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Teen Musical Theatre of Oregon

The 30 young stars of Craterian Performances' Teen Musical Theatre of Oregon will sing, act and dance their way into your heart this weekend.

The group will present "Will Rogers Follies," the Tony Award-winning musical with book by Peter Stone, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Cy Coleman. "Follies" follows the life of famed humorist and performer Will Rogers and is set at the Ziegfeld Follies, a series of Broadway productions held in the early 1900s where Rogers headlined many times.

In the musical, each episode of Rogers' life is presented in the form of a big production number — and all of them will be presented by a troupe of performers whose ages range from 9 to 19 in the TMTO show.

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 16, and 3 p.m. Saturday, April 17, at the Craterian, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

"It is amazing that these young people are able to give such professional performances," says John Taylor, artistic and musical director of TMTO. "They're all outstanding."

"Will Rogers Follies" is a challenging show for any company to produce, but Taylor says that all of the teens are rising to the occasion — especially J.D. Day, a 14-year-old Medford home-schooler, who plays Rogers.

"He's in every scene and has most of the lines," Taylor says. "He has to be able to sing, dance, act, play guitar and harmonica and do rope tricks. He delivers it all and makes it look easy.

"We're fortunate to have such talented young people — and their families — who are willing to share their gifts with us," Taylor says. "It's what makes our program run.

"People are going to love the story, too," Taylor says. "I think a lot of people don't know just what a remarkable person and entertainer Rogers was. The story is uplifting. It's touching, and it's timely."

TMTO is a unique experience for its young actors, dancers and singers because it provides an opportunity to perform in an environment that resembles a large-scale, splashy Broadway show.

"We use the same production resources for TMTO that we use for Broadway stars and national tours," says Stephen McCandless, executive director of Craterian Performances. Taylor, formerly a music director with Cirque du Soleil's "O" in Las Vegas, provides the orchestral tracks to accompany TMTO's young talent. It's as though the kids are singing with a 50-piece orchestra.

"Our goal is to base our direction and choreography on the Broadway version. That way the kids and audience get a taste of what the original productions were like. John does a great job of recreating and amplifying that Broadway magic," McCandless says.

Peter Alzado, formerly the artistic director of Oregon Stage Works, was brought in to help Day develop his role as Rogers.

"J.D. has the goods," Alzado says. "I'm just helping him polish his performance."

Tickets to the shows at the Craterian cost $18, $9 for ages 18 and younger and are available at the Craterian box office, online at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

First row, left to right: Todd Tremblay, Braden Day, Madeline Day and Dylan Jensen. In the second row: Tyler Hopkins, Isaac Cosand, Adam Carlisle and Kelsey Tidball. Third row: Shaun Morgan and Zane Taylor, Fourth row: Miranda Tremblay and Darla Brown. - Photo by Jamie Lusch