This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
“A Lovely Night” is not only a song in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, but also the goal of a new Kimmel Center educational program that culminated in a full performance of the show by more than 200 Philadelphia 5th graders.
The pilot program, One Musical Philadelphia, included 15 Philadelphia schools, seven of which were traditional public schools. Three were charters, and five were private. The goal is to eventually have 100 schools participating.
In this inaugural year of the program, the schools answered an invitation that the Kimmel Center sent to all Philadelphia schools that serve elementary grades.
“One Musical’s goal is to reach kids all over the city and then give them an opportunity to have an experience with musical theater,” said Susan Quinn, director of education for the Kimmel Center. “But [it is] also to bring them all together so they can see that kids all over the city are doing the same things they are and are interested in the same things they are.”
One Musical Philadelphia is part of “Creative Stages” at the Kimmel Center, an educational outreach initiative that includes multiple programs for 4th graders through high school students.
One Musical Philadelphia began an introductory workshop for each school, led by a teaching artist, who is a professional in musical theater or theater with at least an undergraduate degree in their particular art form. Each teaching artist was assisted by a participant in the Kimmel Center’s ShowStoppers AllStars program, an after-school program for high schoolers. After the first workshop, interested students could choose to commit to the program for the next eight weeks. Rehearsals were held after regular school hours.
Each school learned different sections of Cinderella and had costumes, music, and props to support them. The performance Thursday night added up to the whole show.
“They learn about musical theater in its most general sense,” Quinn said. “So although we are working on Cinderella this year, what we’re really working on are the kinds of soft skills that will help them throughout their lives.”
Quinn highlighted the public speaking skills and collaboration that the students learned from the program.
Each school had a residency contact, who was a staffer at the school responsible for coordinating and communicating with students, parents, the Kimmel Center, and the school itself. Quinn noted that although this often was a music teacher, the contacts included a counselor, a kindergarten teacher, and a climate support specialist. At one school, she said, it was the crossing guard. Interest in the project was an important qualification.
Alicia Mole, a kindergarten teacher at General Philip Kearny Elementary School in Northern Liberties, where nearly all of the students qualify as low-income, was the residency contact for her school. Her “passion for the arts” drew her to the program, she said. She thought it was a great opportunity for the school as a whole and a new experience for the students.
“We don’t currently have a musical [theater] program at our school, so this was an introduction of what it could look like for our students,” she said.
Cynthia Moore, the residency coordinator and school counselor at Thomas Morton Elementary in Southwest Philadelphia, also a high-poverty school, echoed this sentiment. She is a former dancer, musician, and artist herself, and she figured that this would be an ideal position for her.
“This program was perfect; it was exactly what I envisioned as a child,” she said. “If children could find ways to cope through dance, music, art, singing, they could learn how to cope with [their problems] and find ways to overcome them in a positive manner.”
Moore noted that the process was not easy on the schools, but the benefits outweighed the challenges. “I’m not going to lie, it was grueling. It took a lot of time and energy … but I think it was well worth the effort. … A lot of these children would never have these opportunities if the One Musical Philadelphia hadn’t come to Morton.”
After postponing the final event for a month because of February’s inclement weather, all the schools joined together on Thursday, March 21, for a full-length performance on the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater stage.
“One of our goals outside of the musical theater goals is to really build this idea of teamwork, collaboration, and giving kids opportunities to connect,” said Quinn.
Although this inaugural class of One Musical Philadelphia performed once all together, each school also held its own performance at an assembly of the section they learned, making a total of 16 formal shows for the program.
Students in a scene from “Cinderella” during their performance at the Kimmel Center. (Photo: Creative Outfit Inc.)
On the night of the cumulative show, the Kimmel Center provided buses for both the students and their families in order to ensure people could come to the event.
“One of our key goals at the Kimmel Center — especially working with [low-income] populations — is to remove all barriers,” said Quinn. “We know that a potential barrier is getting here, so we are sending those buses out for the community.”
Now, One Musical Philadelphia is planning for the future.
“We encouraged [the schools] to have kids a couple of years younger see it because we want to keep this going, so hopefully it’ll become a tradition,” said Quinn.
“Our 4th graders are already excited about the possibility of being a part of this program,” Mole said. “Schoolwide and cultural-wide, I think it was a great opportunity for Kearny, and we really look forward to having future students involved in this program.”
Said Moore, of Morton: “If you put one foot forward, you don’t know how many doors are going to open for our children. Our children deserve these opportunities.”
The participating schools were:
- Alliance for Progress Charter School
- Blessed Trinity
- General Philip Kearny Elementary School
- Hon. Luis Muñoz-Marin Elementary School
- Henry C. Lea Elementary School
- James Logan ElementarySchool
- La Salle Academy
- Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School
- Mastery Charter School – Harrity
- Mastery Charter School – Thomas
- Resurrection Regional Catholic
- St. Thomas Aquinas School
- St. Veronica School
- Thomas G. Morton Elementary School
- W. D. Kelley School