Broadway Jr. Gets Bravo!

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"This is as much a gift for me as it is for these representatives of schools all over New York City. It was wonderful. The kids were both professional on stage and off stage, which really goes to show that the arts does have a way of leaking into other aspects of life,� stated Steven Kennedy, MTI Resident Choreographer for Broadway Jr.

(R) Steven Kennedy and partial cast of Broadway Jr. at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway - Photo credit: Winning Strategies & Associates

One of the most beautiful and inspiring productions in the history of Broadway was the Broadway Jr. Project at the Imperial Theatre.  This summer, 350 public school students from eight middle and intermediate New York City public schools performed on stage at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway.  The sensational production was presented by Music Theatre International (MTI), The New York City Department of Education, The Shubert Foundation and ArtsConnection.

Broadway Jr. is an innovative musical theater mentorship program whose goal is building a self-sufficient theater program for children in selected public schools.

Last summer, public schools without an existing arts curriculum were selected for Broadway Jr.  Many of the students had never even seen a Broadway musical.  Thirty schoolteachers from eight schools got together for a two-day Professional Development workshop facilitated by MTI’s Educational Division (MTI Education) to guide them through the process of putting the show together in their respective communities.  Partnering with ArtsConnection and MTI Education, the teachers were assisted in selecting their musicals, holding auditions and casting the show.  The teachers worked together throughout the year.

Each participating school was given free tickets to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway a the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre.  It was the first opportunity for many of the children to see a Broadway musical.

The idea was to enable the kids to capture the Broadway theater experience from the audience’s perspective and then carry it out themselves on a Broadway stage in front of a live audience.  “The entire process including auditioning, teaching the children how to project their voices, how to improvise, taking cues, taking risks – even bonding and making new friends, was a learning experience for us all.  We believed in the students and encouraged them to believe in themselves.  Our goal was to teach them to be confident and self-assured professionals in whatever field they choose to pursue and we accomplished that.�, stated Freddie Gershon, Chairman of Music Theatre International.

Principal, Diana Diaz of PS 241, The Family Academy in Manhattan shared with BSN, “Ronnie Howard was giving himself a hard time until he got into this program.  Now he's my number one student.  I’m very proud of him.�  Principal Diaz has received fond recognition for turning the once troubled school around for the better  .

Albert Espinal of PS 89 in the Bronx, did a magnificent job introducing his school’s presentation of “We Dance� from Once On This Island Jr.

Francis Lino is a natural.  His exuberant yet suave performance captivated the entire audience with his brilliant rendition of the song, N.Y.C. from the Broadway musical, Annie.  Francis’ perfect pitch and celestial vocal tone, combined with his enthusiasm and charisma, could lead him to stardom. 12-year-old Francis hails from P.S. 29, Melrose School in the Bronx.  When asked how he felt about his performance, young Francis replied, “At the opening, I was scared and nervous because it wasn’t the part I was originally recruited for.  But when I saw my parents I was okay.�

13-year-old Steven Ramirez of MS 29 articulated for BSN,�My mother took me to a Broadway show where my uncle was performing on stage and I was inspired by that.  Now I want to be a Broadway star.  When I was informed about Broadway Jr., I joined because I want to be like my uncle.�

All of the students' performances were magnificent. Every seat in the house was filled. It was a great thrill to see the enormous talent, enthusiasm and professionalism the young thespians displayed.  The teachers and everyone who made the extraordinary production possible did a splendid job as was evidenced by the audience's tears of joy, roaring applause and hearty shouts of Bravo! during a long standing ovation.

Steven Kennedy, MTI Resident Choreographer for Broadway Jr. stated, "This is as much a gift for me as it is for these representatives of schools all over New York City.  It was wonderful.  The kids were both professional on stage and off stage, which really goes to show that the arts do have a way of leaking into other aspects of life.�

The Shubert Foundation donated $75,000 to the Fund for Public Schools to support the project.  Gerald Schoenfeld, Chairman of the Shubert Foundation stated, “We are proud to have provided a leadership grant for this landmark initiative that recognizes the vital role the arts can play in children’s lives.  Introducing youngsters to the power and magic of musical theatre will enrich their lives for years to come.�

MTI’s Educational Division offers the vast majority of students their first experience with one of America’s truly unique art forms:  Musical Theatre.  Freddie Gershon, Chairman of MTI, began developing the program in 1995 with the first production in 1998, motivated by his belief that musical theatre could be translated to life-enhancing experiences for children.

As Mr. Gershon joyfully stated, “The students loved the applause from the audience.  The meaning of ‘Bravo!’ is something they will remember for the rest of their lives.�

Learn more about Music Theatre International and the Broadway Jr project at

Participating schools were PS 89x, IS 10q, IS 323q, IS 68k, IS 72r,  MS 88k, PS 29x, and PS 241m. 

The Fund for Public Schools is the non-profit organization affiliated with the New York City Department of Education.  Its mission is to inspire belief in public schools and our ability to make them better; to increase private sector support of public eduation and to encourage every New Yorker to participate in our City’s schools.  Working together with the DOE Office of Strategic Partnerships, The Fund seeks critical funding for system-wide educational reform initiatives, helps businesses partner with individual schools and programs, supports volunteering and reaches out to the entire City to create awareness about our public schools’ needs.  For more information about the Fund for Public Schools, visit .

Brenda Jeanne Wyche, Advocate for Solutions and Results ©2006 is Managing Editor for The Black Star News and Harlem Business News and CEO of Winning Strategies & Associates, LLC a Small Business Consultancy in New York City.  If you have an interesting topic or solution, contact . 

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