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SMASH to Sponsor 2012 Junior Theatre Festival, 1/13-15

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A thundering chorus of 3,000+ Broadway stars, students and teachers will lock step and raise their voices and hearts in song during the 2012 Junior Theater Festival, a monumental celebration of on-stage and backstage excellence happening January 13 - 15, 2012 in Atlanta, GA, it was announced today by Theater of the Stars president Nick Manos and Timothy Allen McDonald, founding chairman of iTheatrics. Presented by New York's iTheatrics and Atlanta's Theater of the Stars and sponsored by leading theatrical licensor Music Theatre International (MTI), Disney Musicals and NBC, the Junior Theater Festival is the world's largest musical theater festival dedicated to groups working with elementary school, middle school and high school aged students.

"We believe it is important to celebrate and nurture opportunities for kids to participate in musical theater as an outlet to discover their interests and talents at an essential time in their personal development," says Manos. "The festival and its related activities provide an exciting way to share their participation with a wider audience and to deepen the kids' understanding and appreciation of musical theater."

"Study after study affirms that students who participate in the arts test higher academically, are better citizens, and are better problem solvers. The Junior Theater Festival encourages young artists to express their creativity and collaborate with people of all ages and backgrounds by staging student-driven musical theater in their community," adds McDonald.

Award winning Annie creators Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin will travel to the festival to accept the 2012 Junior Theater Festival Award recognizing their contributions toward the advancement of musical theater for young people. In 1995, MTI Chairman Freddie Gershon partnered with Meehan, Strouse and Charnin to premiere Annie JR., which launched Broadway Junior, the first educational division in a major musical theater licensing firm, which over the past 16 years has transformed the marketplace for age-appropriate performance material for young performers.

"Tom Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin are some of the initial musical theatre authors who supported MTI's efforts to create versions of shows to be performed by grade school students. They were concerned that the next generation of potential theatre lovers was being lost to budget cuts and video games, and they knew the answer was in teachers and students. Since that first performance of Annie JR. in 1998, millions of young people and their teachers have proven them right, and the culture and expectations of communities around the USA have forever been changed," says Gershon.

Beginning in 2010, the festival has paid tribute to the leadership and dedication of Freddie Gershon who conceived the junior musical in 1994 by renaming its student awards for excellence in theater "The Freddie G's."

Disney Musicals will sponsor the Saturday, January 14th New Works Showcase in which six Junior Theater Festival groups will perform new musicals for all attendees which will soon be made available for licensing by MTI. Boothbay Region YMCA in Boothbay, ME will present selections from Disney's Peter Pan JR.; Jeter Backyard Theater in Gibsonia, PA will present Dinosaurs Before Dark KIDS - A Magic Tree House Musical; Academy of Theater Arts in Williamsville, NY will perform Disney's My Son Pinocchio JR.; Jefferson Performing Arts Center (JPAS) KIDS, in New Orleans, LA will perform Meredith Willson's The Music Man KIDS; BATAVA in League City, TX will present Dr. Dolittle JR., and Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Oak Park, IL will perform Finian's Rainbow JR.

Through its partnership with MTI, Disney Theatrical Group has released educational stage versions of popular Broadway shows, animated features and live-action movies including: 101 Dalmatians, Elton John and Tim Rice's AIDA, Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, The Aristocats, Beauty and the Beast, Camp Rock, Cinderella, High School Musical, High School Musical 2, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, Tarzan and Winnie the Pooh. More stage adaptations are in development and will be licensed exclusively through MTI.

NBC's new series "Smash" will sponsor "'Smash' Sunday," on Sunday, January 15th, a full day of activities for all 3,000+ festival attendees as part of a philanthropic partnership between NBC's "Smash" and iTheatrics' Junior Theater Project. The show will offer a sneak peek at the new series in advance of its Monday, February 6th (10:00 pm Eastern) network premiere. "'Smash' Sunday" activities will include the Broadway Junior Slam (a challenge in which students and teachers who have not met must stage and present a scene and song from a musical in one hour), the technical theatre showcase and adjudication, the choreography DVD call backs, the Hero award presentation and the Closing Celebration. Additionally, in the spirit of inspiring students in their respective productions, the show will provide tickets for all JTF participants to see a professional production of Annie at the fabulous Fox Theatre.

NBC's "Smash" follows a cross-section of dreamers and schemers who want to be part of a new Broadway musical: from the successful songwriting duo Tom (Tony Award nominee Christian Borle) and Julia (Emmy award winner Deborah Messing, Will & Grace) and Julia's husband (Brian d'Arcy James); to Midwestern beauty (Katharine McPhee, American Idol); tenacious producer Eileen (Oscar winner Angelica Huston), a former tv sitcom star (Nick Jonas) and a brilliant director (Jack Davenport). The show is produced by Steven Spielberg, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and features music by Tony and Grammy award-winning songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray).

Other Broadway celebrities slated to appear at the festival include Broadway director, choreographer and performer Baayork Lee (A Chorus Line, Promises, Promises, Flower Drum Song, The King and I) and director, producer, choreographer and performer Jeff Calhoun (Newsies, Bonnie and Clyde, Disney's High School Musical, Deaf West's Big River).

The 2012 Junior Theater Festival offers an enthusiastic environment for students and teachers to interact with thousands of others who share their passion for musical theater. In addition to presenting a 15 minute selection from their musical, both students and teachers participate in interactive workshops led by Broadway and West End professionals, gain from professional development, enjoy theatrical fellowship and attend a professional production of Annie at the fabulous Fox Theatre. In true Junior Theater Festival form, student techies work side-by-side with festival staff in running all aspects of the festival experience.

Eight exceptional educators from schools and performing arts centers around the country will be selected for the 3rd annual "Broadway Welcomes America's Teachers at the Freddie G Theatre Experience," in which the teachers will receive an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to collaborate with each other and work one-on-one with Broadway greats. The event is sponsored by MTI's Freddie ("G") Gershon and his wife Myrna Gershon and is a thank you for all that teachers do to introduce the next generation to Broadway and musical theater.

The Broadway Junior scouts will be on the lookout for outstanding students who will be invited to audition for iTheatrics Resident Choreographer Steven G. Kennedy for future Broadway Junior shoots for "how-to" choreography videos for Disney's My Son Pinocchio JR., Disney's Peter Pan JR., Xanadu JR., Fiddler on the Roof JR., Hairspray JR., Singing in the Rain JR., and Dinosaurs Before Dark KIDS - A Magic Tree House Musical. This past summer, 25 students selected from the 2011 Junior Theater Festival worked with Kennedy to film "how-to" choreography DVDs for Disney's Winnie the Pooh KIDS and the soon-to-be-released titles Doctor Dolittle JR., Finian's Rainbow JR., and Disney's The Little Mermaid JR. in New York City. These videos will be used in thousands of schools across the country and internationally.

While the Junior Theater Festival is not about creating the stars of tomorrow, many of the stars of today have played a role. Past festival attendees have included actor Zac Efron; Stephen Schwartz (the composer of Godspell, Pippin, My Son Pinocchio, Children of Eden, Wicked, Mulan JR. and Capt'n Louie); four-time Tony nominated composer Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Shrek the Musical); Disney Theatrical Group President Thomas Schumacher; Broadway Director Kenny Leon (Fences, A Raisin in the Sun, The Mountaintop), Grammy award-winning musician, producer and songwriter Bryan-Michael Cox; Broadway actors Henry Hodges (Mary Poppins), Jenn Colella (High Fidelity, Urban Cowboy), Jenifer Foote (A Chorus Line, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Christy Carlson Romano (Kim Possible, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Avenue Q); American Idol's musical director Michael Orland and Playbill columnist and Talkin' Broadway radio host Seth Rudetsky.

The Junior Theater Festival was founded in 2003. In 2010 the Festival became an annual event.

PRESENTING SPONSOR: Music Theatre International (MTI), www.mtishows.com, is the leading theatrical licensing agency in the world, representing the performance rights to over 350 musicals. MTI is particularly dedicated to the idea of theatre as education and has created special collections for younger audiences including The Broadway JR. Collection®, which features 70-minute adaptations of major musicals designed for middle school children to perform, and the MTI KIDS Collection®, which provides 30-minute musicals for performance by elementary school children. MTI recently launched MTI ShowSpace, www.mtishowspace.com - a free online community giving thespians and fans a space to connect with anyone and everyone involved in the theatrical process.

PRESENTING SPONSOR: DISNEY THEATRICAL GROUP (DTG) operates under the direction of Thomas Schumacher and is among the world's most successful commercial theatre enterprises. Through Disney Theatrical Productions, Disney on Ice and Disney Live!, DTG brings live entertainment events to a global annual audience of more than 19 million people in more than 50 countries. Under the Disney Theatrical Productions banner, the group produces and licenses Broadway musicals around the world, including Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida, TARZAN®, Mary Poppins, a co-production by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, and The Little Mermaid. Other successful stage musical ventures have included King David in concert, the national tour of On The Record, several touring versions of Disney's High School Musical, Der Glöckner Von Notre Dame in Berlin, a critically-hailed Off-Broadway production of Peter and the Starcatcher at New York Theatre Workshop and the premiere stage adaptation of Aladdin at 5th Avenue Theatre. Newsies, the breakout American musical, which premiered to acclaim at Paper Mill Playhouse, will play a limited Broadway engagement in March 2012.

Disney Theatrical Group also delivers live shows globally through its license to Feld Entertainment, producer of Disney on Ice and Disney Live! For over 30 years, Disney on Ice and Disney Live! have brought beloved Disney stories and characters annually to over 12 million guests in nearly 50 countries worldwide through productions such as Toy Story 3, Dare to Dream, Treasure Trove, Mickey's Rockin' Road Show and Phineas and Ferb: The Best LIVE Tour Ever! In addition, DTG licenses musical titles for local, school and community theatre productions through Music Theatre International.

PRESENTING SPONSOR NBC ENTERTAINMENT: NBC Entertainment develops and schedules programming for the network's primetime, late-night, and daytime schedules. NBC's quality programs and balanced lineup have earned the network critical acclaim, numerous awards, and ratings success. NBC has earned more Emmy Awards than any network in television history. NBC's roster of popular scripted series includes such critically acclaimed comedy Emmy winners as "The Office" and "30 Rock," starring Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey. Veteran, award-winning dramas on NBC include "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Chuck." Unscripted series for NBC include the new vocal competition hit "The Voice" as well as the popular "The Biggest Loser," "The Celebrity Apprentice," and "America's Got Talent." NBC's late-night story is highlighted by "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," "Last Call with Carson Daly" and "Saturday Night Live." NBC Daytime's "Days of our Lives" consistently finishes among daytime's top programs in the valuable women 18-34 category. On Saturday mornings, the network broadcasts Qubo on NBC, a three-hour block that features fun, entertaining, and educational programming for kids, including the award-winning, 3-D animated series Veggie Tales.

FESTIVAL CO-HOST and CO-PRODUCER: One of the oldest regional theaters in America, Atlanta's Theater of the Stars (TOTS) is celebrating its 60th Anniversary Season. TOTS has produced and presented more than 750 productions in Atlanta, across the country and around the world. Founded in 1953, TOTS mounts lavish productions of new and classic musicals at affordable prices with the goal of expanding traditional audiences, enhancing the availability of quality family entertainment, and exposing new audiences to the magic of live theater. TOTS is an active participant in the national theater community and is a founding member of the National Alliance for Musical Theater, the Independent Presenters Network and the Broadway League. In 2009, TOTS celebrated the 50th year of leadership from its producer, Chris Manos.

FESTIVAL CO-HOST and CO-PRODUCER: iTheatrics uses the transformative power of the arts to make the world a better place. The company adapts existing Broadway and West End musicals for students at all age levels-including elementary, middle, and high school-to perform. iTheatrics also creates a teacher's tool chest of resources which provides educators with enhancements such as choreography DVDs, accompaniment CDs, director's guides and curriculum connections. iTheatrics' clients include Music Theatre International, Disney Theatrical Group and McMillan/McGraw-Hill. iTheatrics also develops new musicals for family audiences such as The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, The Phantom Tollbooth and Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. iTheatrics' Junior Teaching Intensives provide professional development for teachers in the area of musical theater and its Junior Theater Academy provides young artists with an innovative outlet for developing their skills as performers and artists.

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