It is a musical theater mecca for theater kids. The Junior Theater Festival, or JTF, took place in Atlanta this past weekend, attracting more than 5,000 young performers from around the world. NY1’s Frank DiLella flew down to Georgia for the big event, and filed this report.
Where can you find Simba, Elle Woods, Harold Hill and other musical characters under one roof? The Junior Theater Festival.
This year marks the 11th festival produced by the Junior Theater Group and iTheatrics. And this year's event also celebrated 20 years of Broadway Jr., a series of shows crafted by the licensing company Music Theater International that tailors musicals like "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Godspell" for young performers.
"There's just a spirit of joy in the air, probably because there's 5,000 kids singing musicals all the time," says Tim Allen McDonald, founder of iTheatrics/Junior Theater Festival.
More than 100 theater groups from around the world came to Atlanta for the chance to perform for industry insiders, interact with each other, take part in workshops and much more.
Aaron Wang from PS 124 in Chinatown performed the title character in The Music Man Jr., under the direction of Broadway artist Baayork Lee from the original company of "A Chorus Line."
"I never heard of The Music Man, so I searched it up," Wang says.
"I'm just elated. They worked so hard," Lee says.
The festival also attracts some major musical theater talent.
This year's lineup included Corey Cott, Ben Platt, the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and Darren Criss.
"I'm happy to give anything back that I can," Criss says.
"It's great to get to show them that, you know, I'm a theater kid too and that's where I came from and that's where my roots are,” Platt says.
And if you think 5,000 musical theater fans in one place is a lot - think again. Next year will mark the first time JTF will expand to the west coast.
"I'm happy to announce JTF West which will be hosted in lovely Sacramento, California," McDonald says.
And this festival and the future JTF West wouldn't be possible without the support of Music Theatre International's Freddie Gershon.
"They're using imagination and creativity and inventiveness and it's the heart and soul of what America's all about,” Gershon says.
"I love performing musical theater because it just brings out me," says Jermaine Birchett, a 9-year-old from Jersey City attending PS 3 Frank R. Conrow Drama Program.
For more information, visit itheatrics.com.