Racine & Me: MOANA JR. musical – a City of Racine and Racine Unified School District premiere

Racine & Me: MOANA JR. musical – a City of Racine and Racine Unified School District premiere

RACINE, WI (CBS 58) -- Amy Hernandez Maack  and Brian Sweeny of MOANA JR. the musical joined us in studio to talk about the show coming up with Racine Unified Schools. 

Gifford is in its eighth year as a Racine Unified School District “K8” school. Prior to 2016, it was solely an elementary school for a number of decades. Mrs. Amy Hernandez Maack came to the middle school Vocal Department at Gifford in its second year (Fall 2017) as a “K8” school. She had already been directing musicals previously at two other school placements but was considering moving away from that part of her life and work to begin other music pursuits. By Gifford K8’s third year as a “K8” school, she realized no one was directing musicals for the 6th through 8th Grade students, so she stepped into the role and directed/produced “Godspell Jr.” in the Spring of 2019. It was so well-received by the Gifford students and families that she planned a Racine premiere of “Frozen Jr.” (also an MTI licensed musical) for the following Spring 2020. However, production was shut down a mere few weeks before opening night and the stage lay untouched for 2-1/2 years until her post-pandemic production of “High School Musical Jr.” in the Spring of 2022. In January 2023, she finally brought the Racine premiere of “Frozen Jr.” to the Gifford K8 stage wanting to do something entirely different from both “Frozen Jr.” and “High School Musical Jr.,” and wanting to explore and present more diversity to the Gifford K8 stage, Mrs. Hernandez Maack and her six other Directors, Designers and Manager decided to take-on “Moana Jr.” When describing the musical Moana, Music Theater International (MTI) states, “Moana is a celebration of the cultures and peoples of the Pacific Islands, inspired by their shared history of ancient wayfinding and exploration. The Walt Disney Animation Studios and the creators of Moana went to great lengths to develop this animated feature in respectful conversation with diverse experts from across Oceania so that its representation of culture could be both accurate and celebrated by Pacific Islanders and non-Pacific Islanders alike. Moana is a strong, empowered, and brave young woman who becomes a hero for her community. Whether it is the villagers she works hard to protect, the family she hopes to make proud, or the ancestors she strives to honor, Moana is motivated in everything by her selfless desire to help others. "Gifford K8’s middle school production of Moana Jr. will present this celebration of the cultures and people of the Pacific Islands paying special attention to the Samoan peoples through working with a Racinian of Samoan ethnicity - Ms. Grace Ekeroma-Adams. In addition, one constant message throughout Moana Jr. is connection. Connection to water. Connection to family. Connection to earth. Connection to ancestors. Connection to the future and one’s personal journey towards it. These sentiments that express our relationship to all around us are reminiscent of those attributed to many scientists and philosophers including Albert Einstein who said, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” Our production hopes to inspire and uplift all who come and hear the message, music and multi-cultural connections of Moana Jr. Gifford K8 has certainly been supported by so many to bring this premiere to the city of Racine and Racine Unified School District (RUSD) for the first time with the help of cultural guidance from Ms. Grace Ekeroma-Adams and a cosmetic upgrade to the Gifford K8 School stage courtesy of RUSD Carpenters and the Racine Theater Alumni (RTA) volunteers and founder, Brian Sweeny. This will also be a first for Mrs. Hernandez Maack in experiencing puppetry in a musical thanks to the talents of Gifford K8 Art Teacher & Props Manager/Assistant Technical Director, Ms. Raena Karolus. 

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