Stars in the Universe, a theatrical production company featuring home-educated children, believes a well-told tale can stir the heart to action. That’s why they’re teaming up with 4KIDS of South Florida to raise awareness for modern-day orphans as they tell the story of Tom Sawyer’s adventures on May 18, 19, and 20 at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton.
Known for their phenomenal large-scale productions produced yearly, Stars brings together the energy of talented students ranging in age from six to 18. The leads of this year’s show will be Jordan Maurodis as Becky, Cobi Goddard as Tom, Curt Quarquesso as Huck, and Amanda Gardner as Polly.
“The talent level of these young people is truly amazing—as they have developed through the years with the help of top notch voice, dance, and acting instruction,” says Sherry Johansen, the show’s director. “Audience members are always stunned at the caliber of performance that these students consistently deliver.”
Tom Sawyer—the Broadway musical is based on the classic novel by Mark Twain. It tells the story of a young boy named Tom, an orphan living with his aunt, and his friend Huck, who lives on the streets. Johansen explains, “The Broadway production of Tom Sawyer is a joyous, wholesome, literate, and wonderfully realized production guaranteed to dazzle and enchant children and adults alike.”
But the real point of the evening will come during intermission. “Every day, seven children enter foster care in South Florida,” explains Johansen. “Stars in the Universe and 4KIDS are partnering to highlight our community’s foster care crisis in a rather ‘dramatic’ way. Through a poignant intermission presentation, 4KIDS will help audiences understand how they can make a difference.”
Johansen says the need for loving foster families has never been greater. That’s why the Stars production company uses well-known stories such as Tom Sawyer to inspire the community to open their homes to kids in crisis—as well as provide much-needed financial support.
“Currently, there are thousands of children and young people in the tri-county foster care system facing situations similar to the fictional characters of Tom and Huck. The talented actors in Stars use the dramatic arts to inspire and impact the community in a lasting and meaningful way,” shares Johansen.
The mission of Stars in the Universe Theater Arts is to provide comprehensive dramatic arts instruction to young people, creating in its students a deep love for theater. The students then, in turn, change the atmosphere of their local community through the beauty of stellar productions and faith- based outreach performances. This is the third year in a row that Stars in the Universe will stage a dramatic production of a well-known story dealing with orphans. Other shows put on by Stars in the Universe included Oliver! and The Wizard of Oz. Supporting the cause of the modern-day orphans of South Florida is close to Sherry Johansen’s heart. “When I was working on Oliver, the Lord gave me a beautiful picture of an ending scene in which all the orphans in the poor house were adopted by Oliver and his long lost grandfather. This became a reality as we added a scene to the end of our production in which each orphan from the workhouse came, had his dirty face wiped off, and given a large plate of food from the grandfather. All of this took place with the orchestra and children performing ‘Where is Love.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and this poignant scene opened the platform for Allen Walker, a foster parent with 4KIDS, to speak while people’s hearts were tender. I believe that poetry connects to the heart more effectively than prose. In this case, poetry being a staged production,” adds Johansen.
Last year, the Stars’ theme was There’s No Place Like Home from the Wizard of Oz, and from that angle they again partnered with 4KIDS. This year, Tom Sawyer is also about the orphan. “We will use this theme to yet again set up Allen Walker to speak about the growing need for foster families in Broward and Palm Beach counties,” Johansen states.
Allen Walker has multiple connections with both Stars in the Universe and 4KIDS of South Florida. His daughter, Aaliyah, participated in the Wizard of Oz production last year—and Allen and his wife have been foster parents with the 4KIDS since 2008 when their first child was placed with them. Since then, they have opened their hearts and home to over 20 foster children.
An outspoken advocate for foster care and adoption, Pastor Walker says he loves how the partnership between 4KIDS and Stars uses the arts to portray the reality of kids in crisis—and to put a face on the child in foster care. “A story like Tom Sawyer opens our eyes to the kids taken from their homes through no fault of their own,” Walker explains. “Stars in the Universe uses their performances to introduce this concept to a mass audience that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise hear about the children right here in Broward County with tragic stories of their own.”
Doug Sauder, president of 4KIDS, is also excited about the stage production of Tom Sawyer. “From the beginning, we recognized that the needs of foster children in our community weren’t going to be solved by a single organization, company, or foundation—and this event is one example of the community working together to raise awareness for hurting kids. Our goal is to provide hope for the thousands of children coming into the foster care system through no fault of their own—and with the help of great organizations like Stars in the Universe, that’s becoming a reality,” shares Sauder.
Stars in the Universe Director Sherry Johansen holds a BA in Education from Trinity College and an MA in Communications from Regent University. She spent a number of years as a freelance producer before becoming a mom to three boys. She established Stars in the Universe Theater Arts in 2000 recognizing that home educated students did not have easily accessible opportunities in theatrical arts. Since then, Stars has staged 12 spectacular productions of some of the best loved musicals from Broadway. Last year’s large-scale stage production of the Wizard of Oz was true to the Broadway play and featured over 150 whimsical costumes. It drew a total audience of 2,700 and a portion of the proceeds benefited the modern day orphans of South Florida.
This May, Stars of the Universe expects more than 3,000 people to attend the production of Tom Sawyer. For more information, sponsorship opportunities, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.starsintheuniverse.com.
For more information about 4KIDS of South Florida or to directly support kids in crisis, visit www.4kidsofsfl.org or stop by their information table at the Stars production on May 18-20.