ATLANTA — Just minutes before they took the stage, members of Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre learned the director of the Broadway show they were performing would be judging their rendition of …
ATLANTA — Just minutes before they took the stage, members of Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre learned the director of the Broadway show they were performing would be judging their rendition of the piece.
The door opened, and they were face to face with Jeff Calhoun, director and choreographer of "Newsies" on Broadway.
ESRT, known for its annual spring performance on the bluff in Fairhope, has been attending and charming audiences at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta since 2015. This year the annual, weekend-long festival gathered 125 groups from 28 states, Washington D.C., Canada, and Australia.
During the festival's adjudication process teams are judged by a handful of theater professionals, often including well-known Broadway celebrities. The teams must edit the show's full version to just a 15-minute performance that conveys the story line and emotion of the piece. Props and costumes are limited leaving the students to convey the tales with their acting and song alone.
Erin Langley, ESRT artistic director, said performing for the legendary director was "incredible."
"As soon as I saw his face, I whispered to the kids," she said. "I knew it would only motivate and excite them. They had worked so hard and were proud of the piece we were performing. It only inspired them to bring even more to their performance."
At the close of their "Newsies Jr." performance Calhoun wiped away tears as he told the audience how the students helped revive the joy of bringing that show to life.
"Having directed the original "Newsies" on Broadway, I was nothing short of blown away by this production," Calhoun said. "I think many in the cast will be dancing on Broadway very soon. Obviously, they have a strong and talented director."
The group won a Freddie G Excellence in Dance award for their performance.
Later during the festival, the 46-member theater troupe performed the newly minted production, "Dot and the Kangaroo." ESRT was one of five youth theater organizations from around the nation asked to perform in the festival's New Works Showcase in front of all 6,500 attendees. Each performance debuted a new show that is being released this year by theatrical licensors.
ESRT had been rehearsing "Dot and the Kangaroo" since the fall, imagining the choreography, personality and costuming for each of the animals in the classic Australian tale, set in the late 1890s.
Langley said one of her favorite parts of directing is bringing new works to life.
"I love creating and directing a piece that has never been done before. "Dot and the Kangaroo" was a lot of fun and a wild ride," she said. "It's really about trying to stay true to what the writers are saying through their words and music and storyline. We were able to work with composer Dan Mertzluft on several occasions and he flew to Alabama to get to know our students. Hearing his ideas and love for the musical really inspired our presentation."
ESRT has been hand-picked to perform for all festival attendees at main stage events in 2022, 2020, 2018, 2017, and 2016.
Students from ESRT have also been chosen to perform in choreography videos used across the nation and have individually won dozens of awards at JTF over the years.
Langley said raising her students' abilities to compete and win nationally has given them an edge professionally.
"Our students train at a high level and our group really loves conquering challenges. We started performing on a national level many years ago and as soon as we felt like we had achieved one level of success we've wanted to see what was the next possible thing," she said.
"Now, we have students who have performed in New York City multiple times, in California, and for audiences of thousands. We've had students get into top musical theatre programs in colleges, perform in Broadway national tours, and appear in film and commercials. As they see others reaching these victories, it inspires the younger generations to do the same. It's really the gift of creating a family environment where everyone is motivated to bring their best and encourage each other along the way."
The ESRT competition team that traveled to JTF included the following students from Baldwin County: Jonah Adkins, Tbug Baker, Ayelen Bodnar, Elle Brown, Emery Capstraw, Addie Carter, Chloe Ciolino, Broxton Cook, Scarlett Cox, Annie Mae Dowden, Jackson Esfeller, Dessa Fitzgerald, Ree Gibson, Jack Glisson, Sydney Gray, David Green, Olivia Green, Georgia Gordon, Charlotte Guilian, Keegan Gulledge, Alice Handmacher, Amelia Hicks, Janie Hicks, Jonathan Hochhauser, Jodi Johnson, Nicholas Johnson, Fisher Key, Abby Krehling, Ezra Langley, Zoe Langley, Genevieve Magli, Brayden Mahatekar, Vivian Marlow, Talyn Moore, Kevin (K2) Nelson, Anna Scott Phillips, Evan Smith, Annabelle Steele, Sheppard Stimpson, Ellie Strunk, Cece Talbot, Hayden Taylor, Gracie Thompson, Addie Tripp, Alice Webb, Fallin Wilderbrandt.