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Melody Lane troupe earns top honors

By Staff | Feb 13, 2020

Talented young thespians represented the Southwest Florida community in a big way recently 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 last month, the largest gathering of young performers in the world to display their portrayal of “Mary Poppins Jr.” and took home the award for “Excellence in Ensemble Work” in their pod.

The event saw thousands of students, teachers, parents, Broadway, film and music professionals representing the U.S. and international countries flock to the three-day weekend event.

Melody Lane Drama and Music Director, Dana Alvarez, said being apart of JTF is an exciting and profound opportunity for young thespians to share their joy of theater with youth across the globe with the same passions.

“I think it gives them perspective — first of all, that they get to see kids from all over the country, all over the world, performing,” said Alvarez. “They get to see that there are a lot of amazingly talented people in the world and the best thing about it is it’s not really a spirit of competition thing, it’s about the love of the theater.”

Melody Lane, since its inception in 2017, has already put on 10 full productions and also took home hardware at last year’s JTF.

There were 18 students represented by the troupe who showed off their talents to an esteemed panel with Broadway chops.

“They just get energized and reinvigorated to do better — to try new things,” Alvarez said.

JTF requires a 15-minute abridged version of whichever Junior show you select — with no costuming or song trimming.

“You have to cut it down to 15 minutes of highlights, but you still need to tell the story,” Alvarez said. “You can’t have costumes, you’re just in a show T-shirt, no props — nothing. It’s all about the kids and their talent and their art.”

After Melody Lane put on their full performance of “Mary Poppins Jr.” in December, the group got right to work on scaling down the show.

This year was the first year songs could not but cut to help fit a 15-minute window of time, which was an obstacle that Alvarez and her team overcame.

For example, the popular and tongue-twisting song from the show: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“Even the title is three minutes long,” Alvarez joked.

All in all, they were able to fit seven songs into their allotted time, and it seems they made the right choices by taking home an award that shows the well-roundedness of the group. Alvarez said the judges remarked that they were surprised the group was only made up of 18 students, as their performance translated into a larger sound and feeling.

“That was really cool because it means we’re a ‘triple threat,'” Alvarez said of earning the ensemble award. “They were good at acting, singing and dancing — and as a group, they were really strong at working together. It was really gratifying and exciting to hear our name called and get that award.

“It feels really reassuring that you’re on the right track helping them to grow and that it’s not just one specific area that we’re really good in.”

As an extra special treat, Alvarez brought up eighth grade student and member of Melody Lane, Landon Graham, who has Aspergers, with her to receive the award and was thrilled. He had what she said was the time of his life at the festival.

Alvarez was encouraged to see her group cheering on and supporting other groups as well — buying into the fact that it’s not a competition, but a way to support your peers.

Alvarez brought home a special recognition herself, as she was one of three directors bestowed the Freddie G. Fellowship award, named after Freddie Gershon, who founded Broadway Junior, in 1994.

“It was wild,” Alvarez said of receiving the award. “It was pretty cool.”

She was awarded the honor by Freddie Gershon himself, and will be treated to a four-day trip to New York City where she will partake in workshops, training and get to see shows with Music Theater International and iTheatrics — two organizations that organize the JTF each year.

The fellowship award also includes a $5,000 grant to Melody Lane, which Alvarez said is a huge bonus that will help them with shows in the future.

Next, Melody Lane will be performing Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. featuring new characters and new songs.

They are also holding auditions for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” this Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon and is a teen musical, ages 14-20.

Melody Lane Performing Arts Center is at 75 Mid Cape Terrace #1 in Cape Coral.

For more information on Melody Lane, visit www.melodylanepac.com.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj