior musicals. She was ultimately cast and traveled to New York this past summer to take part in tapings. Additionally, Mountain Brook Junior High students Kayla Carr and Adam Thomas were named to the Broadway Jr. All-Stars, made up of two outstanding students from each group at the festival. The All-Star students performed the song “Oh, Bless the Lord” from “Godspell Jr.” at the 2013 closing ceremonies.
“I love taking the students to the festival because it gives them a chance to meet other students and teachers and professionals from all over the country who share their passion for musical theater,” Loden said. “It is all about what they love, and it’s a great opportunity.”
In the spirit of celebration rather than competition, theater groups perform 15-minute selections from their Broadway Jr. productions for a panel of leaders in theater and education. The panel evaluates each group’s music, acting, dance and overall performance.
Each cast receives valuable feedback about its creativity, engagement in the performance, understanding of the material and connection to the lyrics and movement.
And while the students will be judged on their performance at the festival, Loden said the judges always offer positive feedback to the students.
“They are never, ever negative and always have positive things to say to the kids,” she said.
Loden said in preparing for the festival, she made sure that the students’ creative ideas were heard.
“We are student-driven. They do the choreography, and we have a student director come over from Mountain Brook High School to help out. We want the students to take real ownership of their performance,” Loden said.
At this year’s festival, the students will sing the Oscar-winning “Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl” and other favorites from “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.,” Loden said.
“The audience will hear all their favorite songs from the musical, and it’ll be a great performance,” Loden said.
Loden said the students will also get a chance to meet musical theater stars at the event.
Past festival attendees have included Zac Efron, Oscar and Tony award-winning composer Alan Menken, Broadway director Jeff Calhoun and Grammy award-winning musician, producer and songwriter Bryan-Michael Cox, among others.
The students and Loden will also attend workshops while in Atlanta for the 2014 Junior Theater Festival.