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BWW Exclusive: How 4th Graders from Long Island Are Bringing Broadway to the Classroom

Students from Garden City Park School have spoken to Broadway legends like Chita Rivera, Laura Benanti, Faith Prince and more!

Disappointment has turned into opportunity for Mr. Contratti's Fourth Grade Class. When the students' trip to see The Music Man was canceled due to the Broadway shutdown and ongoing health crisis, they decided to bring Broadway to Long Island. Over the past year, the Broadway babies of Garden City Park School have conducted virtual interviews with theatre legends right from their classroom, researching their guests by listening to their music, watching them perform on Youtube and coming up with their own burning questions.

The past year has dampened the spirits of many, but these fourth graders know that the sun will come out tomorrow- and they don't intend to stop anytime soon. Below, we're checking in with Mr. John Contratti himself, who is telling us even more about how it all started.

BWW Exclusive: How 4th Graders from Long Island Are Bringing Broadway to the Classroom

I understand the events that sparked these interviews, but whose idea was it to go directly to the source and how did you get in contact with these people?

Being disappointed that their trip to see The Music Man would never happen, as a group these hard working fourth graders decided to learn about Broadway on their own. With a quick Google it opened the door to numerous shows, music and a list of Broadway performers. They researched numerous names and started choosing whom they would like to interview. We started contacting websites, agents and publicists. Since I have a good size following on Twitter, with many people being in the entertainment industry, that avenue seemed to be the most helpful in getting people's attention. We also grabbed the attention of many television actors, some of whom have appeared on Broadway as well.

Who has the class talked to so far?

So far they have interviewed Orfeh, Andy Karl, Laura Benanti, Lilli Cooper, Lesli Margherita, Will Roland, Faith Prince, Chita Rivera, Henry Winkler, Maureen McCormick and even Broadway producer Jennifer Tepper popped in to talk about her role as a Broadway producer. Being big fans of classic television shows and films of the past, they've also interviewed Valerie Bertinelli (One Day At A Time), Anson Williams (Happy Days), Alison Arngrim (Little House on the Prairie) Keith Thibodeaux (I Love Lucy), Quinn Cummings (The Goodbye Girl) and cast members of the original 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

BWW Exclusive: How 4th Graders from Long Island Are Bringing Broadway to the Classroom
Interviews with Chita Rivera and Laura Benanti.

Is there an interview in particular that stands out as a favorite?

Each interview has its own special moments. They particularly enjoyed having the opportunity of interviewing Orfeh and Andy Karl at the same time. It was their first and only double interview. Chita Rivera couldn't have been any more kind to them and Laura, Lilli and Faith were just the sweetest. And then there's Henry Winkler and Maureen McCormick. Can it get any better spending some time with "Fonzie" and "Marcia Brady"?

How do you think this experience is helping the kids get through this difficult year? How has it helped you?

Having these people virtually pop in, gets us all up in the morning. We've been in school since September and have been doing great. We enter the classroom each morning and tune out the outside world. I also think the kid's optimistic attitude and smiles (which they have behind their masks) have helped some of our guests. We've learned how to jump over any obstacle that's been put in front of us.

Who's up next?

These kids aren't slowing down as Emily Skinner, Lucie Arnaz, Marsha Mason and Melissa Gilbert are on their upcoming schedule of interviews. They also have a bucket list to fill before the end of the school year. It includes Kristin Chenoweth, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bebe Neuwirth, Ben Platt, Idina Menzel and Donna Murphy. We do believe some of them are aware of us, thanks to some of our previous guests. But the ultimate will be for them to interview Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. It would take these special kids full circle. This whole project started because they couldn't see Hugh and Sutton on stage, so a quick interview virtually would make this year long endeavor the ultimate culmination. Hopefully, someone out there will share their story with them. As the kids like to say after each request is sent out, "fingers crossed" !

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