"A Whole New World": Playbill.com's Student Reporter Captures Magic of the 2013 Junior Theater Festival

By Brennan Felbinger
12 Feb 2013

Alan Menken tears up as he is serenaded by over 100 students.
photo by Marcus Woollen/MTI

One of the most amazing parts of the festival was the New Works Showcase, in which groups from some of the 23 states in attendance at the festival got their chance to perform and debut Disney Theatrical's newest "Junior" versions of their Broadway hits. The students of TUTS had the opportunity to debut their rendition of Disney's Aladdin Dual Language Edition. They presented an English/Spanish hybrid version of "A Whole New World" and "El Principe Ali." Also presented were the brand new Broadway JR editions of Hairspray and Xanadu.

The festival participants got a real treat the next day when Alan Menken, the Tony and Academy Award-winning composer of Beauty and the Beast,  Little Shop of Horrors, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Sister ActNewsies and "Pocahontas," performed selections from his repertoire. The entire crowd responded generously and with incredibly energy; at some points the entire crowd sang along in unison to the lyrics of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid and the title song from Beauty and the Beast. Menken was also presented with the 2013 Junior Theater Festival Award. Immeditately following, hundreds of kids swarmed the stage and sang "Be Our Guest," leaving the Grammy, Tony, Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy Award-winning composer in tears, saying, "This award means the most to me."

Some of the other special guests included Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Kara Lindsay and Mike Faist of Broadway's Newsies, who performed a few selections from the Tony-winning show. They also gave the inspired crowd a chance to ask some questions about what it's like being a Broadway performer, and even how they dealt with bullying in school. Skylar Astin of "Pitch Perfect" and Briga Heelan of television's "Cougar Town" offered their own presentations where they spoke about their lives as performers and answered questions from the audience. Tim Federle of Broadway's Gypsy and The Little Mermaid introduced his first novel, "Better Nate Than Ever" — and he even signed copies for hundreds of kids at the festival.

The 4,000 kids at the Junior Theater Festival truly inspired me and the Playbill staff who were in attendance — we can't wait to be there next year!

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The Broadway JR. All-Stars, made up of two outstanding students from each of the 82 groups at the festival, perform the song “Oh, Bless the Lord”
Photo by Marcus Woollen/MTI