Monday, February 3, 2020 | 12:01 AM
Some of the community’s youngest musical theater aficionados traveled recently to the annual Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Ga., where they performed in front of judges and met fellow Broadway stars-in-the-making from all over the world.
“It’s the craziest thing because it is a competition but really it’s more like a celebration,” said Christie Jeter, owner of Jeter Backyard Theater in Pine Township.
Every year, Jeter takes students to the national competition, the largest of its kind featuring 6,600 children from the United States and as far away as China, New Zealand and Australia. This year they actually split the company in two, Jeter said, with their youngest and newest students traveling to Atlanta for the festival on Jan. 17-19, while the older and more experienced students will head to Sacramento for the Junior Theater Festival West to be held Feb. 7-9.
Each group performs for 15 minutes in front of a panel of judges, and the festival also includes performances by current Broadway stars and a showcase of new adaptations about to be released. Students who went to Atlanta performed selections from “Peter Pan Junior” in front of judges Lisa Mitchell, Disney Theatrical Group’s director of education and audience engagement, and choreographer Kenny Shepard.
A pair of Eden Hall Upper Elementary students, fifth grader Loren Prisuta and sixth grader Bella Fritz, were chosen to perform “Sing Your Own Song” from the musical “Dear Edwina” with the Junior Theater Festival All-Stars as part of the closing ceremony. Hall played Tiger Lily and Fritz was Peter Pan in the musical they performed for the judges.
A total of 26 students ages 7 to 12 went to Atlanta. Another 20 students, the oldest of whom is 17, will travel to California. Jeter said they just found out that the students going to California will be performing on the main stage in the Broadway concert the last day of the festival. They will be performing selections from “Into the Woods Junior.”
“At the festival, it’s just a happy, happy love fest with these kids, and they’re just the sweetest, most loving people,” Jeter said. “The Broadway performers who fly in then fly back out to perform the next day are so grounded and cool and loving, and they talk to the students to keep studying, keep trying, be kind to people, be on time, be prepared. The stuff they’re teaching them are life lessons that any person would want their kid to know, not as a performer but as a human. But that’s the No. 1 thing is it’s just a happy love fest.”