Contagious enthusiasm at the Newport Children’s Theater

Above, left to right: Charlie Buchanan, Mia Rocco, Owen Frates and Catherine Cronin.

An explosion of energy and color, with bodies humming, turning, diving and a prince trying to retrieve the princess he left out of his reach.

For tweens and teens, a great way to weather a pandemic hiatus is to sing a Richard Rodgers waltz in triad harmonies, while imitating Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original “Cinderella” choreography to audiences eager for performances too. versatile and unexpected.

A live orchestra of 13 professional musicians will perform with fiddles, woodwinds, trumpets and other horns, under the direction of Jan Navarro who currently works with the Newport County Youth Chorus. Navarro has been teaching music for over 35 years.

The Newport Children’s Theater (NCT) is engrossed in the rehearsal process for its lavish annual spring musical, which runs May 20-22 at the Casino Theatre. It’s a ritual they’ve followed for decades, providing sanctuary and a forum for young people to find their voice.

At left, NCT actors Brennan Mahoney and Eliara Cabral rehearse.

At left, NCT actors Brennan Mahoney and Eliara Cabral rehearse.

For many families, it was a place to belong during a critical stage of development. What NCT did was recognize a theatrical need and harness it in the teen realm.

The actors squeal with excitement when director/artistic director Tara O’Hare Gnolfo asks them if they want to run past the scheduled end of their two-hour rehearsal time. It is unanimous.

“Dedicated don’t begin to describe [Gnolfo]said board member Erin Goddard. “She has so much heart for these kids.”

In Maddie Devine’s glowing eyes or Brennan Mahoney’s square jaw, one can conjure up childhood memories of Leslie Anne Warren and her prince, Stuart Damon, from the 1965 Cinderella special. magic,” said Gnolfo, who ran the theater for 12 years. “Something really special happens with this mix of kids. They support each other. They build each other up. You never have to discipline them when it comes to how they treat each other. They understand.”

When she participated in theater in her youth, she regretted not having one person in her life who pushed her to be “more professional”. So, she invited professional choreographers and others from the industry to teach her students.

“People who have more knowledge than me to pass on to children. They deserve to be inspired,” she said.

She dubbed “Cinderella” to provide more opportunities for her cache of talent.

Emily Marino, 17, from Bristol, has been performing with NCT since she was 12 and has been performing since she was 6. Her first role was in community theater as Molly in “Annie.” But she was looking for a more professional experience when she saw an NCT production of “Into the Woods.”

“[It was] this amazing performance in front of me, people my age doing this big thing,” she said.

The following year, Marino entered the set of “Fiddler on the Roof”. “Acting specifically here got me in. . . what a character needs and made me play better,” she said.

Her mother, Caroline, was initially hesitant to put her daughter in NCT. “[But] as soon as she arrived she was greeted by everyone, and she burst into a very tight-knit group,” she said.

“The focus is on building relationships with each other,” her mother said. “Lead roles, ensemble roles; there is always a place for them to shine; never a hierarchy at all.

Owen Frates, 13, of Middletown, has been participating since he was 9 years old. “It kept me coming back because everybody loves everybody and we’re a community, and it’s just fun to play,” he said.

He plays Lord Chancellor Sebastian, a villainous character. “I stand up in front of the prince and say, ‘Who do you think you’re talking to?'” he sneered, with some pleasure.

14-year-old Charley Buchanan balances acting with track and ice hockey. He entered the program in October, starred in the Christmas play “Babes in Toyland” and now plays a French revolutionary trying to overthrow the prince.

“I like it. It’s been a great game,” he said.[Tara] is really good at letting me do both. It’s the maximum that I had to sing and dance. I have a solo in one song, several other parts in others. It’s a huge challenge; I have no fondness for music.

Eliara Cabral, 16, from Portsmouth, one of the two Cinderellas, is a five-year veteran. Earlier this year, she played accomplice Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

How does Cinderella compare to Puck?

“Certainly a little less mischievous and a lot more sincere, more caring,” she said. “Usually when we do an analysis we get notes at the end, tips and advice. This improves our performance. For example, the reason Tara told me to wear this corset top was because it would help me with my character.

Tickets are $15 online, $20 at the door. To visit

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