Asking elementary and middle-school students to stage a full-fledged Broadway musical can be akin to recruiting average citizens to scale Everest. Hoping to increase musical production at the pre-teen level, the Hal Leonard Corporation and Music Theatre International (MTI) have designed the Broadway Junior Collection, which will be introduced this summer through the mass distribution of an abridged, one-hour version of Annie.
New York's MTI controls the rights to more than 150 musicals, including Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof, while the Milwaukee-based Leonard Corporation deals in printed music. MTI hopes to stimulate young people's interest in theatre with early exposure to classic musicals.
MTI began the Broadway Junior project in 1997 by asking composer Stephen Sondheim and librettist James Lapine to create a simplified, one act version of their musical Into the Woods for use in schools. Buoyed by the success of the venture, they fashioned in Annie as a Broadway Junior prototype. In exchange for feedback, MTI granted a focus group of 50 elementary and middle schools the rights to Annie.
Each musical comes with what's called a Broadway Junior ShowKit. Among the items in the package is an "activities and enrichment booklet," which assists the performing children in understanding the musical's subject matter and references. In the case of Annie, that means information about the Great Depression and the New Deal.
Annie has been available through MTI since the beginning of the year, but will this summer reach a greater number of schools. Other titles currently available in Junior format through MTI include Fiddler, Guys and Dolls, Schoolhouse Rock Live, and Into the Woods. Each Junior musical runs 60-70 minutes. In adherence to the wishes of composers, most of the shows' songs are retained, but in shortened versions. In Annie, for example, only the Hooverville and FDR cabinet scenes are missing. Rights to each musical cost roughly $400. Get information on them by calling the Junior Hotline: (212) 541-4684.
--By Robert Simonson