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Local troupe culls international recognition

January 31, 2019
By CJ HADDAD ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Talented young thespians represented the Southwest Florida community in a big way earlier this month, as the boys and girls of Melody Lane Performing Arts Center showcased their talents on an international level.

The troupe attended the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, the largest gathering of young performers in the world to display their portrayal of "Disney's The Lion King, Jr."

The event saw 6,800 students, teachers, parents, Broadway, film and music professionals representing six countries and 26 states flock to the three-day weekend event.

Article Photos

Student actors from Melody Lane Performing Arts Center pose for their Outstanding Performance Award at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta Jan. 18-20.

Photo courtesy of JW Barker Photography

"Both students and adults had an amazing time at the Junior Theater Festival. It was so inspiring- and is a spirit of celebration, encouragement, and learning. The entire festival benefited the students by surrounding them with young people who made them feel accepted and that they all have this love of theater in common," said Melody Lane Drama and Music Director Dana Alvarez. "They also saw adults doing what they love and that, in itself, is inspiring, too. Theater education teaches young people public speaking skills, articulation, empathy, character development, acceptance, ensemble and cooperative learning skills, and to take pride in one's work. They work on a project for months and sometimes the performances are over in a few days or mere hours. But the feelings of accomplishment and the happiness lasts in their memories. This festival also gives young people and adults perspective on how far your passion can get you but also how many talented young people there are. It is both humbling and inspiring."

Melody Lane, based out of Cape Coral, was represented by 22 student-performers, as well as their family and directors.

The group was well received, taking home many top honors for their production.

They were judged on a 15-minute abridged version of the musical, tying together their best numbers.

"Melody Lane Performing Arts Center offered us a truly special performance," said festival adjudicators Ryan Macaulay and Julie Magnasco via Instagram. "It was completely character-driven whilst also being a feast for the eyes. Their presentation was tight, polished and connected. There was a real sense of confidence from this group. I absolutely loved this presentation. It was incredibly moving.

"Melody Lane Performing Arts Center gave us incredibly strong ensemble work- the ensemble pushed the story with clear movement choices and strong focus. There was great physicality and commitment to developing characters."

The group won the Outstanding Performance Award-only given to a few groups who earned top overall scores for the entire festival, for their entire age group (eighth grade and below), as only nine of the 133 groups in attendance were given this honor, Melody Lane being the only in their category to do so.

Some individuals were recognized as well, as Christine Mazuryk, 14, won Excellent Female Performer, one of only 17 young ladies to earn the recognition.

Three Melody Lane students, Macy Magas, Tyler Connelly and Ava Stoeberl, also earned call-backs to the iTheatrics choreography DVD filming, and may be chosen to travel to New York City to be part of the choreography demonstrations used to teach directors dances for their shows.

Lastly, Stoeberl and Landon O'Brien were chosen from the group as "All-Stars."

"Seeing the kids perform their songs and dialogue, hitting those high notes, belting it out, executing sharp dance moves, striking their final poses... and knowing they did their best and nailed it - is really exciting and satisfying to see," said Alvarez. "There is nothing like hearing your students express how proud they are of their hard work, to say this was the best weekend of their lives, and to even be a little sad that it was over, and to say that they feel they've all become a family- that is really special."

The group was invited to the main stage to perform for all 6,800 people, a truly prestigious opportunity.

Stoeberl was a featured soloist, playing the character of Nala and performing the song, "Shadowland" along side the rest of the cast.

Alvarez couldn't be more proud of her group, taking in every moment of the remarkable experience.

"As a director, it's rewarding to see students grow from the beginning of a show to the end, or for some, over years of having them as students. It's also really special to start out a show like a machine you're trying to build, with all these moving parts but no idea how they all fit together. You have an idea what the final product should look like but have to figure out the steps along the way," she said. "It is extremely rewarding from a director's perspective to see that final picture come together and let the kids just take it away. I always love that."

Their goal from the start was to make an impact at the Junior Theater Festival, as some students had attended in the past, and some having experienced it for the first time.

"For us, this time around, even after our production, we had one more goal- JTF. We got to keep the show alive a few more weeks and present it in a new way without costumes, props, and sets, and then celebrate our success with it. It was surreal we did not expect the award but it certainly feels good for all to be recognized for their hard work and talents."

If the festival wasn't enough, more exciting news is on the way for Melody Lane, as Disney has once again asked them to produce a pilot production of a Jr. musical never done before.

Last summer, the group partnered with Oasis Arts' drama program to put on the pilot production of "Disney's Frozen Jr."

"Based on that awesome experience, the directors have been asked to do another pilot show," said Alvarez. "A pilot is a brand new show being adapted for young performers. The job of the directors, cast and creative team, is to put on the production and report on how the entire show process worked out and how easy/challenging the material, songs, etc. was for children. It is a really special experience to be a part of shows in their earlier stages."

Stay tuned for the release of that Disney Jr. title in the near future.

For more information on Melody Lane, visit

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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