Better than Broadway
Grade school kids learn and perform a complete musical--in a week!
by Art Schwartz
Reporter staff writer
Mar 16, 2014 | 1519 views | 0 0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“The Rotten Princess”
BETTER THAN BROADWAY – Cast members from left: Cierra Barfield (age 12), Yaimy Diaz (12), Ricky Perez (11), Allyson Londono (11), Matt McGreivey (10), and Yangely Rojas (13).
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Professional Broadway actors couldn’t do it. Stage actors take months to learn their roles, with intensive rehearsals and dedicated staffs and millions of dollars of support. But at the Robert Fulton School in North Bergen, about 80 school kids in grades one through eight learned an entire musical in just four days.

And they did it in a couple of hours a day while still attending classes.

On Monday, March 3, the kids were handed their scripts. That Friday they put on three performances of the musical “The Rotten Princess.” In attendance for the debut was North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco and Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Solter.

Six actors played “the royals” with an extensive supporting cast of characters.

Michele Bloom, artistic director of Better than Broadway Productions, helmed the entire production. “I’ve been doing this for the past 16 years and I’ve worked with thousands of students throughout New Jersey,” she said. “The program is called Theater Week. We rehearse every day for two hours. They learn an entire original musical in that time.”
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“We have a lot of talented kids here.” –Principal Thelma Noreen Garcia
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The first two performances were for an audience of their fellow classmates. The third, in the evening, was open to parents and the public. Filled with humor and songs, the show elicited howls of approval from the student audience.

Cute, funny, happy

“They actually found me through a school that I did in Bayonne, Horace Mann School,” said Bloom.

“One of the teachers here told me about a play that she had seen, she told me how phenomenal it was,” said Lee Perez, president of the PTO and organizer of the event. “So the principal and I looked it up online and thought it was a great idea.”

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” she continued. “In the past I’ve done talent shows and stuff but on my own, and it’s hectic because I don’t know what I’m doing. So I needed someone to help do something organized. What I do is not theater, I do a talent show and everybody sings the same song. I wanted them to know about performing arts, get them up there and show them what it’s about.”

“I like to bring the arts into the school, I think it’s important,” said School Principal Thelma Noreen Garcia.

“The show is very cute, funny, very happy and they all get to participate, all the kids that actually want to,” she said. “If they’re able to sit there and follow the program and the rules, pretty much everybody who wanted to participate was able to. [Bloom] did audition some of the older kids for some of the lead roles. Everybody has a small role at least.”

The experience

Ten-year-old Matt McGreivey played the beggar who turns out to be a prince. Matt is in fifth grade.

“It was really good,” he said of the experience. “I’ve been in three plays before. My sister was in it too. She was one of the travelers. She’s in second grade now.”

Asked how he got the role, Matt said, “I came up and they asked me to say a line and then they said that you’re Peter the beggar and I said okay.”

Simple enough, right? “Actually I was hoping to be the prime minister but then Peter would probably be her.” With a laugh he pointed at seventh-grader Yangely Rojas, who played the prime minister.

“My son Alex is in second grade,” said proud parent Issel Arroyo. “He’s eight. He told me there was a play. He said, ‘but I’m nervous.’ I told him you should try. Sure enough he did and he was great. And he loved it.”

“It’s so good for him,” she continued. “Because he’s shy. I’m very proud. This little thing right here can open up so many doors for him.”

“It allows them to build confidence as far as being in front of an audience and speaking,” said Principal Garcia. “Those are important things that need to be addressed. And I think this is the perfect way to do it.”

“I love working with the kids and I think that they need to want to be in school, they need to enjoy it,” said Perez. “It’s not all about testing and homework, it’s about showing them that there’s more to it.”

“I like to give the opportunity to the kids to showcase their talents,” said Principal Garcia. “We have a lot of talented kids here. They like to sing. We’ve had talent shows in the past that we’ve organized ourselves, so we know that kids enjoy this. Not all kids are into sports. Some of them, this is their forte so we’d like to showcase and bring that out.”

“I’m hoping that it stays every year and gets bigger,” Perez said of the event. “I’m actually trying to get other schools to come see it so we can incorporate throughout the district.”

“We’re going to see how it goes today,” said Principal Garcia, “but from what I’ve seen already this week, I’d like to do something like this every year. Because I think it’s a nice opportunity to get the parents to come in at night and see their children perform. That’s part of school life as well.”

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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