With just two weeks of prep time and 30 campers, Rhode Island Youth Theatre (RIYT) is ready to perform “Music Man Jr.” at the Historic Park Theatre and Event Center this Friday and Saturday. Nine Cranston residents will be in the performance including Holden Butler, Hazel Capaldi, Quddus Esperanza, Lacie Fortes, Jake Manzi, Maxx Manzi, Payton Mays, Oliver McParland and Gabriel Taveras.
The show is based on Meredith Willson’s Broadway classic and filled with wit, warmth and romance. The storyline follows master showman Harold Hill — a fast-talking traveling salesman — who cons people into buying instruments and costumes for a boys’ band he says he’ll organize. He plans to skip town, but his plans are foiled after falling in love with Marian, the town librarian. Massachusetts’ Turo Rigdon will play Harold Hill and Narragansett’s Ruby Costa will play Marian Paroo.
The Music Man Jr. is RIYT’s third show of the summer and includes kids ages seven to 16 in the performance. Founder and Executive Director Ann O’Grady said this summer RIYT has had 250 campers take part in the organization’s summer programming.
On the first day of camp, kids did short auditions and, by Tuesday, were cast in their roles. During the two weeks, kids learn their parts, practice vocal work, choreography and take part in scene blocking. The costumes are made by Kristine Szrom and O’Grady’s mother, and Camp Manager Norma Malachowski said RIYT has also located great finds at Savers.
Cranston’s Holden Butler, 9, will play Winthrop in the show. His character is not confident in the beginning of the musical but develops that skill as the story progresses. Butler has been in a number of RIYT plays including “Frozen,” “Annie,” “Pinocchio,” “Alice in Wonderland” and a make your own play; his favorite so far has been “Music Man Jr.” and his favorite part about his character is Winthrop’s lisp. When it came to learning his lines, Butler said it only took two nights. What he enjoys most about camp is the people.
RIYT came to life in 1987 through a culmination of circumstances. At the time, O’Grady was searching for a drama program for her daughter who was interested in theatre and was an avid dancer. This was before Broadway Jr. programs which came with orchestra tracks for kids to sing and dance to; if you wanted to hold a musical, you needed an actual orchestra. O’Grady located a school in Wakefield that had a well-run school drama program and signed her daughter up. When O’Grady attended one of the school’s PTA meetings, she discovered that the program wouldn’t be running that year. She spoke with the school who appointed her to head the program. O’Grady said from there, her life changed.
Additionally, O’Grady was in graduate school at the University of Connecticut for talent development, and ideas for RIYT came from a paper she wrote during that period. She wanted to create a program that wasn’t being offered in schools and took off with the endeavor in 1987 with a two-week summer camp run by student directors and professional mentors; she also held a magic camp that year for her son. Since then, the organization has put on countless shows with 20,000 participants.
The organization has had program graduates go on to Broadway, national tours, summer stock theaters and school teaching. O’Grady said the point of RIYT is more than getting on Broadway; it’s about lasting friendships, working together, creating in collaborative ways and supporting one another. She said the RIYT staff is great and they are an ensemble cast where everyone is critical to the success of the play.
On top of the staff directors, RIYT has five interns from the Skills for Rhode Island’s Future program who paint the sets and help during the shows – most have an interest in graphic design or the entertainment industry. Individuals apply in their junior year and work with the company through a six week grant.
In addition to RIYT’s summer season, the organization holds after-school theatre programs at schools, theatre school workshops and musicals during school vacation, and a Young PlayRIYTs program where teens create original works. The organization, now celebrating its 35th year, looks to extend a helping hand to everyone and rents its sets and props to partners and youth groups at an affordable price. O’Grady added that a unique aspect of RIYT is its Community Outreach Program which provides individuals with scholarships to children with financial need and blocks of free show tickets which local agencies distribute to at-risk families. They solicit big groups for a reduced fee and Malachowski said for a recent show they had roughly 250 individuals in the audience for the community outreach preview. Funds for this program come from donors, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and the Providence Performing Arts Center which donates one scholarship.
RIYT doesn’t have its own home, so the organization subleases various venues across the state, which allows them to perform at many theatres that give kids the experience of what a professional theatre feels like.
“Doing a show in a professional theatre is special,” said O’Grady.
The experiences at camp are memorable and reflected through the fact that parents who attended RIYT as children are now sending their own kids.
Park Theatre’s Artistic Director Rebecca Donald said it’s exciting to hear kids’ voices in the building and that it makes the staff excited for the future of theatre.
“Music Man Jr.” is an hour and 10 minutes long with an intermission during the evening shows. The Community Outreach preview will take place at 10 a.m. on Aug. 19 and tickets cost $12. There will also be a 7 p.m. show Aug. 19 and Aug. 20 with a $14 general admission cost. There is no fee for children ages three and younger.
Following the “Music Man Jr.,” RIYT will go to North Kingstown for its last summer musical called the “Rock Show.” Visit riyt.ticketleap.com for tickets to the “Music Man Jr.,” and find out more information about RIYT at the organization’s website: https://www.riyt.org/.