'Amazing Grace" is one of the most popular plays that the Springer Opera House's Children's Theater presents. This is the fifth time in 15 years that the Springer has performed the show. It opens Friday, March 23.
Columbus' Shay Youngblood, a playwright and author, adapted Mary Hoffman's book about a young African-American girl who wants the title for "Peter Pan" in her school's play.
Ron Anderson, who is the Springer's associate artistic director and director of the Springer Theater Academy, first presented the show in 2001. It starred Chastity Threadcraft as Grace and Atlanta actor Donna Biscoe directed the show.
"At the time, I knew that Shay was Georgia-born, but I didn't know that she was from Columbus," Anderson said. "Once I discovered that, we began a long and wonderful relationship with Shay."
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Youngblood loves the Springer.
"I'm thrilled the Springer Opera House is doing 'Amazing Grace' again, introducing the work to a new group of young people as actors and audience members," Youngblood wrote in an email. "While I was adapting the picture book written by Mary Hoffman I was able to be about 10 years old again. It was so much fun; the writing didn't feel like work at all. I researched fairy tales from around the world and tried to remember what it was like to abandon myself in the world of my imagination.
"The book had resonance with me because it was about a girl who was close to her grandmother as I was and I identified with Grace as an only child who spent a lot of time alone and created stories to entertain myself when I couldn't go outside to play."
Youngblood is in Tokyo, Japan, researching architecture for a book.
"If I weren't in Tokyo working on this project, I would be there to see the show at the Springer because each group of actors brings something fresh to the production and I can go back and be there in that magical place of my imagination again through those actors bringing some of themselves to the work," she said.
Rubye Stafford and V.J. Roberts play the adult roles, Roberts as Grace's mother and Stafford as Grace's grandmother.
Stafford has been in the play all five times and Roberts is playing Ma for her third time.
Roberts has a daughter, Jessica, who is about the same age as Grace. "I'm glad I can relate to it," she said. "I love it."
Stafford is also having a great time rehearsing for the show.
"I didn't think it could be more fun but it is," Stafford said.
For some young actors, these performances will be their first appearances on stage.
"It offers a chance for a new generation of students to be inspired by the story," Anderson said, "and begin their journey into the leadership ranks of the Theater Academy."
Because the show is presented in the mornings for schools and day care centers, it's double cast with a Red Team and a Blue Team so the young actors themselves miss less schooltime.
Alexis Ramsey and Bria Pugh play Grace.
Grace is "a very fun character," Alexis said. This play shows that "everyone's different in their own way."
Annabelle Wolford, who plays Jamie in the Red Team, likes that she gets to be with other cast members, and calls it like a family.
Jacob Lowry, who plays Felix in the Blue Team, really likes the way the character of Imani is integrated into the play.
"We accept her immediately," Jacob said. Even though she's from Kenya, she's almost seamlessly integrated into the neighborhood.
"I get to be the new kid and I like it," said Jasmine Zanders, who plays Imani on the Red Team.
Ma: Vanessa "V.J." Roberts appeared in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Doubt" at the Springer Opera House. She also performed in the show, "Stimulus," at the Liberty Theatre. She is now back at the Springer to play the role of Ma for the third time.
Nana: Rubye Stafford has appeared at the Springer in "Amazing Grace," "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" and "Charm School," and the touring production of "Theater Alchemy." She also performed in "Words" at the Liberty Theatre.
Grace: Bria Pugh has been a Springer Theater Academy student for three years. She loves dancing, cheering, acting and writing. This is her first performance at the Springer.
Felix: Joshua Cellar has performed at the Springer in "The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer" and "The Wizard of Oz." He won the award for Most Outstanding Springer Theater Academy student last summer. He is a competitive tap dancer, but unlike his character, Felix, though, he rarely wears tutus.
Fiona: Meagan Howard was in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the Family Theatre. This is her first show at the Springer.
Imani: Jasmine Zanders is making her stage debut in "Amazing Grace." She has been part of the Theater Academy since 2009, Jamie: Annabelle Wolford was last seen in the Springer production of "Carousel." She has a black belt in Tae Kwan Do.
Jin: Katie Garcia performer in "The King and I" at the Springer, as well as numerous productions at the Family Theatre like "Alice in Wonderland," "Cinderella" and "Fiddler on the Roof." She is playing the same role that her sister, Theresa, played several years ago.
Kofi: Will Mobley has been in numerous shows with the Columbus Drama Kids like "Friends + Clutter," "Dirty Town in Texas," "Mysterious Circus" and "Pirate." He has been at the Springer Theater Academy for three years and has won awards like Most Improved and Most Enthusiastic.
Lila: Jessica Nix has appeared in shows with the Columbus Ballet like "The Nutcracker" and "Peter and the Wolf." She has been a part of the Springer Theater Academy for seven years and this is her first Springer play.
Natalie: Rachel Shehane has been at the Springer Theater Academy for four years and is the Junior Thespians Troupe president. She plays the cello and aspires to be a drama teacher.
Ralph: Nicolas Duncan appeared in "James and the Giant Peach" and "The Wizard of Oz." He appeared in "We've Come So Far" and "Annie Jr." at Veterans Memorial School. He also plays a lot of instruments and is a composer and songwriter.
Rosalie: Alicia Thompson appeared in "Damn Yankees" at the Springer. She has performed at the Liberty Theatre in "Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys," "Rejalene," "I've Got the Music in Me," "The Wiz," "Neat" and "High School Musical."
Sean: Isaac Snider has performed in many shows at Matthews Elementary School. He has been an Academy student for five years and has won the Best Team Player award twice.
Tamara: Gabriella Farley is in her second year at the Springer Theater Academy. This is her first performance at the Springer.
Grace: Alexis Ramsey was in "The Little Baby Snoogle Fleejer." She has also performed at Fort Benning in "Jack and the Bean Stalk" and "A Merry Christmas." She hopes to be an actress, model or lawyer one day.
Felix: Jacob Lowry appeared in "Ramona Quimby" and "Peter Pan" at the Springer. He also performed in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the Family Theatre. He has been an Academy student for eight years.
Fiona: Kristina Spurlock is appearing at the Springer for the first time. She has been a part of the Academy for two years.
Imani: Alexandria Casey was an extra as the young Lena Horne in "The Legendary Lady Lena Horne." This is her first show at the Springer. She has a black belt in mixed martial arts.
Jamie: Mackenzie Sanford appeared in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the Family Theatre. She has been with the Academy for two years and is a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Jin: Vivian Lee-Boulton appeared in "The Little Princess" at the Family Theatre. She sings and is an avid swimmer. She was in "The Wizard of Oz" at the Springer.
Kofi: William Neal has acted out scenes from movies ever since he was little. His interest in performing carried on into school where he performed in "The Music Man." This is his first Springer play.
Lila: Veronica Leggett has attended the Academy for five years. She appeared in shows like the Springer's "Ramona Quimby" and "A Christmas Carol."
Natalie: Julia Lester loves acting whether it is with family or onstage for an audience of strangers. This is her Springer debut.
Ralph: Joseph Bryant is a home-schooled student in the eighth grade. This is his first Springer production. His roles at the Family Theatre include "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Dorothy Meets Alice," "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and "Pilgrim's Progress."
Rosalie: Anitra Thompson is a junior Columbus State University. At the Liberty Theatre, she has appeared in such shows as "I've Got the Music in Me," "Neat" and "Rejalene." She was named Best Actress in District A One-Act competition in 2008. She performed at the Springer in "Damn Yankees" and "High School Musical."
Sean: Adam Loudermilk has performed at the Springer in "Ramona Quimby." He is on the Cottrell Dance Team.
Tamara: Queen Briggs has appeared in numerous shows with Drama Kids like "Captain Jack," "Behind the Scenes" and "Mystery Under Big Top."