MusicWorks! students receive honors at national festival
Twenty-three talented students from MusicWorks! Studio of Performing Arts participated in an invitation-only 2014 Junior Theater Festival Jan. 17-19 at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. The Junior Theater Festival is the world’s largest musical theater festival dedicated to groups working with elementary though high school students, and is presented by New York City’s iTheatrics and sponsored by Music Theatre International, Playbill Magazine, and Disney Musicals.
This year’s festival brought together more than 4,500 students, teachers and Broadway professionals to raise their voices in celebration of on-stage and backstage excellence in musical theater. The 2014 MusicWorks! group members included Marina Battenfeld, Keely Cherry, Summer Davis, Javan Delozier, Jonathan Delozier, Madison Gosnell, Jared Haas, Roselyn Lasley, Sydney Lyles, Amanda Caroline McCall, Mary Ashley McCrory Morgan Meadows, Reagan Mulvey, Lily Paschke, Cameron Robinson, Leah Rogers, Ben Sears, Brynna Sinyard, Madison Stewart, Madison Sugg, Alex Traynham, Rebekah Vertrees, and Kara White. The group was directed by Lynne Meyer with assistance by Adriane Howard. Pisgah High School junior Morgan Meadows, and Tuscola High School senior Ben Sears were selected by Meyer as student-choreographers for the group. Tuscola High School junior Mary Ashley McCrory was appointed student-director.
The talented group of young people representing MusicWorks! performed selections from Disney’s "The Little Mermaid" Jr. for adjudication. Following their performance, they received adjudication critique from Broadway performer and author Tim Federle who applauded the group on their innovative use of staging, commitment to character, seamless transitions and overall performance which earned the group Outstanding Ensemble for the second year in a row.
Several individuals from MusicWorks! also received awards including Morgan Meadows and Ben Sears who were selected to participate in the JTF All-Stars Ensemble; Roselyn Lasley, and Jared Haas were selected to participate in the JTF Slam, in which students are grouped into small ensembles and given a piece of music and 45 minutes to learn the notes, lyrics, staging, and blocking before presenting it to the entire festival on stage.
Reagan Mulvey, Amanda Caroline McCall, Javan Delozier, Madison Sugg, and Marina Battenfeld were awarded Golden Tickets in dance and overall performance, and were invited to audition for Broadway Junior resident choreographer Steven G. Kennedy for future Broadway Junior choreography DVD shoots. These talented performers spent several hours in dance auditions and call-backs, and on the second day of auditions, Javan Delozier, Madison Sugg, and Marina Battenfeld were selected as finalists. They will learn later this spring if they have been selected to go to New York this summer to participate in the DVD shoot. Last year Morgan Meadows, Ben Sears, and Cameron Robinson from MusicWorks! were selected as DVD finalists and spent 10 days in New York City filming “new works” choreography videos for MTI, Disney Theatricals, and iTheatrics.
In early December, MusicWorks! director Lynne Meyer received notification from iTheatrics that MusicWorks! had been chosen as one of the top 10 groups to perform in the festival’s finale. Meyer was then asked to select five students from her JTF group to perform onstage in the finale song. Morgan Meadows, Brynna Sinyard, Cameron Robinson, Ben Sears, and Jonathan Delozier were the five students chosen for the honor. Those students attended a special technical rehearsal on Friday afternoon before the festival officially kicked off, and Meadows and Sears were selected to wear lapel microphones and help lead the entire finale group.
"If you are a vocalist, being 'mic’d' at this event is really a big deal," said Meyer. "Naturally, the students selected to wear the microphones have to prove to the JTF directors that they have solid vocal skills, but they also have to display confidence and a natural ability to lead others. These two students absolutely have those skills, and as their teacher and director, it’s so exciting to see their hard work and commitment pay off."
The week before the group departed for Atlanta, Sears was notified by Steven Kennedy, iTheatrics choreographer, that he and two other students were invited to perform a short dance solo on the main stage during the Saturday evening, "New Works Showcase." Sears was sent an audio clip of "King of New York" from the musical "Newsies" and asked to choreograph his solo and to arrive in Atlanta for a technical rehearsal early on Friday afternoon.
"Ben and I were not really sure what this was all about," said Meyer. "But he was very excited about it; especially when he was told that he would be sharing the stage with Broadway star and "Newsies" original "Crutchie," Andrew Keenan-Bolger."
When they arrived in Atlanta on Friday, Kennedy explained to the select group that they were going to be participating in a "dance off" sponsored by Playbill, and that they would receive onstage comments from Andrew Keenan-Bolger about their individual performances. Following his outstanding solo performance on Saturday night, Sears was praised by Keenan-Bolger for his technique and the masculine strength that he brought to his performance.
"I think we’ll be seeing him on Broadway in 'Newsies,'" said Keenan-Bolger. He then challenged Ben to a “spin off” which Sears took hands-down by completing 14 revolutions.
"This was a very special time for Ben; he deserved every second of it and I could not be more proud," said Meyer. "He has been with my studio since he was just a little boy and to watch him grow up into such a strong and committed performer is just the icing on the cake for me. I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing him on the stage for many years, and I hope he continues to be such a wonderful role model for young people with his kind spirit, strong work ethic and passion for the arts."
MusicWorks! Studio of Performing Arts was established in 2002 by Lynne Wells-Meyer with the objective to provide children and young adults the opportunity to discover and express their talents in the performing arts. Through enrollment in drama, dance and music classes, group master classes, private lessons and participation in stage productions, students also develop public speaking skills, build self-confidence, focus and self-esteem.
"Attending an event such as JTF provides the students a chance to meet and work alongside other students and professionals who share the same aspirations and love of musical theater. It is certainly a valuable experience for all of us," said Meyer. "It is so inspiring to return home and realize that you have spent an entire weekend learning from and conversing with some of the best directors, choreographers, technicians and musicians on Broadway today, and they’re all so friendly and approachable! They want to help lead and inspire our young people, and those are exactly the same goals that I have for my students at MusicWorks.”
This is the fourth year that MusicWorks! has attended the festival and Meyer is already planning for the 2015 JTF.
"The 2015 group will be open for any current or future MusicWorks! student who wants to attend JTF. Auditions are not necessary but a love of musical theater and a strong commitment level from the student and their parents is a must," said Meyer.
Preparing for JTF includes applying for acceptance and completing an overwhelming amount of paperwork before a director can begin on the actual performance aspect. Since pre-planning is paramount, Meyer plans to have the 2015 JTF group in place by July 1 to provide ample time for an intensive summer camp week, fundraising efforts, creative planning and rehearsing.
Featuring 94 groups from 28 states, and 4,500 performers, the 2014 Junior Theater Festival offered an enthusiastic environment for students and teachers to interact with thousands of others who share their passion for musical theater. Students and teachers participated in interactive workshops led by Broadway and West End professionals, gained from professional development, enjoyed theatrical fellowship and attended a world-class professional production of "Broadway and Beyond: An Evening with the Stars of Disney on Broadway." This special JTF exclusive event featured five incredibly talented Broadway performers — Heidi Blickinstaff, Merle Dandridge, Ashley Brown, Josh Strickland and Ashton Fitzgerald-White — who sang songs from the award-winning musicals in which they starred on Broadway as well as other favorites from the Disney on Broadway catalogue.