On a Friday afternoon on the brink of summer, 10 kids ranging in age from 8 to early teens stand Chorus Line-fashion in the blue-walled TADA! rehearsal studio and begin their warm up. Light stretching, a breakneck vocal romp through the alphabet, a cursory harmony exercise or two — and they’re off and running (make that singing!).
The project at hand is a one-night special event “thank you” for Reader’s Digest volunteers and this is their only rehearsal. Interacting with musical director Jim Colleran as coolly as any professional performer gearing up for, say, a Birdland gig, these kids know the ropes and how to pull them. They are, in fact, members of TADA!’s current resident ensemble and they clearly love an audience.
In a city where field trips can — and often do — spell bus outings to Broadway matinees, it’s no stretch to assume that substantial numbers of kids will become enamored of performing. But while the desire to dazzle an audience may forever bubble in young hearts, only some have the passion and drive to persist in developing their talent and craft.
“I actually think we’re one of the oldest youth theaters in the city,” says founder/executive and artistic director Nina Trevens, who received her theatrical calling in the early ‘80s and went on to establish TADA! Youth Theater with Linda Reiff in 1984. Since Reiff left after several years with the company, Trevens has managed to parlay the two’s initial $1,500 budget into an award-winning institution that offers everything from classes, camps and outreach programs to exciting, critically-acclaimed performances.
“When we were starting out I discovered there were people growing up New York who had never left their boroughs or seen theater,” Trevens recalls. “It shocked me as to how separate people were. So initially, TADA! was my effort to bring people together — to make the world a better place, to make a difference. It’s the Aquarian in me,” she laughs.
The upshot of this commitment led to the group’s mission statement, which includes the statement: “…every interested child in the metropolitan area, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity, deserves an affordable way to experience the joy of musical theater.”
Trevens goes on to stress the importance of TADA!’s ever-growing portfolio of productions. “Our shows are all written for kids to perform as kids. They don’t play adults. When kids are in a show with adults, they tend to become more adult-like. Here it’s all about being kids.”
She cites self-esteem, patience, commitment, gaining a voice, and having respect for others as being key to the experience. “When you expect a lot from kids, you get a lot from them,” she continues. “Over the years we’ve seen kids go on to become pediatricians, dancers, and teachers. To me, it’s all about knowing what you want to do and going about making it happen.”
On the performance end, TADA! alums include Sasha Allen, currently one of the stars of the Tony-winning revival of Hair on Broadway; Josh Peck, of the Nickelodeon sitcom Josh & Drake; and actress/TV personality Ricki Lake.
“Little House has been rewritten many times,” notes Trevens, who recently added six more characters to the cast because so many kids wanted to take part in this historic production. And while she admits to not liking the casting process (“I find it hard to say ‘no’ to children”), she acknowledges that in show biz the art of dealing with disappointment is a skill that needs to be instilled.
On the flip side, though, she revels in the performances onstage: “You see them glow. It’s where they flourish… where they feel fulfilled.”
For information about TADA!’s auditions, programs, outreach efforts, and upcoming productions (as well as a sampling of its theme song), visit www.tadatheater.com.
Whether you’re the parent of a little ham or just want to share some first-rate theater with the kids in your life, check out this one-hour “scrumptious musical” about a group of kids who try to turn an abandoned house into a “boys-only” clubhouse. The enchanted abode, however, uses magic to keep the guys from entering while giving Jane and Alice carte blanche to turn it into a cookie shop. July 10-August 1. Tuesday-Friday, noon and 2pm; Saturday, 2 and 4pm. Appropriate for kids age 3 and up. Adults $20, premium (reserved) $25; children $8, premium (guaranteed front row bench seats) $15. TADA! Youth Theater, 15 West 28th Street, between Broadway and 5th Avenue. 212-252-1619, ext. 28. www.tadatheater.com.