Disney Musicals in Schools is an arts campaign that brings musical theatre to public schools. In an area like New York City, where arts programs are increasingly being cut, many children are missing out. Stars like Alicia Keys, Boyz II Men and Nicki Minaj have all credited their careers to having the arts as part of their education. Thankfully Disney, a company known for its family friendly fun, is putting its money where the audience is.
Nine selected schools spent over 15 weeks rehearsing to bring performances of Disney musicals to the stage at Broadway's legendary New Amsterdam Theatre. Elementary schools like P.S. 18 in the Bronx performed "The Backson" from Winnie the Pooh, P.S. 52 in Staten Island performed "Dalmatian Planation" from 101 Dalmatians, and P.S. 19 in Queens performed "Friend Like Me" from Aladdin. Each group was assisted by a Disney Teaching Artist, which helped the diverse children deliver full-blown productions, complete with vocals, costumes and choreography.
The event was hosted by Broadway veteran Clifton Oliver, who played opposite Jordin Sparks in In the Heights and played the role of The Lion King's Simba in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Oliver, who is currently on Broadway continuing his role of Simba in The Lion King, told the packed audience of parents, students and guests, "When I was younger all I wanted to do was sing and dance. I am so thankful to Disney for giving all of you this opportunity to showcase your talents. We could be seeing the next Broadway star today on this stage!" The enthusiastic crowd surely did see the possibilities of a star. There were several striking talents who had stage presence and strong voices booming out of their little bodies.
As special guests, Rozi Baker, who currently plays Jane Banks in Mary Poppins on Broadway, Judah Bellamy who stars as Young Simba in The Lion King, and Khalil Toi Bryant, who plays Young Nala in The Lion King, gave advice to any of the children who had Broadway dreams: "Just be yourself," they all said, but stressed the importance of enjoying life as a kid.
Due to its success in New York City, Disney announced they will be expanding their musical theater program nationally starting next year.
Hats off to Disney for giving back to a community that is being deprived the joy and beauty of arts education.
The Lion King is currently playing on Broadway, eight shows a week.
(Photo: Jeff Christensen/Reuters)