Elaine Paige: Broadway Goes to First Grade

Actor Hugh Jackman, left, speaks with a group of first graders at the Midtown West School in Manhattan. Bryan Andes, right, who teaches at the school, has been hosting Broadway professionals in his class since 2005. Photo courtesy of Bryan Andes.

I recently met a brilliant public school teacher who has created a whole new way for his kindergarteners and first graders to learn about theater.

Since 2005, Bryan Andes, who teaches at the Midtown West School PS212 on West 48th Street, has taken full advantage of his school’s proximity to the Great White Way. He not only takes his students to visit Broadway theaters, he has also welcomed dozens of stars to meet his students. Vanessa Redgrave read and acted scenes with students when she was on Broadway in “Snow White,” Kevin Kline broke down his choreographed fight scenes from “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Hugh Jackman talked about his long career on the stage. But the students don’t just get to meet stars, they also go behind the scenes with all of the support jobs that make theater possible. They meet costumers, front of the house staff and this year a 12-piece orchestra played music from “The Lion King” for them.

Bryan Andes' students have the incredible opportunity to meet professionals at every level of a Broadway production. For example, they met with producer and director Hal Prince, left, and separately learned from legendary Broadway actress Bernadette Peters. Andes says that his students are too young to feel starstruck, which is precisely part of the draw for celebrity visitors. Composite image: Photos courtesy of Bryan Andes.

After they meet with all the professionals, the students each pick a role and put on their own original play at the end of the year. The fantasy musical they will create will run off-Broadway at the Actors Temple for two days in June. All proceeds from the show will be donated to a nonprofit organization that supports the Broadway community. It’s amazing because Andes is able to help children relate to theater and their community. His program engages them in a hands-on learning experience at their level. I think secretly it’s driven by his own passion for theater. What an inspiration!

Elaine Paige is an actress, recording artist and broadcaster. Paige is also known for her role as Eva Peron in the original production of “Evita.” She will perform as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series on Feb. 10 and Feb. 12.

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