The Center Player kids returned home victorious.
The kids of Arts of the Albemarle’s Center Players arrived home, to Elizabeth City Monday morning, at sunrise, to a police escort and a greeting committee led by Mayor Joe Peel. Upon their first-ever go at a national junior musical theatre competition, the Center Players returned home with multiple top honors and raised spirits.
As the charter bus coming home from Atlanta approached the bypass road near Wal-Mart in the early morning hours last Monday, the sun could be seen rising in the east, and the blue lights of the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s patrol cars flashed against the sky. The patrol cars led the bus, escorting the passengers into town, celebrating their success over the weekend.
At the intersection of Halstead Extended and Hughes Boulevard, the Elizabeth City Police Department met the bus as well. Through each intersection, the escorts ushered the bus of the region’s most honored youth to the downtown greeting party.
“It really brought it home to the kids how important it was,” said Billy Caudle, Center Players music director and head of AOA’s School of Performing Arts.
Caudle, Holly Wright and Laurie Hull are the Center Players directors that accompanied the performers to the national competition. It’s a competition that saw these young performers win Outstanding Performance in their category (after school theatre program not affiliated with a public school), Best Male Performer, Best Female Performer and a score of other honors that validated, according to Caudle, all of the hard work these kids have put into their efforts recently, and over the years.
The Junior Theater Festival hosted more than 90 groups like The Center Players from all over the country. Each one had 15 minutes to perform in front of musical theater professionals.
The 15-minute performance must tell an entire story in that short amount of time. It must also use a 20-foot-by-25-foot performance space. Their scaled-down performance was a telling of the Disney interpretation of the classic fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast.”
There were no costumes or make-up. That challenge pushed them to achieve a deeper level of performance. Because they did not have costumes to transform them into characters, they had to use their imagination and dig deeper into their psyche to become the characters they portrayed.
“We always knew we had something really, really talented,” said Holly Wright, “but until you go and see other groups from around the country, it really validates (their efforts).”
The honors began before The Center Players kids ever left Elizabeth City. They had the opportunity to compete against 60 other groups for a performance of the national anthem at the opening of the event.
Lauren Luther, Alana Houston and Naomi Rodgers had performed as The Supremes in The Center Players’ most recent show, “A Salute to the Tony Awards.” The girls sang in three-part harmony and so Wright, Caudle and Hull determined that they would submit a video of the trio singing the anthem in three-part harmony.
“They were selected out of all the entries to sing at the opening ceremony and that kind of put our name out there in the beginning,” said Caudle.
The trio sang the anthem in front of 5,000 people. Caudle explained that the performance brought out a whole lot of folks to watch The Center Players do their competition performance. If those three girls can sing the anthem like that, he said, then there were people who wanted to see what the entire group could do.
“People took notice of who we are,” said Caudle.
Aside from receiving an award for Outstanding Performance, The Center Players were awarded a number of honors:
• All Stars were Lauren Luther and Corey Bradford;
• Musical Theatre SLAM (an impromptu performance by a group of outstanding performers) went to Lindsey Orton
• Golden Tickets were given to performers who shined, offering them an opportunity to audition for a promotional DVD. They were:
• Trevor Pharr;
• Kelley Stancil;
• Pearl Kelly-Goss;
• Alana Houston;
• Lainie Carter;
• Rebekah Glover;
• Caleb Giffin;
• Valeria Hueda.
• Golden Ticket Call Backs went to Trevor Pharr, Alana Houston, and Caleb Giffin.
• Freddie G Award for Outstanding Female Performance - Lauren Luther;
• Freddie G Award for Outstanding Male Performance - Corey Bradford.
Overall it was a special experience for these kids, said dramatic director Laurie Hull. Hull, like Caudle and Wright, was especially proud of these kids. And what really made her proud was that while these kids were recognized along with a number of other outstanding performers from across the country, they were “gracious.”
“I was most proud of how amazingly gracious our kids were,” said Hull. “They were so supportive of all of the people that performed. They stood up, they yelled, they screamed, they loved and celebrated everybody else’s performances. It was beautiful.
“I was very proud of them not just as artists but as people. They are good, good people.”
The Center Players began in 2009 as a small program and quickly grew to become a full-fledge theatre company. Over the years they have performed a number of musical revues and Broadway productions such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Annie,” and “The Music Man.”
This spring they will perform “Once on this Island,” an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid.”
As for the Junior Theatre Festival, Wright says they’ll be looking forward to another year in Atlanta.
“They are ready to go back next year,” said Wright.