Review By Lia Cocks
It’s no secret I am a big fan of youth productions in South Australia. In the words of Whitney Houston ‘I believe the children are our future…’ and the sensational cast and crew of Adelaide Youth Theatre’s production of Moana Jr are testament that the future of theatre is in good hands!
Moana Jr is a 60-minute musical adaptation of the 2016 Disney animated film, bringing the adventures of Moana and her village of Motunui to life onstage. Moana Jr features all the beloved songs from the film, written by Tony®, GRAMMY, Emmy, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina, including “How Far I’ll Go,” “Shiny,” and “You’re Welcome.”
This delightful and heart-warming coming-of-age story follows the strong-willed Moana as she sets sail across the Pacific to save her village and discover the truth about her heritage. Moana and the legendary demigod Maui embark on an epic journey of self-discovery and camaraderie as both learn to harness the power that lies within. With empowering messages of bravery and selflessness, Moana Jr will really bring out the hero within each of us.
Celebrating the rich history of Oceania and based on the beliefs and cultures of the people of the Pacific Islands, AYT’s considerate and respectful casting within the arts community has given these young performers the opportunity to learn about and celebrate the cultures of the Pacific Islands.
When the opening lighting cue draws gasps and applause from the audience, you know you are in for a treat!
While the incredible production team were planning and preparing for months, this show was only 2 weeks in the making with the cast. No small feat when the youngest were 7 and the eldest were 14!
But by George, was it polished and professional!
Sensational vision and direction by AYT alumni, Jayden Prelc, brought out the best in the performers, with dance whiz Amelia Sanzo creating layers and dimension with beautiful culturally appropriate and sensitive choreography and assisted by Zoe Foskett and Tayla McDougall
Musical direction by the talented Taylor Tran heard these young voices rise through the score with ease.
The costumes and sets were a sight to behold, coordinated and built by husband and wife duo May and Tuan Tran. The transformation of Te Ka to Te Fiti was extraordinarily effective – well done! Lighting design by Matt Ralph, with concepts by Prelc, was magnificent from start to finish
We meet the village people, along with Chief Tui [Bernard Flynn] and Sina [Ava Hughes] in ‘Where You Are’ – a lovely and energetic introduction to these characters. Flynn and Hughes play Moana’s parents with a mature, gentle and endearing quality, quite the contract to the firecracker that is Zoe Kerr’s Moana.
This young pocket rocket goes from 0 to 100 in about 5 seconds flat; in ‘How Far I’ll Go’ her vocals begin as inspirational and sweet, building up to an incredible twangy belt in this soaring ballad.
Her interpretation of ‘Song of the Ancestors’, culminating in her phrase ‘I am Moana’ gave me goosebumps.
Nia Phillips plays the village eccentric, Gramma Tala with a serenity and grace beyond her years, with the poignant scene between her and Moana portrayed with dignity and humility.
The introduction of Maui had the audience in joyful appreciation of the commitment and promise of young James Farquhar in the famous role. His crisp, clear vocals and fab characterisation had the audience in stitches! Not to mention he nailed the difficult rap section in ‘You’re Welcome!’
Zoe Velianofski as the shiny, sassy, self loving crab Tamatoa, was straight out of a Beyonce music video; poppin, lockin, and hip hopping with her back up claws, ahem, dancers, Isabella Charman and Amelia Scodella. This scene was one of my favourites and the stage was turned into a glittery, golden underground lair, complete with disco ball, a descending staircase and giant shimmery crab legs.
The versatile and talented Velianofski also danced the acrobatic role of Te Ka in the dramatic and intense scene when Moana returns the heart of Te Fiti.
Special mention to the Chief Ancestors, Emily Bennet, Emelia Hassan and Sophia Scodella who guide Moana on her quest and narrate her story through speaking and singing solos.
A show is nothing without the ensemble, and this marvel of a cast wove the entire story together with energy, zest and camaraderie that was felt all through the auditorium.
The reprise of ‘We Know the Way’ upon the homecoming of Moana followed by the finale return of ‘You’re Welcome’ had the crowd cheering for more!
Well done Adelaide Youth Theatre – your best junior show yet!