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Kids Wrote A Musical: Takes To Off-Broadway Stage in World Premiere

The full cast of Reddi High at rehearsal.

The full cast of Reddi High at rehearsal.

In the summer of 2013, seven kids from the ages of nine to 13 got together with their teacher Brooke Procida Ritchie, owner of Procida Creative International (PCI), and began writing a script as part of a summer workshop for young writers. From that workshop, and many more hours of writing and editing, the musical Reddi High was born. Rehearsals are underway in Huntington and Manhattan. And this fall, they are bringing Reddi High to an Off-Broadway stage for its world premiere.

Along the way, the kids helped write the lyrics to the songs with their teacher Procida Ritchie and Ted Arthur, who together wrote the music. At last week’s rehearsal, the first copy of sheet music was distributed for the song, “Not Now Margo”—an undoubtedly cool moment in Reddi High history.

“It’s absolutely incredible to see our musical come to life,” says Chloe Wheeler, age 12, a co-writer and the actress who plays Reddi’s leading lady Lana Smith. “I’ve been in other premieres and Off-Broadway productions, but this one will forever stay with me. It has a special place in my heart. Last year, this musical was just an idea, an unformed, undeveloped piece of clay that has been molded into the spectacular show it is now. I love working with the cast, and it’s so cool to see the characters that you thought up on paper come to life. I don’t think anything can compare to that.”

Reddi High tells the story of a group of tweens and teens who are just trying to make it through another day at school and figure out what they want in their young lives. Themes of self-expression, self-love, bullying, and standing up for who and what you believe in weave their way through the charming and often hilarious plot. With songs from Arthur and Procida Ritchie, Reddi High is poignant and touching as it draws from several musical genres, including Motown, classic rock, hip hop, pop and more.

Chloe Wheeler as Lana and Keenan Lyons as Logan in Reddi High musical.

Chloe Wheeler as Lana and Keenan Lyons as Logan in Reddi High musical. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

“Being involved with Reddi High has had an impact on my life because of the impact it has had on others,” says Procida Ritchie. “Not just the kids, but the whole team involved. To me, being a part of something that grows literally out of nothing, is testament to the idea that we can create whatever we see or feel. During collaboration, stories build themselves and projects and creativity are born out of joy and camaraderie.” Procida Ritchie also plays the character of Miss W, the guidance counselor at Reddi High.

Says Caitriona Meehan, age 12, a co-writer and actress who also plays the lead role of Lana, “We have made it so far already from a bunch of kids writing a show to it now being on an Off-Broadway stage. It has been a very exciting process to see it all come to fruition and to have been a part of it all.”

According to Wheeler, her character Lana is sweet and fun. “But she can get kind of ticked off in pressured situations and can be controlling,” says Wheeler. “If I could talk to Lana, I would tell her to relax a little. I am super stressed all the time, with school and many acting and singing projects going on at the same time, and I could do with some more relaxation myself, just like Lana.” Wheeler identifies with Lana 100 percent. “I connect so much with my character because I wrote a lot of her scenes,” adds Wheeler. While for Meehan, what she most loves and admires about Lana is her persistence.

Olivia Freiberger as Kat, Gabrielle Pegg and Chloe Himmelman as Kenzie, Caitriona Meehan and Chloe Wheeler as Lana, Deanna Donohue and Kyla Cusick as Kennedy, Keenan Lyons as Logan. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

Olivia Freiberger as Kat, Gabrielle Pegg and Chloe Himmelman as Kenzie, Caitriona Meehan and Chloe Wheeler as Lana, Deanna Donohue and Kyla Cusick as Kennedy, Keenan Lyons as Logan. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

In addition to leading character Lana, there are her best friends Kenzie and Kennedy and fellow high schoolers Margo, Kat, Claire, Charles, and Chris. Magenta makes an appearance in the audition scene with Kat, and leading guys are Logan, Lucas, and Greg, who are in the band 3G. Several adult characters, a teacher named Mr. Miller played by Jordan Pennino, Miss W played by Procida, the principal who is played by Jason Hurtado, and Lana’s mom and dad (Amanda Ladd and Hurtado) round out the script. Ladd is also the assistant director of Reddi High.

The lead characters are well drawn out and positively real. Who else knows more about the thoughts and feelings of the turbulent tween and teen years, than that age group itself?

The lead male role Logan is played by Keenan Lyons, age 13. “Logan is the leader of the band 3G, and I love playing him because he is friendly, sometimes a smart aleck, and he has a lot of spunk,” explains Lyons. “As a teenager, I can totally relate.”

Lyons says it’s exciting to be part of a world premiere, to work with Brooke and this amazing cast. “It’s really cool to be in the cast of a musical that was written by kids the same age as me,” he adds.

What is the most exciting part of being involved with Reddi High? According to Christopher Pappas, age 12, who plays Charles, “For me, it is having the honor of being in the original cast of this amazing show!” Deanna Donohue, age 13, a co-writer who also plays Kennedy, agrees with Pappas, “I can’t wait to be part of the cast that gets to introduce this play to the world for the very first time!”

The character of Kennedy, Lana’s best friend, is “fun to play because she speaks her mind even when what she’s saying doesn’t make much sense,” says Donohue. Also playing the part of Kennedy is Kyla Cusick, age 12. “I love how she’s crazy but tries to be cool at the same time,” details Cusick. “And she’s obsessed with boys.”

According to Cusick, there are no other shows like Reddi High. “It’s a fun show for all ages,” she adds.

From left to right: Chloe Himmelman as Kenzie, Kyla Cusick as Kennedy, and Deanna Donohue as Kennedy. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

From left to right: Chloe Himmelman as Kenzie, Kyla Cusick as Kennedy, and Deanna Donohue as Kennedy. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

Donohue has been impacted in multiple ways by this production. “This production has changed my life,” she adds. “From writing it, to starring in it as Kennedy, this whole experience has showed me the magic of starting something from scratch and making it into something big. This all started with some simple ideas on paper. The experience has made me more confident on stage, and I made a lot of new friends along the way.”

Making new friends and having fun has been a big part of the process for everyone involved. Ella Benjamin, age 13, plays Kat. “She is shy but lets out a different side to her character when she sings her theme song, ‘Kat with a K,’ at a New York University summer musical theater audition. It’s a ton of fun playing Kat,” notes Benjamin.

Besides all the fun, Reddi High has been an enormous opportunity and learning experience for all. “This production has taught me that young actors and actresses like us should never give up,” states Gabrielle Pegg, age 12, the actress who plays Kenzie. “I’m so glad to be a part of this production and work with kids my age. The most exciting part of this premiere—it’s all-original. We get the opportunity to build our own characters. What an awesome experience!”

Pegg’s character Kenzie is another of Lana’s best friends, a ditzy high schooler and relentless fan girl of the band, 3G. “I love Kenzie’s silly attitude, and I enjoy alternating the role with my friend Chloe Himmelman who also plays Kenzie.”

Another well drawn out character in Reddi High is the smart girl Margo, who is played by both Morgan Tiller, age 14, and Yasmin Mesiha, age 12. “She isn’t afraid to be herself,” says Tiller. “She stands up for others when they are in a bad situation.”

If Tiller could speak to her character, she would thank Margo for being herself. “She doesn’t care what others think of her. She wants to do what is right, and that’s pretty cool,” adds Tiller.

But for Tiller, Reddi High is more than just cool; “it’s super exciting because it is living proof that dreams do come true.

“The fact that kids used their talents to create this amazing show, and it will be making its premiere on an Off-Broadway stage, is just insane. I am honored to say that I’m a part of it.

“I don’t think Reddi High is just a musical, it’s a part of each and every one of us.”

The talented Magenta is another interesting character, shared by actresses Emily Glick, age 13, and Victoria Cawley, age 12. “Reddi High is a musical about all the things we go through as kids in real life,” notes Glick.

But, the coolest part for Glick is that Reddi High was written by other kids her age. “One of them is my friend Chloe W.,” she adds.

Her character Magenta goes on a major audition in the show. “Going on auditions is stressful and nerve-wracking without someone trying to show off,” explains Glick. “I would tell Magenta that people might like her better if she wasn’t so fake.”

Lily Smyth and Caitlin Rees as the Yearbook Girls. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

Lily Smyth and Caitlin Rees as the Yearbook Girls. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

Lily Smyth, one of the youngest cast members at age 10, plays the yearbook girl Lucy. “We are so alike, we could be best friends,” says Lily about her character.

The best part of this experience for Smyth has been making new friends and performing with them in such an amazing show.

Will Reddi High eventually make it to Broadway?

“If we really focus and perfect it,” adds Wheeler. “With a little coaxing, we’ll have a hit musical. It would be a dream come true to see Reddi High on a Broadway stage.

“Hey, Mister Producer, I’m talking to you, sir. Give Reddi a spot on a big old Broadway stage,” Wheeler jokes. And Tiller agrees that with hard work and dedication anything can happen.

According to Cawley, Reddi High could definitely make it to Broadway because it’s deep and meaningful, too. “It’s about more than singing and popularity,” believes Cawley. “It’s about the true meaning in people and how everyone is different but yet the same. All of those character traits are interesting and will draw people to come see the show.”

Leo Cronin as Chris, Caitriona Meehan as Lana, Kyla Cusick as Kennedy, Melanie Clements as Claire. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

Leo Cronin as Chris, Caitriona Meehan as Lana, Kyla Cusick as Kennedy, Melanie Clements as Claire. Photo by Victoria Cawley.

Making its world premiere for one day only this December 6, Reddi High has two casts performing two shows, pink at 4pm and blue at 7pm at the 777 Theater, Roy Arias, 777 8th Avenue and 47th Street, New York, NY 10036. Tickets are sold out for the 7pm show with a limited amount of tickets left for the 4pm show. For more information, go to: www.brookeprocida.com.

The show’s junior production staff will also be made up of young volunteers between the ages of 12 and 20 who want to learn more about working in live theatre. The foundation of PCI’s mission is to teach entrepreneurial and personal life skills to young artists so they increase their chances of longevity and success in a very demanding and competitive field.

Procida Ritchie, owner of PCI and director of Reddi High, is excited. “But opening night is also closing night,” she notes. “We have one day and one day only, and those 300 people who have tickets will be witness to something magical that none of us can predict.”

Part of the process is having faith in it and putting it all out there, no matter what. “When things are born from joy, dedication, and teamwork, miracles happen,” continues Procida Ritchie. “Now that’s exciting!”

 

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