Hundreds of students took to the Broadhurst Theater stage Monday morning, making their Broadway debut before their peers, educators and supporters, as part of Broadway Junior Celebration.
Hosted by The Shubert Foundation and Music Theater International, the annual event – now in it’s eight year – is a celebration and culmination of the Broadway Junior Program, which builds theater programs in New York City schools with limited arts programing.
“Many have been performing in their schools for the very first time in their musicals, and they’ve already made it to Broadway,” Dr. Dorita Gibson, Deputy Chancellor for Equity and Access in the NYC Department of Education, said in her opening remarks.
Gibson applauded the combined efforts of both the student performers and their educators, stressing the importance of continued art education in schools. “Art is the heart and soul of the school. It’s the part of the school where everyone, every single person can participate on different levels," she said.
Gibson also reflected on how art education also teaches valuable skills to students, including how to “truly collaborate with others toward a common goal, “ and how to communicate “to an audience, justifying choices, critical thinking, the ability to reflect and revise, to understand one’s self, others, and cultures beyond one’s own.”
The program also included comments from Music Theatre International Chief Executive Officer Freddie Gershon, Director of Theater for the NYC Department of Education Peter Avery, and Co-CEO and President of the Shubert Organization Robert E. Wankel.
Best-selling author and performer Tim Federle (pictured) was the Master of Ceremonies for the event, showcased as “a real model” for the students by Robert E. Wankel, who introduced him.
Federle reminded students that they were about to perform on the same stage as Tom Hanks (“Woody, in Toy Story”) and how they must treasure this, because “Broadway is all about these moments.”
He went on to compare performing on Broadway to the social media application SnapChat. “When you get on a Broadway stage and you perform, you throw it out there and it’s gone," he said. "It’s this special thing that we share with one audience and this team of people you work with.”
Students then took to the stage, performing excerpts from shows in the MTI canon, including “Annie JR.,” “Fame JR.,” “Once On This Island JR.,” and “The Pirates of Penzance JR.”
When a young student from MS145 (Bronx, NY) forgot her lyrics mid-solo, the audience roared with support. With a little help from her classmates, she finished the solo with confidence and pride.
The Shubert Foundation/MTC Musical Theater Ensemble closed the program with a rousing rendition of “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof JR.”
Federle, in his closing remarks, had one final piece of advice for the aspiring actors and students: “Keep singing and dancing.”
For all of these students, this was their Broadway debut. For many, it won’t be their last time on a Broadway stage.