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Photo Flash: SMASH Team Supports Junior Theatre Festival

NBC's "Smash" actors Christian Borle, Brian d'Arcy James and Jaime Cepero; "Smash" executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron; A Chorus Line's Baayork Lee, Bonnie and Clyde's Jeff Calhoun and Annie creators Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin were some of the celebrities who traveled to Atlanta to applaud the 3,000+ students and teachers representing 65 schools in 19 states staging musical Theater Productions in their communities at the 2012 Junior Theater Festival, January 13 - 15, 2012 at the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta. 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, middle and high school students.

Check out photos from the festivities below!

Students from Central Drama Players in Mayfield, Kentucky won the Freddie G Broadway Junior Spirit Award, the festival's top award given to the group that most embodies the spirit of educational musical theatre.

NBC's "Smash," a new musical drama series celebrating the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater, sponsored "'Smash' Sunday" on January 15th with a full day of activities for festival attendees. Guided by questions from the students, cast members Christian Borle ("Legally Blonde: The Musical"), Brian d'Arcy James ("Shrek The Musical"), and Jaime Cepero ("Porgy & Bess"), alongside executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, spoke about the hard work and determination it takes to make it in the entertainment business.

With the "Smash" cast and producers on hand, Music Theatre International CEO Freddie Gershon announced the first 15 schools to be chosen for the national launch of "NBC's 'Smash': Make a Musical." Administered by iTheatrics' non-profit arm, The Junior Theater Project, this philanthropic initiative will help create sustainable musical theater programs in underserved schools nationwide. The first 15 schools to take part in "NBC's 'Smash': Make a Musical" program are: Renfroe Middle School in Decatur, GA; The University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus (UCW) in Chicago, IL; Paschal High School in Fort Worth, TX; Place Bridge Academy in Denver, CO; Middleton Street Elementary School in Huntington Park, CA; Independence Charter School in Philadelphia, PA; Desert Sands Middle School in Phoenix, AZ; Wheaton High School in Silver Spring, MD; Sharpston High School in Houston, TX; W. H. Oliver Middle School in Nashville, TN; Leadership and Public Service High School in New York, NY; KIPP Bridge Charter School in Oakland, CA; Stroud High School in Stroud, OK; The Academy at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, PA, and Morris E. Ford Middle School in Tacoma, WA. Five more schools in St. Louis, Portland, Cleveland, Boston and Minneapolis/St. Paul are in "final callbacks" for the program and will be announced soon.

This initial program launch is the catalyst for iTheatrics' Junior Theater Project to produce 200 more "Make a Musical" programs in the fall. In 2013, iTheatrics plans to launch an additional 200 programs and by 2014, the goal is to have 1,000 new arts programs positively impacting over one million U.S. students. NBC is underwriting theinitial 20-market program rollout with Broadway master professionals going into the schools and mentoring students and teachers.

In addition to the programs in the first 20 schools, the "Smash" cast and producers asked students to encourage other schools to go to to apply to be one of the 200 schools taking part in the Fall 2012 "Make a Musical" cycle. These applications are due on March 2nd. America will vote on the top 30 finalists, and the winners will be announced on May 7th. In June, schools may continue to apply for the remaining 170 program slots.

Over 100 students from Wood Acres School and St. Joseph Catholic School in Marietta, GA; Harris County Carver Middle School in Hamilton, GA; Queen's Grant Community School in Charlotte, NC;
Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, MD; Riverside Children's Theatre in Vero Beach; Our Lady of Victory in Cincinnati; Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School in Lynchburg, VA; Dare to Dream inManitowoc, WI, and River Trail Middle School in Johns Creek, donned wigs and Annie costumes to serenade award winning Annie creators Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, when they accepted the 2012 Junior Theater Festival Award recognizing their contributions toward the advancement of musical theater for young people. In 1995, MTI Chairman 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. 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."

Eight exceptional educators from schools and performing arts centers around the country were selected for the 3rd annual "Broadway Welcomes America's Teachers at the Freddie G Theatre Experience." Teachers across the U.S. applied and eight were selected to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City in summer 2012, 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 Gershonand is a thank you for all that teachers do to introduce the next generation to Broadway and musical theater. The educators who earned this honor are: Kevin Quillinan from Riverside Children's Theater in Vero Beach, FL; Dina Slawson from Academy of Theater Arts in
Williamsville, NY; Neehatima Dowdy from Wood Acres School in Marietta, GA; Rhonda Cato from Magic Curtain Productions in Orange, FL, and AlBert Carter from Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School in Lynchburg, VA. An educator from Casper Children's Theatre in Casper, WY will take part in the Freddie G weekend as the group earned a Freddie G Technical Theater Award; a teacher from the University School of Nashville, TN, will take part as the group was selected for a Freddie G Outstanding Community Service award. Finally, since Central Drama Players won the Freddie G Broadway Junior Spirit award, an adult representative from Central Drama Players will also attend the Freddie G Theater Experience.

The Broadway JR. All-Stars, made up of two outstanding students from each group at the festival, performed the song "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray! at the closing ceremonies.

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

The 2012 Junior Theater Festival offered 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 participated in interactive workshops led by Broadway and West End professionals, gained from professional development, enjoyed theatrical fellowship and attended a professional production of Annie at the fabulous Fox Theatre sponsored by NBC's "Smash". In true Junior Theater Festival form, student techies worked side-by-side with festival staff in running all aspects of the festival experience.

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.

Premiering on NBC on February 6th at 10 p.m. ET, "Smash" is a musical drama that celebrates the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater as it follows a cross-section of dreamers and schemers who all have one common desire -- to be a "Smash." The cast features Debra Messing (Emmy winner, "Will & Grace"), Anjelica Huston (Oscar winner, "Prizzi's Honor"), Jack Davenport ("Pirates of the Caribbean" films), Christian Borle ("Legally Blonde: The Musical"), Megan Hilty ("9 to 5: The Musical"), Katharine McPhee ("American Idol"), Raza Jaffrey ("MI-5," "Sex and the City 2"), Brian d'Arcy James ("Shrek The Musical") and Jaime Cepero ("Porgy & Bess"). The executive producers are Steven Spielberg (Emmy and Oscar winner, "ER," "Schindler's List"), Theresa Rebeck ("Mauritius," "NYPD Blue"), David Marshall Grant ("Brothers & Sisters"), Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("Chicago," "Hairspray"), Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey ("United States of Tara," "The Borgias"), Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman ("Hairspray," "Catch Me If You Can").

Photo Credit: Wilford Harewood/NBC

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