PHOTO CALL: Highlights from the 2014 Junior Theatre Festival; Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Ashley Brown, Heidi Blickenstaff, Pasek and Paul in Attendance

By Matthew Blank
20 Jan 2014

Tony Award-nominated A Christmas Story writers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Heidi Blickenstaff, Ashley Brown and Andrew Keenan-Bolger were among the artists taking part in the 2014 Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, GA. The annual event, which celebrates theatre for young performers, launched Jan. 17.



Held each year in Atlanta, the event unites over 4,500 young theatre lovers from 26 states and the District of Columbia, who gather over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend to participate in workshops and lectures, as well as perform highlights from their respective productions. JTF runs through Jan. 19.



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Photo by Marcus Woollen/iTheatrics



The festival will also premiered selections from upcoming licensing titles including Shrek Jr.; Legally Blonde Jr.; 101 Dalmatians Kids; Mary Poppins; and Magic Tree House: The Knight At Dawn.

In addition to Pasek and Paul, Blickenstaff (The Little Mermaid), Brown (Mary Poppins) and Keenan-Bolger (Newsies), the weekend featured Andy Jones (Cinderella), Merle Dandridge (Tarzan, Aida), Josh Strickland (Tarzan), Alton Fitzgerald White (The Lion King), Jenifer Foote (Follies), Henry Hodges (Beauty and the Beast), Carrie Manolakos (Mamma Mia!), Jacob Brent (Cats), as well as cast members from Pasek and Paul's James and the Giant Peach, including Mike Spee, Julie Briskman, Richard Gray, Diana Huey, Kendra Kassebaum, Greg McCormick Allen, Jayne Muirhead and Heath Saunders.

Pasek and Paul offered a discussion and concert featuring a performance with the cast of James and the Giant Peach; while JTF also presented Broadway and Beyond: An Evening with the Stars of Disney on Broadway!, featuring Blickenstaff, Brown, Dandridge, Strickland and White singing songs from the Disney Broadway catalogue.

The festival also included Tony Honoree and Music Theatre International CEO Freddie Gershon, author Tim Federle ("Five, Six, Seven, Nate!"), Tony-winning lighting designer Ken Billington (Chicago), designer Theresa Squire (The Lieutenant of Inishmore), "Magic Tree House" author Mary Pope Osborne and artistic directors from three of the leading children's theatres, Michael Bobbitt of the Adventure Theatre, Rosemary Newcott of the Alliance Theatre and Linda Hartzell of the Seattle Children's Theatre.

Founded in 2003, the Junior Theater Festival is the largest of its kind in the world. It is produced by the Junior Theater group in partnership with leading arts education consultancy firm, iTheatrics (founded by chairman Timothy Allen McDonald). This year's title sponsors are Music Theatre International, Disney Theatrical Group and Playbill.

JTF also presented the inaugural Sharidan Giles Technical Theater Award Scholarship to the technical theater student who most exemplifies commitment, curiosity, collaboration and creativity in technical theater; as well as the Playbill Community Service Award, which acknowledges how young people at the Junior Theater Festival are giving back across the country.

"At the Junior Theater Festival, students, teachers and Broadway's brightest will raise their voices in song, dance as if nobody’s looking, celebrate art for art's sake and remind the world that our young people are better prepared for the challenges ahead if they have access to quality arts programs," McDonald said in a statement. "Music theatre is the super food of the arts, because a musical brings together all of the art forms—music, dance, language, visual and even the most cutting edge digital arts— in one tasty bite."

Various student groups were also honored with the "Freddie G Awards," which recognize achievements in teamwork and production excellence. The awards were named for MTI's Gershon.

Click here for more information about the Junior Theater Festival.