TCT’s “Moana JR” is SOOO Good!

One 6 year old discriminating viewer replied, when asked about what he liked about the musical, “Everything, I liked everything!” Another 4 year old responder said that, “I really liked TE FITI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Review by Sherri Wellington

Disney’s Moana JR. is playing at the Taft Theatre. You need to get tickets NOW.  Grab your children, grandchildren, neighbor’s kids, or any kiddo that will help you feel justified in seeing a children’s musical! Actually, don’t worry.  It is so good, GO even without a kiddo.

Moana JR is adapted from the 2016 Disney animated film, Moana. It is power packed with the renowned songs from Moana, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Optetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina. You may have to sing along, who knows?  There is even one original number that is so good, it fits in like it should have been in the movie.  Disney’s Moana JR is 60-minutes of sheer entertainment.  

Three Fun Facts about Disney’s Moana JR

1. Moana is based on a book by Susan Soon He Stanton. 2. We have to thank Ian Weinberger for adapting and arranging the music and orchestrations for this amazing musical. 3. Disney’s Moana JR is puppet-centric and it has never been performed before on a stage (Hey Sherri, what does puppet-centric mean?  Mr. Roderick Justice (yes, isn’t he great????) shared that it means a lot of puppets are involved and there are!)

Moana’s Story

You know the story.  A young princess on an imaginary Pacific Island (Motunui)wants to sail the seas, learn about her heritage and to save her people.  Moana, our princess, is strong, brave, selfless, powerful and very stubborn.  She finds Maui (the pompous demigod who turns out to be a hero) to help her bring prosperity back to her people. They form a bond on their journey of self-discovery.  

Disney’s Moana JR by TCT. Photos by Mikki Schaffner Photography

Now a Bit about the Scenery

The complexity of making this musical is what astounds this innocent reviewer though.  The basic scenery is two grass huts on either side of the stage that swivel around to bring puppets onto the stage or to unveil a circle which represents the ancestors of Moana.  There are another three circles hanging from above (also wise ancestors) and Pacific Island motifs on the front bottom of the stage.   The technological challenges to bring this amazing production alive are both complex and intriguing.  In the background islands, clouds, trees, birds, terrifying fish,  coconuts, etc. etc. etc. appear throughout the show.  Where do they come from?  Well….

A little birdie explained that they designed the floating objects.  They tested various UV paints to determine what the colors would be under the blacklights used in the theater and then painted each accordingly.  The objects are totally controlled by puppeteers!  But some of the things are flying!  Well they have scaffolding in the background but it is so well hidden, who knew?

Few Actors but Lots of Puppeteers

Let’s get back to this complexity thing.  What is going on here?  The only real human actor  is Rosvic Siason (she/her) who plays Moana.  Wow! Her voice!  Aaaamazing!  Now there is a human who plays Tamatoa, the crab, but since he has claws and various appendages he doesn’t look human.  Guess who plays him?  BOB HERZOG!  The anchor for Good Morning Cincinnati!  You go Bob!  What a voice and you crab walk like a true pro!  The only other human is Gabriel Kanai Nakata (they/them) who plays Maui.  But it takes you a while to determine if they are indeed human because they look like the puppet people who are Moana’s family and villagers.  But soon one notices how they move and determine they are indeed human. 

Bob Herzog in TCT’s “Disney’s Moana JR”

Beside those three human beings, the rest of the characters are puppets.  There are 33 cast members of the production so you can get an idea of how many puppeteers there are.  Only one was a trained puppeteer before this.  Yet, they all do an incredible job. 

Discerning Reviewers (aka Grandkids)

I could go on and on about this incredible musical.  You will have to just go and see yourself because I am limited on the number of words that I can write on this review.  But just to give you some real feedback: One 6 year old discriminating viewer replied, when asked about what he liked about the musical, “Everything, I liked everything!” Another 4 year old responder said that, “I really liked TE FITI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” A 36 year old mom, oh sorry a “29 year old” mom, said that she really liked the boats which puppeteers brought out into the audience when Moana learns of her ancestors’ history of sailing.  I was shocked nobody mentioned the lively and lovely coconuts singing their little hearts out.

The Production Team

Lastly, we need to recognize Roderick Justice, the Artistic Director and Director of Staging, who always makes his productions professional and endearing; Director of Puppetry, Kevin Frisch who orchestrates his huge cast with finesse;  Scenic & Lighting Design, Benjamin Gantose, which this musical could not be pulled off without him.  The Music Director is  Mark Femia.  After certain songs, one hears the adults screaming and clapping, making one wonder if the children brought the parents or the parents brought the children to this production.  Sound Production, Bill Fuss and Don Moore, put the magic together for the songs.  Director of Production, Dani Lobello, and Managing Director and CEO ties the play all together.  Please note that Cultural Consultant, Somoan Studies, Sia’a Alma and as Cultural Consultant, Anna Rose Delion Guerreo bring the authenticity to this version of Disney’s Moana JR.

The Children’s Theater consistently puts on great performances.  Hearing your child’s or grandchild’s laughter and their sounds of amazement while watching TCT’s  plays and musicals will assure you that you are giving your child experiences that will last a lifetime.

Get Your Tickets Now to Disney’s Moana JR

Performances are April 15-16 and  21-23, 2023.  To purchase your tickets go online to the Box Office. Teachers and administrators listen up: there are School Performances April 18-21 & the 24th for K – 8th. There is even a study guide (showing how much TCT loves teachers!)

A new Calendar for everything onstage from LCT’s member theatres.

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