Jitters, wiggles and grapevines: Young performers take the stage for 'Pinocchio Jr.'

eshaw@islandpacket.comMarch 30, 2014 

Zachary Hobbs of Beaufort plays Pinocchio in the Beaufort Children's Theatre production of "My Son Pinocchio Jr.," which opens April 4 at University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts in Beaufort.



    WHEN: 7 p.m. April 4-5 and 3 p.m. April 6

    WHERE: University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret St., Beaufort

    COST: $15-$25 for adults; $10-$15 for students

    DETAILS: www.uscbcenterforthearts.com, 843-521-4145

They came in sparkly headbands, bedazzled T-shirts and cleats from soccer practice.

They brought headshots, doting parents and bundles of nerves.

They -- more than 150 of them -- came to audition for a role in Beaufort Children's Theatre's upcoming play.

For its spring show, the children's theater group will produce "My Son Pinocchio Jr.," a musical that retells the classic Disney story of "Pinocchio" from Geppetto's perspective. Of the 150 or so children who auditioned, 82 were cast, ranging in age from 7 to 18.

Auditions were held in mid-January, and the kids who made the cut have been rehearsing constantly in preparation for opening night 7 p.m. April 4.

Before they became marionettes, fairies and naughty children who get turned into donkeys, the young actors endured a three-part audition process that tested their singing, acting and dancing skills.

During the two days of auditions, children and their parents crowded the lobby at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts. Each child wore a number and waited to be called into the theater with his or her age group.

While waiting, many kids and parents passed the time on phones or iPads, or talked in small groups.

Others went over tips, "Project your voice."

They warmed up their voices, "Do Re Me ..."

"I'm going to sing 'Don't Rain On My Parade,' " one girl said to her friend. "I just hope I don't forget the lyrics."

Some, like Jordan Bauer, 10, were trying not to let stage fright get the best of them.

"I'm nervous. A lot nervous," she said, sticking close to her mother. Jordan said she wasn't gunning for any particular role. "I just want to be in it."

Across the lobby, Morgan McDermott, 9, was also fighting a case of the jitters.

"Just give it your best shot. I want you to give it all you've got," her mother, Courtney McDermott, said encouragingly.

When Morgan's group was called, she shook her head and started to cry.

"C'mon, sweetie. You can do it. You said up until right now that you wanted to do this."

Morgan continued to resist, but was eventually coaxed into the theater by a friendly assistant.

It was unusual behavior for her daughter, who loves singing and acting, McDermott said. "She's just nervous about auditioning with the bigger kids."

One of those bigger kids, Dan Brown, 17, leaned against a nearby column, looking calm and collected.

He wasn't worried if he'd get a part, but what part he was going to get.

"You get nervous your first time, but this is my third audition this month," Brown said. "So I don't get nervous anymore."

The Bluffton High School student played the Tin Man in Beaufort Children's Theatre's "Wizard of Oz" production and was Eric in "The Little Mermaid" before that.

"I do as much theater as I can," Brown said.

Once inside USCB's theater, music director Jim Riley, acting director Bonnie Hargrove and choreographer Valarie Hobbs began putting the auditioners through their paces in front of three guest judges.

First, Hobbs taught the kids a series of dance moves.

"Skip right. Skip left. Grapevine left. Turn right. Strike a pose," Hobbs called out.

After two or three run-throughs, the kids came up five at a time to demonstrate the choreography without Hobbs leading them. Many of them turned in the wrong directions and bumped into their neighbors, but some performed all of the steps gracefully.

Next, Hargrove went through a select few lines with the kids. For the little ones, she gave them one line from Pinocchio.

"I'm not lying. I'm not, I'm not, I'm not."

Some added the flourish of a foot stomp with their delivery. Others looked down at the stage and were barely audible. No. 31 was so fidgety he missed his cue.

"As cute as he was, no." Hargrove said afterward. "I call him cute but wiggly."

After leading the kids through a vocal warm-up, Riley asked them to sing a line from their favorite song. The older kids were told to have a song prepared.

Many sang church songs or songs from Disney classics such as "Aladdin" or "The Lion King," but some surprised with contemporary choices like Adele, Taylor Swift, The Lumineers and Imagine Dragons.

No. 60, Payton Palmer, made Hargrove gasp with admiration when she opened her mouth to sing. No. 70, Walker Perryman, had a voice like an angel. Dan Brown impressed with a deep, Broadway-style selection.

"I think it went really well," Brown said after the audition concluded. "I'm hoping to get Gepetto."

He did.

Perryman, Palmer and McDermott were also cast, along with a large number of the younger kids.

"Our last group of actors just aged out," Hargrove explained. "We want to build a crop of kids that will stay with the theater as they get older."

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.


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