TCOE makes waves with Disney musical “Moana Jr.”

Seventy students from all over the county will be performing in Tulare County Office of Education’s Theatre Company’s musical adaptation of Moana

VISALIA – The live performance of Moana Jr. brought the Disney animated film to life, as student performers danced to all of the most memorable songs about adventure and self-discovery.

On Nov. 17, the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) Theatre Company will be flooded with blue ocean hues, as actors and dancers alike hit the stage to perform Disney’s Moana Jr., a musical adaptation of the animated film, which was written by Lin Manuel Miranda. 

The play will be held from Nov. 17 through 19 at the TCOE Redwood Conference Center, 6200 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia CA. There will only be a total of four shows, with evening shows starting at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with a matinee viewing being offered on Saturday at 2 p.m. This will be the very first performance at the TCOE conference center.

“We’re performing this at our space at our main administration building, which is new for us,” theatre company director Bethany Rader said. “We’re all very excited about this opportunity to get to perform the show, which has so much meaning, but also to perform it in our home building.”

TCOE will be transforming the conference room into a 400-seat theatre, set with lights, props and a stage, which Rader said will mimic a black box theatre. The musical will take audiences on a journey of self-discovery, reenacting Moana’s daring adventure across dangerous oceans to save her village, the island of Motunui, from destruction. 

There will be 70 Tulare County students who make up the cast, with Moana being played by Erin McDonnell, as dancers twirl their wave-like fans behind her. Rader said a consultant was also hired to teach the performers how to represent the Polynesian culture correctly in their dances, as well.

“Every hand movement [in Polynesian dancing] means something, and we never realized that before,” Rader said. 

Kealoha Sakamoto, better known as “Auntie Kay,” was hired by TCOE’s play director Charlotte Garcia De Rosa and choreographer McKenna Friend-Hoffman. Sakamoto taught a workshop to all 70 of the students to understand Polynesian culture, and that each dance and gesture has meaning. Rader said this workshop was extremely important to Hoffman, because as she taught students each choreographed dance, she wanted to make sure Polynesian culture was being respected.

“That was something super special for us and for this production, that we could make sure we were bringing forward, and that we were telling the story correctly,” Rader said.

A key difference between Moana Jr., compared to Disney’s animated film version, is that the play is much shorter. Also, Moana’s empty-headed chicken sidekick, Hay Hay, will not be featured in TCOE’s play, but instead, Moana will have two human friends who do not share the journey with her, but rather stay on the island. Moana ventures off and finds Maui, the demi-god who is both the key and the curse to her island’s well-being, by herself, unlike in the animated film.

“Disney basically just wanted to do a shortened version, so that younger kids and younger audiences could enjoy it,” Rader said. “It’s the same show, and it’s the same characters you love, but just a very condensed version.”

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