BRAVO! flies south for the National Junior Theater Festival

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By Community Editor

For the fifth consecutive year, student performers from Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School's BRAVO! program are heading to the National Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Forty-six young performers ages 12-14 will be representing BRAVO! not just to compete with other schools and youth theatre groups from across the country, but also to showcase their pilot adaptation of Hairspray, Jr. before an audience of over 4,000 festival attendees.

The Junior Theater Festival is the world's largest musical theater festival dedicated to celebrating young people experiencing the transformative power of musical theater. Each group attending JTF performs a 15-minute selection, of a musical, for a panel of distinguished Broadway theater professionals.

BRAVO! will perform a condensed version of the musical Once on This Island for adjudication. The 44 actors and 2 crew members have been polishing their presentation for 6 weeks, and are eager to stage the beautiful, stirring, tropical love story.

BRAVO!'s participation in the festival began in 2009, when the school received an invitation to attend as the program's strong reputation grew. The students will be one of 84 troupes vying for top honors this year, and will represent not just Brooks Middle School or Oak Park, but all of Illinois.

This is the 4th year that the Brooks group has been honored to perform at the Disney New Works Showcase on Saturday night for the entire festival audience. Only six schools are selected from hundreds of groups to perform select newly adapted musical works on behalf of Music Theater International and iTheatrics, the New York-based sponsors of the festival.

BRAVO! has been widely recognized for its extraordinary middle school arts program. Challenging vocal harmonies and intricate choreography have merited the students being dubbed "pint-sized Broadway actors" by past festival judges. Last year, Broadway Director Jeff Calhoun of the Tony Award-winning Newsies, was one of three adjudicators evaluating BRAVO's presentation. Following the performance of Schoolhouse Rock, Calhoun enthusiastically exclaimed that he knew why this group is called BRAVO! He saw one family, not 41 individual performers. He also wished that the Broadway actors he works with had the same work ethic and commitment that BRAVO! displayed in their performance. Those comments, the kids felt, were better than any trophy. That performance earned BRAVO! its' third consecutive Outstanding Performance award.

The cast includes 7th graders: Talia Burke, Evelyn Cappelli, Georgia Kay, Aidan Lenehan, Liam Loughran, Kay Mabwa, Nora Paul, Sarah Powers, and Ayanna Sloan. 8th graders: Natassia Barnes, Quinn Berleman-Paul, Christen Conley, Grace Crowley, Ishana Euring, Lucy Foreman, Grace Fox, Alex Frendt, Max Gonzalez, Tyler Heggans, Grace Irving, Skylar Jackson, Sydney Jackson, Paul Johnson, Anna Kindler, Abby Klein, Lizzie Maguire, Patricia Meadors, Emma Prescott, Ellen Puhalovich, Grant Reynolds, Kate Richards, Katy Schuller, Logan Scofield, Emma Sher, Cole
Tamondong, Gracie Tillotson, and Sophia Zinger. 9th graders: Emilio Amaya, Elena Awe, Pierce Boyd-Bagby, Tommy Figel, Margot Frank, Maggie Lynch, Eli Whelan, Patrick Wicklow, Alonte Williams.

The BRAVO! program reaches hundreds of students and thousands of audience members each year. Be thinking of these 46 young people on January 17 as they travel to Atlanta, GA to enjoy what they do best; sing, dance, act, perform and be a family! BRAVO to BRAVO!

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