INDIAN TRAIL – Porter Ridge Elementary School music teacher Bridget Burrows knew she had talented students when she directed the school’s inaugural spring musical two years ago. So, when it came time for the third annual Broadway-style production, Burrows decided to take things to the next level by having her students perform “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.”
Public performances will take place Thursday and Friday, March 27 and 28, at 7 p.m. at Porter Ridge High School, 2839 Ridge Road. Tickets cost $5 for adults and $3 for students. Children age 5 and younger can attend for free.
The two musicals Burrows previously directed, “The Jungle Book” and “101 Dalmatians,” were “kids” editions of a Disney Broadway show, consisting of limited dialogue and clocking in at about 30 minutes. “Aladdin,” being a “junior” version of a Disney Broadway production, is kicking things up a
“It’s been a lot different doing a junior production versus kids,” Burrows said. “Junior plays are geared toward grades six through nine (and are) an hour long rather than 30 minutes. There’s a lot more responsibility weighing on the kids this year.”
The school received grants from the Union County Education Foundation and Blumenthal Performing Arts, which helped cover the cost of the performance rights and starter kit for “Aladdin Jr.” A $500 grant from the Union County Community Arts Council also helped the school purchase felt, ribbon and other fabric for costumes. Porter Ridge Elementary art teacher Katherine Riedinger helped with costumes, props and the set.
Because “The Jungle Book” and “101 Dalmatians” were such a success – and because some students also gained experience playing small roles in Porter Ridge High School’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” last May – Burrows decided the kids were up to the challenge of tackling a junior-level production.
“This year was a dream team year,” she said. “These kids are very, very talented – the most talented group I think I’ve ever had on stage. They have risen to the occasion, and I think it’s going to be a huge success.”
Burrows held auditions in September, and the cast of about 50 third- to fifth-graders began rehearsals in October. Several students – including Brooke Atwell, a fifth-grader who plays the Sultan – have surprised Burrows with their performances.
“I was kind of nervous casting a girl for a boy’s role, but she’s done such a fantastic job,” Burrows said. “She’s been so much fun to work with because last year she didn’t even make the group; this year she came in, and it’s really cool to see a different side of her and (see her) just own that character.”
Brooke admitted keeping her “man voice” throughout the show has been difficult, but the fact that she loves acting and the music in “Aladdin Jr.” has made it worth the effort.
One key element that distinguishes “junior” plays from “kids” productions is the amount of dialogue. While the students are performing about the same amount of musical numbers they’ve done in past shows, the dialogue has increased considerably.
“You can have fun with it – it’s something that you can have fun with,” said fourth-grader Dory Damon, who plays Narrator #1 and speaks the first line in the show. “But at other times, it’s time to get serious, and you need to know your lines.”
Despite the challenges a junior-level musical presents to a group of elementary-aged kids, the students have worked hard and already are seeing how they’ve all grown in skill and ability since rehearsals started almost six months ago.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress from the beginning to the end, where, like, we’re ready now and we’re doing really good,” said Zoe Gainey, the fifth-grader who plays Jasmine. “And it’s really fun.”
Burrows’s favorite part of any show – and especially “Aladdin Jr.” – is watching her students shine on stage during performance times.
“(The students playing) Aladdin and Jasmine are two of the best singers I’ve heard. When they sing ‘A Whole New World,’ I cry,” Burrows said. “…When they sing, I just remember what it’s all about.”