Over the past week I had the pleasure of observing the Riverside Children's Theatre of Vero Beach, FL workshop the upcoming junior edition of the Broadway musical Legally Blonde. All of the kids were there just to have fun; they had no idea what an important thing they were a part of. They were helping to create a new musical.
Each of them would be participating in only 26 hours of rehearsal — 30, including casting — and the actual performance. The show featured 14 musical numbers with choreography. This left the students with an incredibly rigorous production schedule fit into just one week.
iTheatrics, which adapts Broadway musicals into shorter, "junior" productions for performance by elementary, middle and high school students, has worked with the authors of all of the original shows to create adaptations which are easier and more accessible to produce at children's theatres. Almost all of these adaptive processes have been overseen by Timothy Allen McDonald, founding chairman of iTheatrics, Marty Johnson, resident director for iTheatrics and Lindsay Lupi, resident musical director.
"We work to make the small adjustments, but in the end all final approval goes to each of the authors of the musicals. We never make decisions without keeping the original intention of the author," Johnson said.
The time it takes for each junior version to be workshopped and adapted to fit a school or children's theatre stage varies, depending on the subject matter and difficulty of the original production. Edits have to be made for content, length and even gender ratio. Johnson and Lupi keep in mind the fact that most school drama clubs and children's theatres will have more females than males to cast from. The Riverside edition was no different; only five boys came to audition. In terms of content, it's no secret that the original Broadway version of Legally Blonde contains a lot of sexual innuendo and adult material, which may seem rather difficult to strip while still keeping the plot and main themes intact. For example, in the original version, one of the characters, Enid Hoopes, has a whole subplot of lesbian tendencies that were removed for the Junior version.
Sometimes, when editing for mature content, entirely new morals are introduced to the show. The song "Bend and Snap," from the original Broadway edition, shows Elle teaching Paulette, the hair stylist, to make herself seem more sexy by bending herself over and snapping up with her hands around her breasts. One would assume this song would be removed from the junior version, but it is kept, with a few changes in lyrics that result in the message of the number transforming completely. Instead of singing, "The more you jump around and scream, then the sexier you seem," the lyric says "the more confident you seem," and the entire song becomes about teaching Paulette to be more confident with herself.
Most of the time, each Broadway Junior series show will have to be produced several times in different capacities all across the country. For the Riverside production, it was just a staged reading, so that Johnson and Lupi could focus on the kinks within the storyline. At other theatres and schools, the show is being performed as a complete production with costumes, set and lighting. This allows each of the problems that come with cutting the show to a shorter version to be taken care of efficiently, so that the rights for the show may be put out to all of the theatres across the U.S. as quickly as possible.
Kevin Quillinan, overseer and manager of Riverside, said iTheatrics has workshopped junior productions at the theatre several times, and said he is incredibly thankful for the partnership that they have developed. When asked what makes the experience rewarding, Quillinan responded with, "Watching the kids get a unique experience that they wouldn't be able to get anywhere else either locally or even all over the country.
"Some of them are [returning] students but part of the reason we do these workshop productions is because it brings in new students who will often times come back. The girl who is playing Elle [Woods] workshopped The Little Mermaid JR. with us last year," Quillinan said.
The final performance of the show was fantastic and left the small audience of family members saying that they couldn't wait to see Riverside do the full production of Legally Blonde JR. in the future. Legally Blonde JR. will be released for licensing through the MTI Broadway Junior Collection fall 2014.