The Musical Theatre of Anthem readies 2019-2020 season
By Bridgette Redman
For 11 years, Jackie and Jeff Hammond have been arranging seasons that give the children and young people of the Valley great theater experiences.
At the Musical Theatre of Anthem, every child who auditions is cast, so most of its shows are large spectacles designed for wide involvement.
The theater recently revealed its 2019-2020 season, one comprised of four Disney shows, a recurring favorite, a show jumping off the pages of a book, a lesser-known musical and a more mature one designed for young people ages 17 and older.
“I try to choose shows I think everyone will enjoy—not only being in, but also for the audience coming to support it,” says Jackie Hammond. “I also like to choose shows that can feature different age ranges.”
They’ll open the season with a summer show for ages 6-11, “Magic Treehouse Pirates Past Noon Kids,” followed immediately by “Disney’s The Lion King Jr.” for ages 9-15. Both those experiences are intensives lasting one week for “Treehouse” and two weeks for “The Lion King” where the performers will rehearse from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday (and Saturday for “The Lion King”) and then perform fully staged shows on the weekend.
“We’ll rehearse all day and then we still do a full-fledged production with lights, costume and sound,” Hammond says.
“Everything happens even though it is a condensed period. (‘The Lion King’) comes with an entire curriculum. There are instruments—kids can play drums, help make the props, and do makeup. It is an immersive program for two weeks.”
September will see the performance of a youth version of “Frozen Jr.” Hammond saw “Frozen” on Broadway and immediately recognized its potential to speak to all audiences and as a show that would work with their theater. It also helped that Disney made the junior version available fairly quickly after the show hit Broadway.
“A lot of it was very simple, but they had some cool magic and technology tricks,” Hammond says. “I think there is a large appeal of Disney with the area we are in. All families can come and see it. You can be 80 and you can be 3 and see ‘Frozen.’”
She says Disney shows allow the performances to be videotaped, giving families a memento of the show. She says when Disney kept the bulk of the show when it tapered “Frozen” for the junior version.
“We’re looking forward to being one of the first theaters to put it on,” Hammond says. “‘Frozen’ is just so new and fresh.”
Next up in the same month is the production geared toward older teenagers, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Actors must be at least 17 to audition for this comedic musical that has adult content.
While the majority of the company’s shows are family friendly, Hammond says it is important to provide challenging roles for the older teens as well.
Their plan is to have mostly older teens in the roles of spellers and adults playing older folks. What she is certain of is that audiences will enjoy the show.
“Many people do not realize what it is and don’t realize how funny it is,” Hammond says. “When audiences go to see that, they’ll be pleasantly surprised that it is very entertaining.”
The next show on the schedule is another Disney presentation, “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” which she is preparing to double-cast if they get a large turnout at auditions.
She is certain they will have two separate casts for the next show, “The Wizard of Oz.” This is the theater’s third time performing this show and previously it had well over 100 children in the cast. They’ll do 18 performances with each cast having nine shows.
“We’re excited about doing a big show,” says Hammond, saying they cast kids from ages 6 to 16 and may go with one younger cast and one older cast.
“If they have conflicts, then we can work around that. They don’t have to commit to all 18 performances.”
The April 2020 show is “Children of Eden,” which Hammond hopes people will be willing to explore, especially when they learn it was created by the same person who did “Wicked,” Stephen Schwartz. She is hoping to have a large number of teens, adults and kids in the show, so they can divide the music and roles.
“They’ll be swept away by the beauty of the music,” says Hammond of “Children of Eden.” “So many people don’t know that show, but I think it will become one of their favorites.”
The season’s final Disney show is “Cinderella Kids” and then the theater will be producing one of its favorites, “Annie Jr.”
“‘Annie’ is always a fan favorite,” Hammond says. “What I love about repeating ‘Annie’ is you have that small window in which you can be an orphan. Once you grow up, you miss it. I’d like to give everyone a chance to be an orphan.”
The last time they did “Annie” was two years ago and she says kids grow a lot in two years.
One of the things that defines the Musical Theatre of Anthem is its ability to cast youth up to age 19. They reserve the right not to cast adults, but Hammond says, they try to so they can keep families together.
However, Hammond says she works hard at ensuring the quality is always high.
While everyone gets a role, auditions are vigorous with a long callback process and only those with the appropriate experience and talents are given lead roles. She says her team casts the same as professionals.
“Many of our performers who have graduated are now performing in New York or are in colleges studying theater,” she says. “They might not have gotten cast elsewhere, but we took them in when there were 11 years old and they were with us nonstop to college. They attribute their work ethic to us.”
She says they work hard to train the children who are cast, taking them under their wing to make sure they have a great experience in a safe environment. She acknowledges there’s a stigma about theaters that cast all children, but she challenges anyone to come out to see their shows.
“The shows are high quality because or the amount of training we provide,” Hammond says. “Come check out one or all of the shows this season.”
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