Close to 100 children traveled to Penetanguishene earlier this year to audition for a spot in an upcoming professional show. Two teams of 14 children each were selected for the children’s chorus in Drayton Entertainment’s season opener, Cinderella: the Panto.

The teams, made up of kids aged nine to 15, came from all over Simcoe County. They sang a song from the musical Seussical and learned some choreography. Some, such as Chloe Walc from Tiny and Annie Corrigan-Ross from Midland have been doing this for years and know the routine. Others do not and it can require a lot of courage just to show up. But that’s one of the qualities director/choreographer David Connolly looks for. He was instrumental in starting the program about 10 years ago.

“I wished there was something like that when I was a kid,” he said. “It was an idea that was percolating for a very long time (and stemmed) from the need, especially in that area. The talent – it’s really remarkable in the kids that come to us.”

The kids gain self-confidence, learn teamwork and public speaking. Sometimes, it can even lead to a career.

Graham Scott Fleming auditioned for the program in 2009 when he was going to Elmvale District High School. He went on to star in the Toronto production of Kinky Boots and just finished appearing in Miss Saigon on Broadway in New York City. This fall, he will return to Drayton and play the lead role that Patrick Swayze made famous in the movie Ghost.

“They also find their tribe, people that are musical theatre nerds, and create a bond that goes beyond shows,” said Connolly. “Especially if they are from very rural areas because there may not be a lot of people in their high school that enjoy the same (interests such as) musical theatre.”

Connolly, who started out as a performer, marked his very first show, Dames at Sea, with Drayton Entertainment at the King’s Wharf Theatre in 1999. This summer, he will be directing and choreographing Cinderella: The Panto as well as Hairspray in August.

Hairspray will play a role in the popular Youth Musical Theatre Program (YMTP). Auditions were held for YMTP at the same time as the children’s chorus and some kids were accepted into both programs. YMTP is a week-long training session for youth age 10-18 to study singing, dancing, acting and technical theatre, guided by theatre professionals.

“They will also get to see Hairspray – a field trip one evening – learn choreography from the show and have a meet and greet with the actors who will also do master classes with the kids,” said Connolly.

Cinderella: The Panto unfolds June 6-30 at the King’s Wharf Theatre in Penetanguishene. Visit for tickets.

Photo:  Local youth auditioned for Cinderella: The Panto and a Youth Musical Theatre Program in Penetanguishene.



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