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As New York’s theater shut down on March 12, 2020, one more performance was to grace a Broadway stage — the students of PS 212 gave an unexpected closing-night concert at the Mark Hellinger Theatre (now the Times Square Church) on March 13. Last night, they finally returned to the stage once again.
“We made it just in time,” recalled teacher Bryan Andes, director and creator of the First Grade Theatre Study at Midtown’s PS 212. “Seeing our students stand on stage where Julie Andrews first premiered that song some 64 years earlier was indeed lov-er-ly. This would be the final performance held on a Broadway stage for a very long time. It would also be the last time that we’d see our students in person.”
For the first graders of 2020, a “two-week pause” turned into an over two-year lockdown. “Many people believed that it wouldn’t be possible to finish the musical,” said Andes, of the group’s original piece, The Little Prince of Camelot — a Lerner and Loewe take on Aladdin. “We made a promise before the school year ended that no matter what it took, this show would go on. We didn’t expect that the wait would last two years.”
It would take many hours of remote work, where “students hand sewed ensemble clothing during live Zoom sessions,” said Andes. “Our brilliant set designers worked remotely to create their models. Our wonderful music teacher Andrew met with our actors to continue work on their songs. Musicians Ken Rizzo and Randy Cohen finished orchestrating the score,” he said.
After employing almost every creative workaround to make sure the show went on — outdoor costumed photoshoots in Central Park, remote work on marketing materials, and a successful search for a new venue, Bryan Andes and co-teacher Rowena Hurst made the nearly impossible possible. After over two years, the curtain rose last night on the now third-grade production of The Little Prince of Camelot at the 52nd Street Project — itself a long-term supporter of West Side youth theatre.
The First Grade Theatre Study, developed in 2005 by Andes, combines a social studies approach to the collaborative art of theater-making, allowing students to both learn dramaturgy and write, rehearse, market, and perform their own original production from scratch — with mentorship and guidance from Broadway heavyweights. Past collaborators have included Matthew Broderick, Leslie Uggams, Donny Murphy, Bernadette Peters, Harold Prince, Stephen Sondheim, and Julie Andrews herself.
The program culminates with a fully-staged original musical revue, complete with professional filming, an exhibit dedicated to the production process, and a full union orchestra — meant to showcase the students’ hard work while raising thousands for Broadway-related charities like the The Actor’s Fund, Broadway Barks, Friends-in-Deed, The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
The ripple effect of the study goes far — both for students who gain a full appreciation of the industry and for those who go into the business itself. Andes told Broadway World: “It’s quite remarkable to see how the Broadway community has supported our Theatre Study. The students learn so much and begin to apply important concepts and skills they are developing to all areas of the school day. One of our graduates, Sydney Lucas, is now Off-Broadway in the musical Fun Home. It’s sweet serendipity, because Sydney plays the daughter of the characters played by Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn. It just so happens that the year Sydney was in our Study class, Michael was one of our guest artists. Dreams do come true!”
Reflecting on the challenging journey from page to stage for a group of resilient West Side kids, Andes said: “It’s taken more than a little bit of luck to make it to our opening night. Tonight our little prince shines again.”