Winthrop Middle School’s Take On A Disney Classic, Moana Jr Review


Elaina Freeman , Writer

Winthrop is a town with a renowned drama department. Both its high school and middle school divisions have a reputation to uphold when it comes to their productions. Today we will be looking into the middle school’s latest production; Moana Jr.  

I was so excited to see this show. I was able to volunteer with the Winthrop Middle School Drama Society and witness the rehearsal process in real time. As an audience member this past weekend, I was so impressed by what I saw on stage. Through every show there is always a dreaded song, a number extremely difficult to master. This past weekend, I did not see any of the challenges I previously saw.  What I saw was an incredibly talented cast, who will be the future of drama in this town.

As someone who grew up with the story of Moana, I was really intrigued to see what the middle school’s take on it would be. To be honest, I smiled through the whole show. There were times where you truthfully forgot it was a cast of middle schoolers telling this story, that’s how smoothly the show ran.

Performing in front of a crowd can be extremely nerve wracking. There is a vulnerability that comes with getting on stage. However these performers handled the crowd with comfort and ease. There is nothing better than the thrill that comes with performing for a crowd. You could tell the performers were experiencing this thrill and were truly enjoying every minute of the show. It is not easy to put yourself out there and this cast handled it extremely well. These kids are lucky to grow up in a school system that values the arts.

The cast of Moana Jr. (Gregory L. Tracy)

The production of Moana took a unique approach to the ocean. The ocean plays a critical part in the story of Moana and was executed in a creative, yet effective way. Cast members used the fans pictured above that when moved the right way, looked like the ocean. This was such a cool visual element to the show. This really elevated the production as the fans were used throughout the duration of the performance.

Sarah Tracy as Moana (Gregory L. Tracy)

The show was led by seventh grader Sarah Tracy. Sarah took on the titular role of Moana this past weekend.  As an audience member it was obvious that Sarah put her heart and soul into this role. There was not a dry eye in the house during her show-stopping performance of the iconic ballad “How Far I’ll Go.” The story of Moana took the audience on a journey and Sarah was the fearless leader of this journey. In my personal opinion, I believe that Sarah was perfectly cast in this role. I can’t think of a better fit to take on the role of Moana.


Another standout performance was delivered from 8th grader Michael Tracy as Maui. Maui has become one of the most iconic Disney characters in recent years and Michael perfectly captured his snarky, quick-witted nature. One of the most famous songs from the movie Moana is “You’re Welcome”. This number had a lot riding on it due to its popularity from the original movie. Honestly “You’re Welcome” was a standout moment in the production.  The number was high energy and that energy directly came from Michael’s performance as Maui.

The cast of Moana Jr in “You’re Welcome” (Gregory L. Tracy)

One of my favorite aspects of the show was the dynamic between Maui and Moana. Considering that these roles were played by siblings this elevated both characters. There was a natural and organic chemistry between the pair.  There was a playfulness in the interactions between Moana and Maui. I think casting siblings to play opposite each other really benefited the production.

Sarah Tracy, Hailey DeMarco, Juliet Bettano and Holly Nimblett in “Shiny” during Moana Jr (Gregory L. Tracy)

It was so much fun to watch this production. The happiness of the performers was contagious. You could tell that this cast was ecstatic to be performing.  One of the most fun musical numbers to experience as an audience member was “Shiny”. As a kid, I played this song on repeat many mornings on my way to school. I was so excited to watch this number come to life on stage. The number was immersive. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the duration of the number. It exceeded all of my expectations and reminded me of the days when this score played a role in my day to day life. Shiny is a song that plays into comedy. Juliet Bettano’s performance as Tamatoa the crab was a highlight of the production.Holly Nimblett and Hailey DeMarco played Tamatoa’s claws in the number. The trio had to move as one unit, with each step they needed to stay in sync. It is extremely hard to dance while attached to other performers and these three performed the choreography flawlessly.


I was able to sit down with two of the cast members of this production and speak with them about their respective experiences. I first interviewed 7th grader Holly Nimblett. Holly was a featured dancer in the roles of ancestor and left claw this past weekend. Holly has been dancing for 11 years  and is trained in various styles of dance including ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop and lyrical .  I interviewed Holly on her experience as a cast member in this production.

Elaina Freeman: What was the best part of doing this show? What was the most challenging?

Holly Nimblett: “The best part of doing the show was definitely being with a bunch of my close friends. I’ve made such incredible bonds with everyone in the drama program. I know walking into the black box that everyone in there has got my back and will support and cheer me on. They never fail to make me laugh or smile, even when I’m having a rough day. I love spending time with people I love while doing the thing I love most, it’s a win-win. The most challenging thing for me would probably be learning the Samoan and Tokelau, which are two Oceanic languages  we had to learn for some of the songs in Moana. We had to make sure that everything was pronounced and sung correctly. We had whole rehearsals dedicated to learning how to sing in the foreign language. It was a long process of sitting on the floor and repeating after Ms.Houstle, but I think in the end it turned out really well. ”

EF: What are you most proud of?

HN: “I’m most proud of the whole cast. Everyone put their heart and soul into the show and I feel it showed. We worked for 4 months and I think the final product was incredible. Everyone had a important role in the show and we couldn’t have done the show without any of them. We did it for three days straight and kept bringing the same upbeat energy and enthusiasm to the stage. I’m also very proud of Juliet Bettano, she did all 3 nights of the show with a torn ACL and still was incredible, and I’m very happy I was able to act along side her again because she is absolutely  incredible.”

EF: How was the experience of this show different from the experiences you’ve had during past productions?

HN: “I think the experiences of every show you do will be different from each-other. Moana Jr was my 4th show that I’ve done. I’ve been in Frozen Jr (Elsa’s Magic-Winthrop Middle School) Alice in Wonderland:Through the Looking Glass(Tweedledee-Winthrop Middle School) and Mary Poppins Jr(Winifred Banks-Wheelock Family Theater). Moana was definitely one of the most fun shows that I’ve done. For the most part I feel it’s a very upbeat show and theirs a lot of times where a whole bunch of the cast is on stage. Moana is definitely the most inclusive show I’ve been in, where we learned almost all of the songs in the show as a cast, and everyone is a whole bunch of numbers together. I felt at the end of the show everyone was extremely close with each other. ”

I also sat down with Sarah Tracy to learn about her experience taking on the iconic role of Moana.

Elaina Freeman: What was the best part of doing this show? What was the most challenging?

Sarah Tracy:” I think the best part about doing this show was meeting some of the sixth graders that joined the drama club this year. Some of them are very very sweet and I can’t wait to do shows with them in the future.The most challenging part was probably the fact that I have extreme stage fright and I’m not really used to performing quite yet so I guess I’d say that having to be like singing alone in the Black-Box Theater  because I’m used to being in an ensemble or I’m used to not having a ton of lines or songs to learn.”

EF:  What are you most proud of?

ST: ” I am most proud of myself for the vocals I had during the performance, especially  since I have asthma and I can’t exactly hit and hold high notes like the ones I did for How Far I’ll Go. I’m very very proud myself for hitting those notes and getting all of them almost perfectly.”

EF: How was the experience of this show different from the experiences you’ve had during past productions?

ST:”It’s definitely different from past experiences I have had on stage because like last year, I was definitely not in the spotlight and I had probably 7 lines in total for Frozen so to be the lead of the musical is definitely new and different for me.”

To conclude both interviews, I asked Holly and Sarah the following question:

EF:  Moana learned a lot about herself over the course of the show. What did you learn about yourself through the course of the show?

HN: “I feel like a learned a lot about myself during the course of Moana and grew a lot as a person. I learned how sassy I could be for sure,but I also learned how much small moments can mean. I lost my grandmother the day before the show opened, so many people in the cast were there for me and helped me get through. I learned that even in my darkest times I had people looking out for me. I knew that I could push through and still put on a show. During the process of the show my love for theater strengthened  and I learned that this is something I love and want to do forever. I also learned during the show to be more comfortable with myself and less insecure. No one cares as much as I think they do so I should just embrace myself and have the most fun that I can!”

ST: “I’d say I learned how to believe in myself, like how to confidently walk onto a stage not scared of how the audience will react. I learned to not be scared of the fact that people were watching me perform. I definitely learned that I have tons of people that think I’m really good at what I do which was very reassuring to me. “

Overall, I would say that the middle school’s latest production was a success. The cast and crew of this production worked extremely hard. The creative team(Ms. Houstle and Mrs. Carsley)  behind the production is directly responsible for the overall success of the show. The true joy on the faces of the performers is a feeling I hope none of them ever lose. I can’t wait to see how far each of these young performers go!

*Photo credit goes to Gregory Tracy*