Oak Park Students Win National Awards at 2017 Junior Theater Festival West

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By Community Editor

Students from BRAVO! at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Oak Park won a Freddie G Outstanding Production award at the 2017 iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival West, which happened February 10-12, 2017 in Sacramento.

As one of just six schools from across the country to win a Freddie G Outstanding Production Award, the students performed a song from their production for all 1,500 attendees at the Junior Theater Festival closing ceremonies.

Furthermore, BRAVO! was one of four groups selected to premiere a new musical, Disney's and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins, for all festival attendees at the festival's New Works Showcase.

BRAVO! was also invited to perform "It's the Hard-Knock Life" from Annie JR. and "Friend Like Me" from Aladdin JR. for all festival attendees during a festival retrospective of favorite songs from The Broadway Junior Collection.

Students Aidan Green, Emma Sculles and Johnny McGillien were three of six students named to the Tech Theater All-Stars. Each group attending the festival was allowed to nominate students who took part in technical theatre workshops designed to help develop their talents.  From these students, a select group worked side by side with seasoned professionals, and served on the technical crew.

Said Broadway Sound Designer Matt Kraus, "Aidan helped mic the actors with our professional A2s. He is hard-working and knowledgeable." Added Kraus, "Johnny is confident and curious. It was a pleasure having him observe the sound board."

The iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival West is a monumental weekend of theatrical fellowship dedicated to student-driven musical theater programs.  JTF West brought together 1,500+ students and teachers from 35 groups, as well as Broadway professionals and leading educators to celebrate outstanding student theater productions and the transformative power of theater. The Junior Theater Group produce JTF West, iTheatrics provided educational supervision, and the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) provided programming exclusively for Junior Thespian troupes.

In the spirit of collaboration, students presented 15 minutes from a musical in Music Theatre International's Broadway JuniorTM library of titles for adjudication by a panel of leaders in education and theater.  The 44 BRAVO! at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School students presented selections from Thoroughly Modern Millie JR. for Dean McFlicker, dancer, choreographer and senior vice president and creative director of original production, live events and promotional programming at NBC Entertainment (Hairspray Live! executive producer); Ken Cerniglia, Disney Theatrical Group dramaturg and literary manager, and Cindy Ripley, an educational consultant for iTheatrics and member of the 2005 USA Today All Star Teaching team.

They received feedback on their connection to the material, story-telling, movement, music, acting and ensemble work.  Said Ripley, "BRAVO brought magic and life to this classic show! These kids have mastered the balance of the craft of theatre- beautiful transitions, staging and music." Added McFlicker, "BRAVO showed us fantastic dancing, with choreography that captivated from the most they took to the stage." Added Cerniglia, "BRAVO does it again! They brought poise, talent, drive, commitment and also joy and heart.  BRAVO transformed us."

Gabe Huang and McKale Thompson were named to the Junior Theater Festival All-Stars, made up of outstanding performers attending the festival. The All-Stars performed a song during the closing ceremony for all 1,500 festival attendees.

The 2017 iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival West was a first-time event.  Since 2003 iTheatrics has produced the iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival Atlanta, the world's largest festival celebrating young people and the transformative power of musical theater.  The January 2017 iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival Atlanta united 6,000 students and educators from 115 educational musical theater groups. JTF Atlanta and JTF West's title sponsors are Music Theatre International (MTI), Disney Theatrical Group, and Playbill, Inc.®.

The students who traveled to the iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival West on behalf of BRAVO! at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School are Mike Allen, Julia Anton, Paige Braun, Owen Campbell, Syona Carlo, Ellie Compton, Evye Crane, Rachel Czuba, Ruby Dalton, Caroline Diskin, Maria Donlin, Nina Donlin, Carl Faust, Alex Fliszar, Taylor Foreman, Maya Funk, Sydney Germany, Leo Gonzalez, Lindsay Gooch, Sammy Green, Max Halle-Podell, DeAnthony Howard, Gabe Huang, Gabe Jackson, Ava Jakovljevic, Alex Johnson, Zora Johnson, Yana Keane, Maya Klippel, Jimmy Lynch, Ava Moder, Gina Montalvo, Vivian Murphy, Ruby Nelson, Emma Perisho, Lauren Peters, Leo Powers, Ella Renner, Allyson Rumoro, Ty Shirmer, Gabe Sparkes, McKale Thompson, Maclaine Watson and Mari Wolter.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Tuck Everlasting, Newsies); songwriting team Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich (Dear Edwina, Junie B. Jones);Shoshana Bean (Wicked, Hairspray; Ryann Redmond (If/Then, Bring It On The Musical); Luca Padovan (Newsies, School of Rock!);songwriter and music director Rob Rokicki (The Lightening Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical running Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre this March), composer/lyricist Matthew Lee Robinson (Atlantis, Happy People); Dean McFlicker, dancer, choreographer and senior vice president and creative director of original production, live events and promotional programming at NBC Entertainment (Hairspray! Live), and composer, music director, orchestrator Deborah Wicks La Puma (Making Paradise: The West Hollywood Musical, Cornerstone Theater Company) were some of the celebrities at the festival cheering the students on.

At the festival, students and teachers also took part in professional development and workshops honing skills on and offstage.  Most importantly they had the opportunity to connect with hundreds of fellow educators, students and working artists who share their passion for theater. 

About BRAVO! at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School

The Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School BRAVO! troupe is based out of Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Oak Park, IL. The theater company is open to all students and welcomes children from throughout the community.  Under the artistic direction of Tina Reynolds, over 500 students annually participate in the eight theater productions produced each year.

At the 2016 Junior Theater Festival students from Gwendolyn Brooks Middle Schools BRAVO! program in Oak Park won a Freddie G Outstanding Production award and student Michael McCormack was named to the Tech Theatre All Stars.

In 2015, BRAVO! won a Freddie G Outstanding Production award, and again performed a song from their production for all attendees at the Junior Theater Festival closing ceremonies. BRAVO! students Lucia Rodriguez earned a Freddie G Excellent Individual Performance by a Female and BRAVO!'s Lisa Murrow was one of seven teachers selected for the Freddie G Fellowship.  The Freddie G Fellowship recognizes the exceptional contributions to arts education.  The teachers received all-expense paid trip to New York City, complete with professional development, Broadway performances and unforgettable celebrations.  In addition to the New York experience, each of the teachers' organizations received $5,000 from Freddie and Myrna to enhance their arts program and further the collaborative and inclusive spirit of producing a musical. The Freddie G Fellowship is underwritten by Music Theatre International Chairman and Broadway Junior founder Freddie Gershon, and his wife, Myrna.  BRAVO! student Leah Love was one of 11 students named to Tech Theater All-Stars. 

Additional highlights at past Junior Theater Festivals include Freddie G Outstanding Production awards at the 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 Junior Theater Festivals, Freddie G Awards for Excellent Individual Performance by a Male in 2014, 2013 and 2011 and Freddie G Outstanding Technical Achievement awards in 2010 and 2009.


About the 2017 Junior Theater Festival West

The 2017 Junior Theater Festival West was a monumental weekend of theatrical fellowship.  All JTF West participants enjoyed a concert highlighting the works of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen) featuring Shoshana Bean (Wicked, Broadway's Hairspray). 

Also at JTF West, songwriting team Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich (Dear Edwina, Junie B. Jones); Ryann Redman (If/Then, Bring It On The Musical); composer/lyricist Matthew Lee Robinson (Atlantis, Happy People); songwriter and music director Rob Rokicki (The Lightening Thief, The Percy Jackson Musical running Off-Broadway at theLucille Lortel Theatre this March); Luca Padovan (Newsies, School of Rock!), and Deborah Wicks La Puma (Making Paradise: The West Hollywood Musical, Cornerstone Theater Company) talked candidly about their experiences and presented works from new shows. 

Producer Tom Rice previewed Speech and Debate, a film about high schoolers who are passionate about theater, adapted from the Broadway stage play of the same name by Stephen Karam (The Humans).

Andrew Keenan-Bolger signed copies of his book written with Kate Wetherhead (Legally Blonde) "Jack & Louisa: Act 3" released by Penguin Random House on January 31.

The festival hosted pop-up concerts featuring Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich; Rob Rokicki; Luca Padovan, Matthew Lee Robinson, and Deborah Wicks La Puma.

iTheatrics launched its new textbook, "The iTheatrics Method," published by GIA Publications.  The book is designed to make sure that anyone, anywhere can create a successful and self-sustaining musical theater production and/or program.

About Thoroughly Modern Millie JR

Based on a 1967 George Roy Hill film that featured Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing (which was itself based on a 1956 West End musical titled Chrysanthemum), Thoroughly Modern Millie JR. follows the adventures of a young woman from Salina, Kansas, as she tries to make her way as an actress in Jazz Age New York City.  The musical – featuring a book by Richard Henry Morris, music by Jeanine Tesori and new lyrics by Dick Scanlan – opened on Broadway in 2002, and went on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

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